Monday, March 21, 2011

Q & A: Is there a way to document where my fiance's ex-wife's child support is going? It seems to be going towards her frivolous lifestyle!

Q. My fiancé’s ex-wife continually complains about not having enough money to buy necessary things for their children, but yet she is constantly talking about her new clothes, just purchased a new car, and comes over with perfectly manicured nails.  It’s obvious that the child support my fiancé is paying to her to help take care of their two children is not going where it needs to go.  Can we take her to court to find out how exactly she’s using the child support?  Can we make her document where the money is going?

A.  This is a tough question. You would think that you can take the mother to court to ask for an accounting of how her money has been spent; however, the courts—mainly due to laziness—typically do not want to get into “how” the money is spent.  Unless you can demonstrate a really severe situation in which the kids are really suffering (such as starving, malnutrition, etcetera), you’re going to be hard-pressed to make her cough up an accounting of her expenditures.   I know that this burns you, but these are just the facts, Ma’am!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Q & A: My husband is ready to go to court to fight for custody of his children. What should he do now to prepare?

Q.  My husband is planning to go to court to fight for full custody of his two daughters from his ex-girlfriend, with whom they’ve just shared without any legal arrangement.  What things should he do now before he takes this to court to set him up for success?

A.  There are a number of things that your husband can do to help set himself up for success inside the courtroom for full custody.  If him and his ex are currently utilizing a 50/50 setup that has been considered “working” for them, chances are, the judge in a courtroom will state that 50/50 is best for the children and place a court order for exactly what they’re doing now.

Typically, when you’re going to court for a change in custody of children (in most cases, a child custody modification from when an original order was put in place), there typically needs to be some change that has happened, a “substantial change in circumstances.”  This could mean there has been a change in one parent’s income, emotional status, mental capabilities to care for the child, and so on.  If your husband just wants a legally binding document stating his rights as a father, that’s one thing, but if he feels there is a need to be the sole custodial parent of his daughter, that’s another.

Of course, when it goes into the courtroom, he could fight that he is married (assuming his ex is not), has a stable household, etcetera, etcetera.  However, there are a few things that he can do to set himself up quite nicely with the custody evaluators, who can sometimes be the decision-makers as to which household is better set up for full custody of the child.  Make sure your husband is the one that makes the children meals, takes them to school and daycare and brings them home, participates in their extracurricular activities, takes them to their doctor’s appointments, and so on.  This way, when it comes to who does the day-to-day activities in the house, it’s not you—it’s him, and that will help him shine in the courtroom!

Also, it is so very important that he have great connections with the people involved with his children—their doctor, day-care providers, teachers, their friends and their friends’ parents, and other people who play a big part in his child’s life.  This way, if he ever needs written recommendations or statements from them for court, he’ll have a huge group of people behind him 100% offering their observations to the judge.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Q & A: My husband's ex keeps disappointing my step-daughter--what can we do about the emotional stress she's enduring due to her mom's actions?

Q.  My husband and I have full custody of his daughter.  Although her mom lives in town and could see her whenever she wants, the phone calls to come get her and spend time with her are few and far between.  When she does say she’s going to pick her up for an outing, she gets so excited to see her, but then her mom never shows up.  It’s a constant disappointment for her, and we’re the ones trying to comfort her and encourage her not to feel bad about her mom.  How long can we do this?  Can we take this to court and have her rights to see her taken away due to the fact that she is causing emotional distress on their daughter?

A.  Firstly, you just abide by the court order and the visitation outlined therein; however, we can often apply a rule called “Laches.”  I typically call this the “if you don’t use it, you lose it rule”.  You see, if the mother has made a consistent pattern of being inconsistent and this is disappointing the child, then you and your husband are within your rights to deny access as long as you are in the process of going to court to modify the current orders and limit the mother’s access to supervised visitation. Remember, your case must be strong!  You really do need a documented pattern over a long period of time to modify this effectively and successfully through the courts—whenever she says she’ll be there and does not follow through, document the date and information, including how your daughter felt when the situation occurred.  Documentation like this over a period of time is sufficient proof of emotional distress to your step-daughter.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Q & A: My fiance's ex-girlfriend tells her son to lie and keep secrets--what can we do about this behavior?

Q.  My fiancé and his ex-girlfriend have joint custody of their son.  His ex is way more lenient about a lot of things at the house, and knows that my fiancé does not agree with this.  We have found out that she takes his son to McDonald’s before dropping him off at our place for dinner just to please him, knowing that it will upset my fiancé, so she tells her son to keep it a secret from him.  She does this with a lot of things, and his poor son breaks down and tells us these things anyway and says that he doesn’t like keeping these secrets.  What can we do about this?

