Conflicts about Shared Custody

Parent Q&A

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  • Hello, I have a 10 year old and 14 year old daughter who go to their dad’s house every other weekend.  My 14 year old has not been wanting to go over there for over a year now.  She’s not very close with her dad and just wants to be home ( my house).  My ex husband feels that she can make her own decision once she’s 16 but I feel like she’s old enough and mature enough to make it for herself now.  I haven’t approached the subject with him recently as I don’t like to stir the pot without gathering some information first.  Our current parenting arrangement is court ordered stating that the kids are with him every other Saturday Sunday Monday.  I dread anything having to do with court and am wondering is this my only course to let my daughter make her own choice?  And if we did go to court, is it common for a 14 year old to be granted this if I were to ask this of a judge?  Would I be better off waiting until she’s 15?  Or 16?  I know there are no definite answers but just wondering what people’s real life experiences are.  Especially with self representation instead of a lawyer.  Thank you!  Jodie 

    My daughter refused at around 13.  She would sit in her bedroom.  The police aren't going to enforce a court order against a 14-year-old.  Btw, your ex sounds pretty reasonable.

    I have to strongly disagree with the post below. I know a parent who allowed their 14 year old to skip court ordered visitation and was accused (successfully) of attempting parental alienation, so they paid legal fees and lost their credibility in court, and the child was not allowed to choose. Going down this path seems really risky and also misses the point. WHY is this child refusing to see her father? Is there a reason that you need to fully understand? Does her dad need to understand? Why not get a therapist for your child and also line up family therapy so you can all work on this together, supportively? Assuming a parent isn't abusive, children need both parents in their lives and it will damage her to lose this critically important person as she grows up. What will this teach her about fatherhood and how men behave? Why not pour your energy into giving her the gift of knowing that her parents will work together to make sure she's super happy in both homes? My ex and I live separately and have done exactly this. Nothing is perfect, and in many ways my child prefers his primary house (mine) but we both do everything in our power to make both houses his home and I *always* stress how much his dad loves him and needs to be with him. We teach and model compassion and closeness. There are many steps you both can take to change this situation, so she doesn't hit her mid-20s, start to view the situation through an adult's eyes, and ask why her Dad didn't fight for her and why her mom minimized such a core relationship. 

    I don't know the legal answer to the question. I also don't know your relationship with your ex. But, I do know this is very typical teenager behavior. I wonder if you can have a conversation with your ex. "I don't want you to turn into the bad guy here or me for that matter. She's flexing her teenager independence. I wonder if you and she (and I can be there too if you would like) can sit down and have a conversation about a compromise? I think if we force the issue, she's going to rebel against us both. But, if we give her some power, she just might come around...." Make the "enemy" teenager-dom and not you or ex or daughter. This is a natural phase of life she is going through and how you respond will determine how she behaves moving forward. (and I know my friend who lives in another state went through the same thing when her kid was 14 and it did go to court because she does not have a good relationship with her ex, and the judge ruled to go by the wishes of the teenager who was determined to be mature enough to make the decision. Don't know if CA would be different, though)

    My 2 sons were able to make their own decisions at 13 & 11. (They had to meet with a court appointed mediator who made the decision that they were mature enough to be heard) at that time, my boys decided they wanted to stay with me full time.  I believe the courts say 14 is old enough for the child to make their own decisions. If you have an attorney, ask and make sure. It’s all about the child’s well being in the divorce process.  You’re doing a great job! 

    I feel for your ex! It's not unusual for teens to resist switching homes to accommodate their parents' separation and who could blame them. Your 14-year-old probably wants to remain on familiar territory. Could you arrange a trade with your ex, so that he moves into your place during the weekend visitation and you move into his place. Obviously that's highly inconvenient, for both of you but it sounds like your 14-year-old feels inconvenienced and has suffered for it. Your kids might thank you both for it one day.

    I agonized over a very similar situation for years and have some thoughts to share, FWIW.

    My daughter was actually supposed to go back and forth weekly starting about age 11 and her dad was quite zealous in guarding this arrangement until age 18. However we didn't have a written custody plan so there was little he could do if she simply refused to go, as she often did as she got older. 

    I don't think there's a simple answer but I did find some help reading this book:

    I believe in California the child can state a preference to the judge at 14, though that is not the ultimate deciding factor-…

    I ended up deciding how to handle it based on what I considered to be in the best interest of my child--

    --I did not want to make this more adversarial, expensive, or inflexible than necessary (meaning I wanted to avoid court)

    --I absolutely did think it was important for my daughter to have some kind of relationship and ongoing regular contact with her father (I didn't have a father growing up and felt the absence and consequences keenly later in life). For this reason, I would encourage her to spend time with him and continue regular visits, even though the benefits were not always clear to her at the time. 

    -- I also thought it was important for my daughter to find and express her voice and preferences, even though I did not want her to feel that she was in charge of the final decision (I think that should be a parental decision as it seems to me like a potential burden for the child). Speaking up on her own behalf was an important milestone for my daughter. 

    So for us it was somewhat of a moving target and evolved over the years. It wasn't easy or conflict free, but kind of worked. 

    There were certain things which she didn't like about being at her dad's related to logistics, convenience, etc, which he was able to somewhat mitigate as we talked about it more. Other things he couldn't (or wouldn't) change and over time she came to spend much more time with me. But they still have a reasonable connection which I hope will be durable, despite the divorce. 

    Maybe your ex-husband would be willing to consider ways he might cultivate more closeness with her, so that it would seem like more of a treat than a sacrifice to see him every other weekend. ultimately it's about the relationship, not the custody schedule. 

    good luck! it's definitely not easy. 

    It might be that having a 10-year-old makes a difference in your situation.  Maybe a 1-hour consult with a lawyer would help. 

