Child custody can be a difficult issue when a relationship breaks up. If your ex-partner wants to cause you problems, your HIV-positive status is an obvious starting point. Some women have also found that extended family members who don’t understand HIV make the assumption that the kids are in danger simply by living with an HIV-positive parent. It simply isn’t true.
Living with an HIV-positive mom doesn’t threaten the health and well-being of your kids, but being taken from their mother might. Because of ignorance and HIV stigma, it’s possible that someone could say you’re not the best one to care for your kids. If someone threatens to take your kids away because you have HIV, talk to an advocate.
If you become involved in a custody dispute,
- your HIV-positive status should not determine whether you get custody of your children or have access to them.
- your HIV-positive status should not be considered relevant unless it affects the care you can provide for your child.
HIV transmission is not an issue to worry about in day-to-day life with your kids. You can hug and kiss them without worry. If your kids don’t know you have HIV, when they reach an age you feel is appropriate for learning about HIV, you can talk to them about your status and how they can take precautions themselves.
If someone suggests your kids are in danger living with you because of your HIV-positive status, ask them what they know about HIV transmission, and point them to resources like Positive Women’s Network. If the situation escalates, talk to an advocate.
Naming a guardian
All parents need to think about who would care for their children if the parent is unable to. To ensure that your kids will be looked after by someone of your choosing if your health fails, name a guardian. In choosing a guardian, you’ll have the security of knowing who will look after them if anything happens to you. Doing this while you are healthy means there is less to worry about if you get sick. Naming a guardian doesn’t mean you have to disclose your HIV-positive status to your kids before you are ready. It just means they know who will look after them if you can’t.
Deciding on your guardian is a big decision. Do you want a family member or a good friend who shares similar values? If you’re struggling with the decision, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I feel comfortable talking to the guardian about my health?
- How do my kids feel about the guardian?
- Do I want my children to go to a home where there are other children?
- Is it important to me that they stay in the same school or community?
- How will their lives change with the guardian?
Normally you would name a guardian in your will. There are certain steps you must follow for the will to be legal. If you live in British Columbia, you can contact Positive Women’s Network for help in this area.