A.  First off, have your fiancé encourage his son to tell his mom he doesn’t like keeping these secrets—or any secrets, for that matter—from his dad.  This lets his son know that he does not need to be the mediator, messenger, or “secret holder” for each parent.  What this ends up doing is leading to parental alienation, which can cause the child to pull from one child towards another, thus allowing one parent to use the child as a pawn against the other.

Second, sit down with your fiancé and talk to the ex.  Let her know that her son has not been keeping these secrets and that you’re proud of him for knowing that it wasn’t right and speaking up.  Kindly remind her that these secrets do nothing but hurt others, including their son.

Another thing to consider, as well, is that these kinds of activities tend to start up before a parent starts fighting for more custody.  She may be trying to use her son and essentially bribe him toward her and away from his father in order to get him to favor her in court, possibly in order to get her son to say he’d rather be with his mom, mainly because she’s “more fun” than living at your home where certain rules exist, such as chores, bedtimes, and responsibilities.  Keep an eye on her actions to ensure this is not what she is trying to set up.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Q.  My husband and I have certain rules in our household, but his ex, with whom we share custody of his son, has absolutely no rules in place in HER household.  I don’t feel that it is beneficial to the kids to not have consistent rules in each household, but my husband won’t bring it up with her because for once, things are going smoothly.  What do we do?

A.  Everyone parents differently.  And when it comes to bouncing between two different families, children can pick up on these inconsistencies very quickly.  If one parent has a strict bedtime and the other doesn’t, they’ll choose the later bedtime any day.  Yet at the same time, the more lenient parent will tend to get all the positive praise from the children because of the fact that there are no rules, no chores, no disagreements at the other parent’s house.  And at some point, you have to learn to pick your battles—if the kids are fed, bathed, well-rested, etc., the situation should probably just be left alone.

There are a few instances where you should step in.  This is if you feel the children are in harm’s way or are at risk of being hurt, injured, abused, etcetera.  This is obviously a time in which you—and your husband—should step in and talk to his ex, or, depending on the severity of the situation, call the proper authorities.

There are typically certain things that both parents NEED to agree on.  These typically involve things such as religion, education, and any extracurricular activities that may cost extra money for both parents.  These issues are typically—and should be—worked out during the divorce and put on the court order to ensure that there is a legally binding agreement between both parents about the things that are most important to them and their child.

Bedtimes, chores, and all those extra rules are not placed in a court order, but can sometimes be worked into a parenting plan.  Find out what your husband and his ex have written up in their parenting plan, and consider letting him know he has the option to make some changes on things if they are really important to him and concern the children’s health and well-being.  But otherwise, let it go unless it’s a serious issue—learning to pick your battles is one thing you will quickly learn to do when dealing with your significant other’s ex.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Q & A: Can my boyfriend and his ex work out a parenting plan for custody and visitation without going through the court system?

Q.  My boyfriend and his ex-girlfriend have a child together.  Even though they broke up before their son was born, they have always worked well together, come to agreement on any issues, and have never argued about money or child support.  They never took each other to court for custody, and agree on a joint custody arrangement, splitting everything half and half.  However, I want to make sure my boyfriend is protected and has some sort of legal rights.  Neither party has the money to hire an attorney.  Can they write up a parenting agreement, have it signed and notarized, and have it hold up in court if there was ever an issue?  How can they make a legally binding parental agreement without dragging in expensive lawyers and legal assistance?

A.  Yes, they can definitely do this on their own without hiring on an attorney or lawyer.  They can work together to write up what’s called a “parenting plan” that they both agree on, that they both feel works for them and their son. Other paperwork regarding paternity is “required” as well. They can either do this with a mediator in the family courts and have it entered in as a court order, or they can write it on their own, have it signed and notarized by both of them, and also have that entered into the court.  That way, the document is legally binding and then they must follow the parenting plan or else the other parent could take the issue to court and fight for custody of their son.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Q & A: What can we do about my boyfriend's ex-wife's abusive live-in boyfriend?

Q.  My boyfriend shares joint custody of his two children with his ex-wife.  His ex-wife recently hooked up with a boyfriend who now lives with her, and there have been stories told by the children about abusive discipline by the live-in boyfriend.  What can my boyfriend do in order to protect his children?

A.  First off, who is telling you the stories about the children?  The children themselves or just spiteful naysayers?  If the children themselves are stating the abuse is happening, it’s time to call Child Protection Services.  Once they interview your boyfriend and the kids, they can help you get an Emergency Order against his ex-wife which would give your boyfriend full custody of the children until the issue goes to court.  Having CPS and child evaluators on your side will help tremendously, as will any police reports of domestic abuse that may have occurred at her household.  The more proof and people you have behind you both on this will help a lot, so get as many witnesses, evaluators and written documents together as you can to help make your case for custody strong.