  • Hi, I was wondering if anyone had any advice about my situation about divorce. My ex husband left my son and I when he was 9 months old. We went back home to Michigan and after two months returned to pick up some belongings. When I landed at the airport my ex served me with divorce papers (we were going through the process) but had not served anything prior to this. He did this because he found out if I have the baby in Michigan then he has to pay me child support which I didn’t even want nor ask for. Serving me in CA meant that my son can’t leave the state so therefore neither can I. He asked the judge for 50/50 custody and it was granted. He does not take care of my son during his time. He gives him to his parents who live an hour away from him and his parent teach my son to call them mom and dad. We earn about the same income so with 50/50 there is no child support. Anyway I am here now and I don’t have any family here and am just here to see my baby 50% of the time which really breaks my heart. My question though is about when school comes. I do not live near my ex. What happens to custody when he goes to preschool? Can he be taken away from me during the week? Does anyone know how this works? How do you know what school the child goes to assuming this will be a decision the judge makes?

    I have no useful advice to offer ... just wanted to voice my sympathy. That is such a difficult situation and you're so strong and such a good mother to be here for your baby.

    I advise that you consult a family law attorney right away. I think you can challenge this farce that he has set up. It is clear by his actions that all he cares about is not paying child support. I question the jurisdiction of the California court. It sounds like you and your son moved to Michigan with the intent to stay there and only came to California for a visit. The proper jurisdiction is the state where the child resides, that should have been Michigan. His practice of not even caring for your son, shuttling him around and telling him to call his parents mom and dad is causing your son psychological harm. You can get an expert to testify about what this is doing to your son. Just because he has 50% custody does not mean that he can do things that are not in the best interests of the child - that is the standard under the law. 

  • My brother is expecting a baby with his ex-girlfriend. Long story on why she is the "ex," but to summarize...they had dated for two years and it seemed as if  she was madly in love with him. At 10 weeks pregnant, she started having nightmares that he was cheating and now she has taken those feelings and run with them. I 99.9% assure you, there has been no cheating. She is now due in about 2 months and as requested, we have given her space to "heal." Heal from what? her nightmares??? My brother has asked her several times to please come home as he is just devastated. She says she wants to have a co-parenting relationship with him but her actions and words indicate otherwise. 

    After asking that we all sit as a family to discuss a parenting plan, she refused saying she was not ready. My brother sort of accepted this, but was trying to communicate with her, very peacefully. He asked her about vaccinations and circumcision--which they had originally planned to do bare minimum and not circumcise. He offered some information/videos about these topics and she answered him in a hostile manner stating "he will be fully vaccinated and circumcised. I don't need any videos to tell me about these things!"

    Last night she wrote our family an email stating that none of us OR MY BROTHER will be able to see the baby until after she is home and has recuperated (3-4 weeks). She said she'll send shes on vacation or something!  She said after the 3-4 weeks it will be for an hour at a time, if she and the baby are awake and feeling well. 

    SERIOUSLY? Can she do this?

    My brother is a very good person, very responsible, owns his own house, has a very stable well paying career. He has no criminal record and the mother of his grown daughter can attest to his character and their co-parenting relationship. My bro is over 50, not that it matters! 

    He has a consultation for a lawyer set up--but does anyone have any words for me??

    You ask can she do this?  She already did, she can do whatever she wants.  I think the question you are asking is legally what can she do?  Until there is a custody order both parents, (married or not, criminal or not, 16 or 80) are equally entitled to have custody.  Technically after the baby is born your brother could legally take the child and claim to be the custodial parent until the court makes a ruling on the custody order.

    I have had two close friends who were in very similar situations.  I wound up helping both of them.

      If the mother is going to be uncooperative the only recourse is a court order.  If your brother waits or does nothing the mother could file for sole physical and legal custody.  If this happens your brother will be at a disadvantage.  Hate to say it but the way or legal system works with custody, is the one who files first and gets an order has the upper hand.  If she's going to be uncooperative it would be best for your brother to obtain a custody order specify everything including vaccinations and listing who has custody when listing the specific days and times.  Your brother should also include a where she can live clause so she can't move out of state, (and file in another state for custody) or to make it difficult for him to visit.

    Should he or she violate the specifics in the custody order the courts will give preference to the cooperating parent.  Prepare your brother to enforce the custody order and documenting any and all violations by reporting it to the police.  It's police reports (not family members testifying) which have the greatest influence with the courts.

    Your brother should request 50-50 custody as soon as the baby is born.

    The other thing that's going to happen is even if he doesn't' have any custody he is still financially responsible if he's listed on the birth certificate.  The courts will back the mother on this one.  If he petitions the court of 50-50 custody it should greatly reduce his court imposed financial obligation.  The day the baby is born he will be required to pay child support for the next 18 years.

    It's good your brother is meeting with a lawyer.  Between now and the day the baby is born the lawyer should be drafting a custody order with specifics about custody, visitation etc.  Ideally he will want to get the custody mater heard by the courts as soon as the baby is born.  (Can't do anything before.)

    I know all of this sucks, but you asked.

    The soon to be mother is already stalling. making excuses and trying to prevent your brother from seeing his child.  With both of my friends they tried to get along with the mother without a court order and it was a disaster.  The mothers were nice until the babies were born and then they considered them all theirs.  The court battles that resulted were long an horrible.  One of the fathers was prevented from seeing his child for five months due to no court order.

    An outstanding attorney is essential.  There are many attorneys who handle child custody cases, (it's easy money).  The ones that do a poor job just make things worse between the parents and with the courts.  I can't stress how important is to get a court order with specifics in it.

    I wish your brother the best.

    That is so unfortunate. The first few weeks of life are crucial for parental bonding. I'm sorry your brother is going through this. 

    Make sure he signs a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity. When a child is born in the hospital, if mom doesn't put the fathers name on the birth certificate it is harder to get joint custody later. If mom does put his name on AND he has the declaration of paternity (basically a paper that says he claims responsibility for the child) it makes the process easier. (page 11 to 13).  

    And as the anonymous person who posted before me said, get a good attorney. 

    Wishing you and your brother all the best!

    This is maybe crazy and totally off-base but my first thought in reading your post was that after 10 weeks she realized the baby could be another guy's because SHE was cheating. Again—possibly totally crazy of me, but it might explain the abruptness of her cutting him off.  

    In any case, your brother is doing the right thing. Lawyer up immediately. He needs to establish paternity so that she can't exclude him from visitation and parenting decisions.

    The first reply is spot on. Your brother needs to see a lawyer asap! I wouldn't wait to file until the baby is born though. I'd get in front of a judge now to make sure that there are orders requiring her to notify him when she goes into labor, to tell him where she's having the baby, to have input on the name, vaccinations, and circumcision, etc. There should also be visitation orders ready to go. Under no circumstances should any of you heed her demand to stay away for 3-4 weeks. She has no right to demand that. 

    Keep in mind though that your brother won't get a 50/50 schedule with a newborn. If she's breastfeeding the baby will need more frequent access to food. I've seen lots of women breastfeed FOREVER in order to prevent the child from spending too much time with dad. There may need to be a court order about that also (e.g., after a year she can continue to breastfeed but it can't impact visitation and she'll need to pump when necessary). Typically dad's visitation time increases as kids get older.

    I'm sorry to say this but your family is in for a very difficult battle. Don't believe that this woman will ever put the child's best interest first. She's already shown that she's insecure and mean. So many women, including plenty who post on BPN, think that they own their babies and that no one else has any right to hold them, spend time with them, etc. These are bad people but grossly common. It's in the child's best interest to have good relationships with both parents and extended family. Luckily courts agree with this. From what I've seen, expect this woman to constantly badmouth your entire family (you should ask for a court order preventing this), come up with a zillion excuses for why visitation can't happen (she has a runny nose, she doesn't want to see you, she has a birthday party, etc.), being completely unwilling to change the visitation schedule to accomodate your brother's needs (while announcing at the last second that he can't have his scheduled visitation because she wants to do something with the child). This is why the first responder suggested getting a custody schedule that includes specific dates and times for visitation so that he has something to show the cops when she tries to prevent him from exercising his rights. Too many orders say something like every other weekend and every other holiday. But if there aren't dates in the order, the cops have no idea whose weekend it should be and she'll definitely lie to them about it. He has to enforce his court ordered visitation every single time, regardless of whether the baby is sick or says that she doesn't want to go. If he's 100% consistent about enforcing his rights, she may eventually stop playing games because she never wins.

    I used to be a child custody attorney (not in CA) and my brother reproduced with a woman who acts just like you describe (plus she's an heiress so she had unlimited funds for attorneys' fees) so I have a lot of experience dealing with horrible, selfish mothers who do nothing but damage to their kids. But my brother won his battle (although he has to take her back to court every year to increase his visitation, his ex's family loves to torture him by making him waste money on attorneys) and has a very close relationship with his daughter. I highly encourage your brother to do the same.

    Hi there,  I'm honestly a little astounded at this has become "your" issue. The mom and your brother need to work it out between themselves. If she's reaching out to you, simply say that. 

    Boththe mom and father need legal advice, it sounds like. Given that they'd agreed on certain things in the past, they may be able to do with mediation, avoiding the cost and trauma of court. (in alameda County, they'll be required to see a mediator before anything progresses in the court).  Also, remember that people are allowed to change their minds (sounds like mom educated herself about vaccinations - both science and the courts back her there)  

    So, I'd wish your brother, the baby, and the mom the best, and butt the heck out!  Whenever your brother has his visits w baby, there's no reason why you couldn't see the baby at that time. Just an observation, but I didn't note any words of concern for the baby in your note; mediator or attorney, the baby's needs are ways put first. Both mom and father have the same rights and responsibilities whether or not they were ever married. Sounds like, based on how you describe his situation, your brother may be in line for paying a not insignificant amount of child support. 

    Good luck to the baby, mom, and father of the baby. It's up to them, not you, to work stuff out in baby's best interest. 

    Wow.  Just wow.  Something is catastrophically wrong with this picture.  To my mind I would be concerned about a psychotic break of some kind, which would mean all concerned need professional help to sort it all out.  In lieu of that, or maybe because of that, the first thing to jump into my mind is that she cheated and there may be a question as to paternity.  If it was my brother, my sisterly advice would be to get a paternity test ASAP.  The weird behavior could explain her trying to hide or evade the truth, and possibly having guilt about it...  or just not wanting to face consequences.  In any event the baby's safety and wellbeing is the number one concern.  Such a sad scenario.  I am very sorry for all of you.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Permission to take son out of country

Nov 2010

According to the legal agreement my ex-husband and I signed when we divorced, I am allowed to take my son out of the country to visit family for a month every year. My ex has to give me a notarized letter to show at the airport. EVERY time I am going to travel he makes me wait until the day before our travelling day or even the same day. He has all kinds of excuses. You have no idea the stress I go through fearing that he won't give me the letter. He plays power games all the time and I'm tired of literally spending hours every year crying out of stress and anguish. Someone told me that, then, a judge would have to sign the letter when I want to travel, but this seems like a legal ordeal every year. And I don't know if it would cost me money. Does anyone know of a way I can get this letter that I am legally entitled to w/o having to put up with my ex's power games? Thanks, anon.

I had a somewhat simular problem when my son was young, (now 34). I took my divorce papers to a notary public my self and wrote a very short letter, something to the effect of: I P. the Mother of N., a minor, share custody with with Mr. not-so-nice-anymore. My divorece decree signed by Judge_______ , case # 98879 on April 1, 2002, states that, as agreed by both parties, our son N. has permisson to leave the country with me, P. for a maximum time of one month. We will be leaving for Mexico on Dec. 12, 2006, on AA flight #989 and returning to Oakland on Jan 10, 2007 on AA flight #8978.

Leave room for your signature and date. The notary you go to may want more or other information as well. This notarized letter, is all i needed to fly. AS stated my son is now 34, so times/law may have changed, but it is worth a try. I would not let you ex know that you have a letter of your own, but now you do not have to stress about it. eventually I got a Notarized letter just saying that my son could leave the country with me for a maximum time of 1 month every year, as agreed upon by his father, Mr. not-so- nice and I. followed by all the divorce infor. without any dates of departure or return nor flight info. I hope this helps. P.

Have you found that they ask for the letter when you fly? I took my son to Spain and the airlines never asked for the letter. I fly with him now as a single parent as his father passed away and no one has ever questioned it. There is no way to prove he actually has a father - you could have had a child by yourself. The only problem is if the father makes a stink afterwards and it sounds as if he is the kind who would. You could try asking him what he would do. flys with son

Fight for full custody of my husband's daughter?

May 2007

My husband and his ex had a bitter divorce and had one child together. I met him while they were going through it, and one thing that struck immediately was how much he wanted to get along with her--he would spend hours on the phone with her during which, he told me, she would rant and tell him what a terrible husband and father he was, even though she was the one to leave him (and had left him 3 times prior over the course of the relationship). Another thing I liked about him was that his daughter meant everything to him--immediately after the divorce he and his ex had 50-50 custody, and he took his daughter everywhere with him--to the library, park, concerts, unlike the little girl's mother, who dropped her at her grandparents at every turn and took a series of week-long or more vacations alone and/or with her single friends.

Which is just to say, I think my husband is a nice guy, a great guy, to be precise, and from my perspective, my stepdaughter's mother is slightly immature and unbalanced. My 9-year-old stepdaughter, who now lives with us on the weekends (her mother filed for sole legal custody and child support last year. she got support, not sole custody, but is now the primary)) often tells me, unsolicited, that her mother ''is the most selfish person in the world'' (she still leaves the little girl with her grandparents constantly, who do the bulk of driving her to school and activities, preparing her meals, and generally caring for her) and constantly asks if she can ''just come live with us,'' or if ''when I get to middle school, can I tell the judge I want to live with you?'' She and I have a tight relationship--I tell her I am her friend, not her mother,and she and my now-1-year old daughter have a beautiful bond.

So, is it worth it to fight for custody? We have heard about things her mother does that we don't like-occasionally spank her with a shoe for trivial things (like not making her bed), threaten to spank her or lock her in her room constantly, ask my stepdaughter if she would like random men that she is (presumably) dating ''to be her new dad,'' and keep secrets from her father about various things. In other words, as one lawyer told us, nothing that consitutes ''abuse'' in a court of law. Custody battles are long, arduous, and expensive. My stepdaughter is a sweet, bright kid. Her father adores her and so do I. Is this something we can win? Or is it a lost cause? Any and all advice is appreciated. anon

I'm in the middle of an ugly and expensive custody battle right now. If you choose to do that it will probably be at least $5,000 for the custody evaluation plus several thousand for lawyer fees with no guarentee you'll win. My first move would be to have the lawyer file a motion for both parents to attend KidsTurn and possibly parenting classes as well. KidsTurn will teach the parents how to effectively co-parent and the child attends an age appropriate workshop with other children of divorce. Based on what you have written it should be possible to get a court order that she attend (they are six week workshops, 1.5 hrs on a weekend morning, parents attend different workshops); If the mother refuses to attend or doesn't follow the program's recommendations, then I would consider reopening the custody case. You are only getting one side of the story and kids do lie and manipulate so I wouldn't be in a rush to spend a bunch of money on lawyer fees. This program can help a lot and is a lot less expensive. BTW, it would still be good for your husband and his child to attend, even if the mother refuses. It can give him tools to deal with her, as well as show the court that he is proactively trying to solve the situation in the event it does turn into a custody battle. Good luck! anon

This is in response to ''should we fight for custody?''. I feel like you're going to get a lot of responses from horrified moms who can't stand the idea of any mom losing custody. But I completely understand where you are coming from.

I would start by just increasing the time you spend with your stepdaughter. The mom will probably not object -- I'm guessing she would welcome the time to herself. A little bit here, a little bit there, minimizing the time she's in that environment by tiny bites.

The kid asking to be with one parent is the easiest way to do this, but the courts usually won't listen to a child's wishes until s/he is 12 or so.

I mean, it's up to your husband and you to figure out if this mom is going to put up a battle. Personally, I think the child belongs with the parent who will care for her the best, in a stable home, regardless of the gender of the parent. But that's hard for a lot of people to hear. Best of luck to you. dads are parents too

This may be skirting the issue... you're right that custody battles are long and awful, and the biological mother if she's not doing drugs or abusive in the legal sense of the word, is considered of primary importance and they tend not to want to change existing orders. This is not to say that when the girl is 13 or so if she's still wanting to talk to a judge you couldn't think about it then. But maybe for now there's some way for your ex (and you) to be friendly and companionable to the mom and in a we're-in-this-parent-thing-together way, say ''I heard you have a big meeting Wed night, we could take her if you need it.'' Or, ''She's welcome to stay here when you go away next week if you want.'' Etc. Play it as friendly as possible, if the ex has any resentment toward you, let it come from your husband and have him say ''I'' not ''we'' or whatever details will make her feel the least threatened. Leave money and official legal stuff out of it entirely. If things become more habitual, you can keep track in case you want to do anything legal later. The dad can also ask the girl to ask her mom for short, occasional exceptions to the schedule - ''special occasions'' of 2-3 hours long. ''Can dad take me to see Shrek?'' or whatever.

I was in your husband's shoes and my ex-husband was the less participatory one, had habits and behaviors as bad as they can be (emotionally) without being illegal. Keeping a friendly tone even when I hated his guts really helped. I pretended I was in acting class. Catching him off guard with some commentary on some odd or funny news item like I was any old pal. Calling at work instead of home where it would be short and cordial. Complimenting him if there was some legitimate accomplishment I heard about. Saying merry christmas and happy birthday. Showing respect even though he didn't. No abrupt, obvious changes or legal actions, and over the course of a few years we went from him having 30%+ to approximately 5% time. If I had asked for increased child support to compensate, he would've been back on his schedule down to the minute to spite me. On the other hand I never kept his kid away from him if he had a special occasion or if she asked can Dad take me to do X. catch more flies with honey

Hi, I don't have advice about whether or not to fight for custody, I am a stepmom too but the other parent is not around. I just wanted to share my reaction to your post...

I was very struck by how one-sided your position was on the relationship of the child and the child's mother. As the former girlfriend during the break-up - now wife - i think you would be more aware of the fact that you don't have the most unbiased perspective on your husband and you don't really know the whole story behind why they broke up - just his side.

I'm just saying this to point out that i think you need to take a big big step back and a back seat to this situation until you can get better perspective. It seems the kid may in fact not be happy - but is also milking the situation and knows your ears are wide open and eating up every negative comment about her mom. it doesn't help for you to feed into it... I know step-parenting is really really challenging and often un- appreciated - so i am not underestimating how much you really care about the kid and what relationship you do have. I'm just saying before you make such a big decision it seems you need to gain better perspective and balance the ''stories'' before you send the kid into a very very traumatic situation. every story has more than one side

I think I was in 7th grade when I went to court to tell the judge that my preference was to continue living with my mom (not my dad, as he was attempting to change the custody agreement.) Anyway, it was awkward since I knew I was telling my dad I didn't want to live with him. But the lawyers & judge were all very nice and appropriate. I don't recall feeling too intimidated. I won't say what you should do, but I do feel that since you have concerns about mom's parenting and your step- daughter is requesting to live with you, it's definitely something you should consider. I think it would be best to have some really good talks w/ your step- daughter about how mom might feel hurt, but that it's important for her to be happy and that grown-ups are responsible for their own happiness, etc. Best of luck to you and your family!! paula

Parents disagree about which school for 5-year-old

April 2007

My ex and I (we were never married) have joint legal custody. He has applied to a private school for our 5 year old daughter. I do not approve of the school for a variety of reasons. I believe he is in violation or our joint legal custody arrangement. I have informed the school, is there anything else I should do, and can the court force me to send my child to a school that does not fit our daughter, even if the father believes it does. If you are a lawyer, and willing to donate 20 minutes of your time to help me strategize, I would greatly appreciate it. Frustrated mother

Even if your relationship with your ex was already highly contentious, you are acting in such a way as to assure that it continues in that vein!

Your child's father put in an application, he didn't enroll your daughter- since he likes that school he clearly wanted to keep that option open. By calling the school you have undermined him, put him down, told him that you will not even consider his viewpoint, and pretty much made certain that the school will not be inclined to accept her. I'd call that fighting dirty.

You two will have to deal with many, many decisions about your daughter over the next (at least) 13 years, and now is the time to find good tools for handling them in a way that is not going to make your daughter feel that she is being ripped down the middle.

Perhaps you trying to compensate for a feeling of powerlessness in the relationship and in life, and if this is the case, you'd be doing yourself and your daughter a big favor if you got some help learning some new ways to deal with those feelings. Your ex may be bringing up these feelings in you, but he is not causing them. Whatever his trips are, the only tool you have for improving the dynamic is by working on yourself. Anon

Ex's girlfriend using discipline I don't approve of

June 2006

I am the mother of a two year old who co-parents with the father (we broke it off when I was pregnant with my child). He resides with his girlfriend and has since my child was 8 months old; she/ I/ and the father have varied opinions of disciplining my child. Her father and I believe in a hands-off approach, and verbal commands and support to my child. His girlfriend believes that when my child is in her home she can discipline her however she feels fit; technically it is their home. But I believe that her father should be implementing the discipline not the girlfriend. And she feels that it is her home and she will decide what my child can do and what she cannot.

My daughters father's family feels that spanking is culturally appropriate and agrees with the girlfriend about discipline. The issues with the girlfriend go deeper than just discipline, she wants my daughter to call her ''mama'' when in her home, and states that she feels like her mother-and that she wishes I didnt exist. When I approach my daughters father about any situation in regards to discipline he agrees with me, but through careful observation he adheres to everything his girlfriend does and says. All in all he is a great father, and the girlfriend seems pleasant enough...the problem is that I am not sure how to approach the topic without anger and bashing taking place afterward. I also dont want my child to have to experience the girlfriends anger and resentment towards me. The girlfriend, on Fathers Day, tried to overrule a command of mine and attempted to discipline my daughter in front of their family and friends to make a point. I cannot continue to go through this humility so that she can prove her point, and ideas on how to approach the situation? anon

The only way you are going to make any progress with your daughter's step mom is by appealing to her concern for the child, not for you. I think you should look up some of the overwhelming advice against physical punishment and have the dad present it to her, without mentioning you. That would be my number one priority--I can not imagine someone else spanking my child if I, as the mother, were against it! As for their relationship, you are going to have to accept that she is at least a 2nd mother to your daughter and let them have a positive relationship. anon

I'm not sure I have good advice for you, but I got so mad reading your post, I had to answer. If I were you (and I'm not), I would first talk to dad and tell him in no uncertain terms that this woman -- who he is not even married to, and whom you describe as girlfriend, not partner, not domestic partner, not SO - but girlfriend -- is, under no circumstances to lay her hands on your child in anger or as discipline ever, ever, ever.

Furthermore, she should not force your daughter to call her mom You could tell you daughter she doesn't have to call her mama unless she *wants* to and in which case it is okay with you. You don't want to undermine the relationship.

On discipline: Girlfriend has a right to her househole rules and she shouldn't have to wait until daddy can do it for her. She is an authority figure in her own home and has an absolute right to maintain her rules. She has the right to discipline if that means time-outs or other actions that the THREE of you agree on. I understand that you may not want this woman to parent your child, but it's already happening and your daugher already has a parent-child relationship that you shouldn't try to undermine.

This woman sounds desparate to usurp you (don't worry, she can't), undermine your authority (she can't really do that, either, your kid will know what's up), and to show-off her role as wicked stepmother. Unfortunately for her, your daughter isn't going to like her if she's disingenuous and mean. Kids are pretty canny. You can't monitor her behavior most of the time, and her public authoritive display is just pathetic. Maybe you should tell her that. Maybe not. But one thing you should not do is keep your mouth shut about how your daughter is treated.

You also need talk to her, with your ex, and tell her if she ever hits your child and you hear about it, you will call CPS. Hitting, in my opinion, is child abuse -- particularly in this case, because you and apparently Dad do not condone hitting as an effective disciplinary tool. I'll tell you what, if I heard that another person hit my child, they might find out what being hit feels like. Anon

It sounds like you are really in a hard spot! The bottom line is that this is your child though; and you and her father decide what's best for her. Since you and her father agree that you don't want to use spanking, it is an outrage that his girlfriend would do it. Further, she has no place over-ruling anything you decide is right for your child. Period. The father also needs to stand his ground here. If the girlfriend doesn't want to discipline in the same fashion you and the father choose than she shouldn't be parenting her at all - no matter who owns the house! I wouldn't even try to work this out on your own, the girlfriend sounds too volatile. Try mediation. There are wonderful mediators in this area who deal with situations like yours all the time. You are not alone and you are right to want to change this situation! If anyone tried to spank my child, I'd go ballistic anon

Oh, how I can relate to your letter. I've had to wrestle with this issue, and want to pass on some of the conclusions I've reached, for whatever they're worth. I co parent a child with a man who is a devoted father, but who has always been anxious to position his girlfriend-now-wife as my child's other mother with a capital M. This has caused me years of pain. I now know that this behavior reflects insecurity and confusion on the part of the girlfriend about her place in her new partner and his child's life. It also manifests cultural confusion about the meaning of parenthood.

Your ex-husband's girlfriend is not your child's mother! Nor will she ever be, even should they decide to get married. It is not all right for her to ask your daughter to call her mama, anywhere. It is also not all right for her to override your authority in public. This is both disrespectful to you, and confusing to your daughter. The fact that she started living with your daughter from an early age may have made it easier for her to take command, but it does not make it right, unless you agree to it. I know that this is a tricky issue, but the fact that one feels like a child's mother or father doesn't make it true, even if one lives with her and takes on caretaking roles! Furthermore, while the idea of everyone parenting together sounds rosy, and, some people do achieve good blended family relations, in my experience, this happens only when there is mutual respect for each person's different roles and responsibilities. The job of a stepparent is to develop a unique relationship with the child that does not involve pretending to be either one of the main parents. The step parent also always needs to be the one who, when both parents are present, steps aside and lets them do the job of parenting. I've seen many people do a beautiful job at these things, but it sounds as if your ex's girlfriend hasn't understood them yet.

The father also needs to stop being ambivalent and begin acting like this child's primary parent. If he does not believe in physical discipline, his girlfriend has no call for exercising it with his child. What his family thinks is also irrelevant. He needs to understand that it is not ok for her to want your daughter to call her mama, and that she needs to understand that her ''feelings'' about this motherhood have no bearing on reality. He needs to work with his girlfriend to help her understand both the limits and the possibilities of her role in your daughter's life. Unfortunately, many parents are not able to do this with their new spouses, and the weird dynamic you describe, in which the child becomes some kind of glue binding their relationship together, takes hold. Ultimately, the only thing you can control is your own behavior, parenting style, and ability to assert yourself in public. The best thing I ever did was to see a therapist. It was expensive but I don't regret a cent I spent.

Here are a few tips I learned, which might also help you: If this girlfriend tries again to take charge of your daughter while you are standing there, step up, and breezily but firmly say: oh, thanks, but I've got this covered! As for your daughter picking up on tension - she is doing so already, no matter how well you all feel you are keeping it from her. In my experience, what children need most in these kinds of situations is clarity. They can handle their parents not getting along if everyone is matter-of-fact about it. I was also helped by my therapist's active encouragement to stop censoring my own anger, and allow myself to say 'how DARE she? That doesn't mean that you express your anger to them by shouting or yelling, only that you honor your own clean feelings. Please feel free to contact me through the moderator. All the best, real mama! anon.

Neglectful father's coming and goings

Jan 2005

I am a mother of a wonderful, loving, articulate 6 year old. My ex-husband and I have separated numerous times since she was 15 months. He has been in and out of her life since then, seeing her only for a few hours at a time on an average of once every 4 months and has never giving us any type of support until recently. I've never tried to keep him away from her and in the past have often encouraged it.

Last year, I filed for divorce seeking for full physcial and legal custody of her. He signed away his rights without even a small protest or hesitation. 14 days after him receiving the order for child support, he files a motion for modification on child support, joint custody and to establish a visitation schedule with her. Long story short, I still have primary custody of her, he is suppose to see her every Thursday for 2 hours, and on Sundays, 4 hrs the first 3 months (starting last July), then 6 hours starting Oct '04 and 8 hrs.

My problem with this is that in October, he announced that he will be away for 4 months starting October 17, 2004 through Feb 4, 2005 due to military obligations. He even gave me a doucument stating so, but on Christmas eve, I received a voicemail message from him stating he is coming to pick her up on Christmas at 10 am (technically he is supposed to have her from 1-6:30pm on Christmas but since he announced he would not be here, I went ahead and made plans for Christmas.) Out of panic, I call him and we argue, finally agreeing to allow him 2 hours with her from 10am to 12pm. Of course he does not bring her back on time, I can't reach him through his cell phone as stipulated by our court agreements, and so I called the police, fearful that he has kidnapped her. They say they can't do anything. So now I have a court date in Feb. to have his visits modified (this was filed before Christmas). My attorney said most likely he will ask for a continuence, his visits will not be modified significantly because it is so little now.

So the problem is this is a repeated behavior with him, always claiming to be away for military obligations but always popping in without any notice and demanding to see her. It is not only disturbing to myself but esp. so to my daughter. While she tells me that she loves him, she also asked to only spend time with him once a week for dinner. Are there any loop holes within our justice system that prevents parents from coming and going within our children's lives or must we have to subject them to this for years until they are old enough to be heard by the courts? Are there any ways to verify those documents he gave. If I can prove that he is lying and has been hanging out with his friends and neglecting his daughter again then perhaps the courts will consider limiting his visitation even more, if not take it away . (I've called the Navy legal department and they said it's all confidential, even if I have my attorney take action, they may or may not disclose such information. I've contacted his work's H.R. department and payroll and still can not get a solid answer, not to mention that HR gave me his work voicemail and it belongs to someone else but the person claims that they share the line.) I feel hopeless and strongly believe that our justice system punishes good parents and give too many chances for undeserving, neglectful ones. Some one pleae advice!
punished for being a good mother

Dear Mom: Unfortunately, I am coming to share your feeling that our justice system punishes good parents and gives too many chances to undeserving, neglectful ones. I myself have a decent divorce/custody situation, but I have a number of friends who have gone through absolute hell. I don't know answers to all your questions, but I can tell you that if you have a court order stipulating specific visitations you should just stick to that. You should check, but my understanding is that any deviations from the order might need to be put in writing and accepted by the other parent before a change can take place. So if he's agreed to a schedule and then can't make it, I don't think you are obligated to change it last minute. The other thing is, your attorney should be able to give you quick answers to some of these questions, and if you don't like him/her I strongly urge you to find someone else. Don't go to court with someone you don't trust. It would be good if you could prove he is lying (if he is); it might help your case. If nothing else, keep a very detailed record of everything that goes on -- phone conversations, visitation times, including actual times to show that he is late, promises made and broken, etc. If you communicate with him via email that is good documentation. Another thought is that I think all military branches have what they call an ''ombudsman'' who offers advice on all sorts of things. They might be more helpful than the Navy attorneys in terms of letting you know what your rights are. If nothing else, the court is entitled to get info about his work situation because they are the ones to enforce child support. See if your attorney can get further down this avenue. I wish I had more positive things to say. Make sure you're totally prepared -- and very calm and rational -- when you go into court. Best of luck!

I'm sorry to hear what you're going through. My custodial situation is not quite as difficult as yours sounds, but I too had a problem with an ex who would change his plans at will after we had made other verbal arrangements, and/or acted unitlaterally on things we were supposed to work out together. My solution was to require written confirmation from him of every change in the legal schedule and every agreement we arrive at - we do it by e-mail, I print them out and keep a folder. Without it I don't agree to any changes. That way, if your ex tells you one thing in writing, on the basis of which you make plans, he can't just decide to make a change without working it out with you, and hsould he want to you are able to decide whether you want to change once again. And mind you, you don't have to! I'm not sure what the legalities are around this kind of negotiation, but I want to assume that a level headed judge would see what's going on. The objective of course is to not have to get to court - for my ex, just knowing that I have written proof of anything he had requested, agreed to, etc. keeps him more or less straight.
Hope this helps a little. All the best. anon

He left me after the birth and now he wants 50% custody

July 2003

Hi, I am a single mom with one child who is now 14 months. My partner decided to leave the relationship when our son was 5 months - we never got married and that was the reason why he left becuase he can't make a commitment. He moved up north (approx. 2.5 hours away) he owns a house on a vineyard, and just bought a new car. We have made arrangements for him to come watch our son two days a week and he only pays me $500 a month for child support (which isn't enough). I've been very accomidating with the amount he is paying at this time and letting him stay on the sofa becuase I care and want my son to have a relationship with his father. I also work full time... which is very hard for me to be away from my son.

Just recently, I asked him if he would like try to work out our relationship and he doesn't want to work it out..I am fine with this but very sad. This week while he was here babysitting our son he told me that he wants to hire a mediator and wants to take our son up north every other week...he wants 50% custody!

I am not agreeing to this at all (there is more to this story about my x that I can't fully explain in this e-mail! Let's just say, he's a good talker!) Anyway, I am seeking advice on how I could get good legal advice. How do I start the process of legal custody? I have been so nice to this guy and he has intiated this. Should he pay for the legal fees if he is initaitng this? Is there a place I can call that isn't a ton of $$$. I was afraid that we couldn't work it out between we have to pour our son's college $$$ for legal stuff. Thanks in adavance for your advice!

You MUST seek legal advice. Surely you must know someone from whom you can borrow money to pay for a lawyer. this is your child's wellbeing at stake, you must do everything in your power to get the childsupport $ you need and hopefully sole custody. Even if it means taking out a loan that you pay for the rest of your life THIS is worth it. (there are millions of dollars of UNTOUCHED college funding out there. if your child wants to go to college someday and you are low income he will be able to qualify for all kinds of aid and scholarships.) You must fight for every penny and every bit of custody (you may be able to get [sue]the father to pay for lawer fees, but you would have to ask your lawer) REMEMBER the father decided to leave (he could have tried harder belive me!) He will have to deal with the consequences of his actions. Just because he impregnated you does not give him the moral (or legal) right to raise your son. you might want to record a few phone conversations catching him saying anything that might be used against him. You are a mother tiger protecting her young, you will not allow anything to damage your child or your relationship to your child. mother tiger

Worried about lax supervision at dad's house

Jan. 2003

My ex-husband and I have a visitation schedule that allows generous amounts of time at Dad's, including some overnight time. I have become concerned over time that the overnight visits are unsafe for my two-year-old, with frequent remarks by Dad that our son has been up by himself at night for several hours, roaming around the apartment and ''trashing things,'' and, most recently, smearing poop on the walls. My ex and I are in mediation, and I am having a hard time getting the mediator and my ex to agree with me that letting a little guy toddle around the house, unsupervised, at night, is a serious hazard to his well-being. I need to know what I can do to stop the overnight visits altogether. Right now it seems that if I refuse to allow them I'm violating the legal custody/visitation agreement.

Here are my thoughts:
1. I could report it to CPS, but then I feel that the kids (esp. my oldest) could be traumatized by the process.
2. I could try and find a pro-bono lawyer (I just can't afford to pay full price for legal fees) to help me modify the custody agreement to ensure that the kids be safer.
3. I could try to be more aggressive about this in mediation (any suggestions about how to do this?)

I would really appreciate any advice on what to do.

This is a very, very dangerous situation that you must take charge of and stop immediately. It is completely unacceptable for a two-year-old to be left at home alone for any amount of time. Does the mediator really understand that this is happening? Get aggressive! Threaten to take it to the CPS and then do so. Make yourself strong, make your voice heard, and stop allowing your children to be endangered in this way. CPS ''trauma'' is nothing compared to what could happen.

BTW, I speak from experience -- I had to get tough with this same situation, though my child was a little older. Put steel in your stomach and just do it. anonymous

Joint custody mom neglecting 8-y-o's academics

April 2003

I have 50-50 physical & legal custody of my 8yrs daughter (which I had to fight for and it was worth it because I love my daughter more than anything). My ex does not was to invest any time helping our daughter with her homework or encourgage her to excel academically. Yesterday, she sent home our daughter without her book report. So we spent 1 hour working on it in addition to her other homework. When I questioned my ex she said that she was busy buying her a dress. My response was that she set aside at least hour per week to help - and she ignored me. I try to explain to her that it is her responsibilty to make sure that she studies even though it is not require of her when she is with her Mom. What can I do? Thanks for any advice. Sam

Good for you to be concerned and involved with your daughter's academic development! Showing interest is so important to a child's feelings of self-esteem and security, even aside from skills development. Some questions for you, Sam: If you and your ex have 50/50 joint custody, don't you have a ''parenting plan'' in place? Usually in the custody determination process, a court-approved mediator helps to work out a detailed plan (if the parents can't or don't on their own) that can certainly include specific agreements around providing a supportive environment for studying and helping with homework. If you don't have a formal ''parenting plan,'' you might consider asking your attorney, or the court's family legal services, to help you and your ex to arrive at one.

I didn't follow your comment ''it is her [the mom's] responsibilty to make sure that she [daughter] studies even though it is not require of her when she is with her Mom.'' Isn't studying ''required'' routinely, every week, every weekend? Consistency and routine is key; Mom's house should not be any different from Dad's house in that respect. Can you try to enlist your ex in creating a more structured, regularized routine for your daughter? Might Mom herself feel threatened by academics? Does she need to be assured that all she needs to do is to provide an encouraging environment, time, space -- not ''do the work'' for your daughter? Good luck with this. I'd like to hear how things work out. Concerned co-parent

These types of issues require that both you and your ex are willing to work together in your child's best interest. When my ex and I weren't able to do this, we went to coparenting counciling. This seems like the only way for us to be able to resolve issues. If your ex refuses to do this, you can go back to court to amend your custody agreement, and require counciling. However you manage to resolve your issues, the most important thing is that your child not get caught in the middle. That can be more damaging than a lack of academics. Good luck! anon.

I, too, have 50% custody of an 8-y-old. And her dad quite often forgets to help her with homework, practicing spelling words, class projects, etc., and forgets things like her lunch or to bring back her library books. When she first started kindergarten and this problem came up I tried talking to him about it, but it went nowhere and just led to heated arguments.

So I gave up on my ex, and my daugther and I have found ways around the problem. In kindergarten, for example, she decided to stop bringing library books to his house because she knew he wouldn't remember to take them back. I didn't even know she'd done this until I overheard her telling my mom. At the time it made me incredibly sad, but now I realize this was a way that she chose to take control of the situation, which I think was an empowering thing for her.

She also brings all her homework to my house to do since she's learned that at his house, it just doesn't usually get done. (Even in intact marriages, there's often one parent who does most of the homework with the kids, so I guess it's not surprising that this problem comes up in a divorce--but without two full-time parents the system breaks down.)

I often call her when she's with him and quiz her on her spelling words, or remind her to bring back her homework or field-trip form.

It's hard on my daughter, no question, but she's really impressed me with her ability to deal with this problem and I like to believe that there are some positive aspects to her having figured out (with my help, though not via any direct discussion) how to manage. The older she gets, the more responsibility she takes on herself to compensate for the lack of support in this area from her dad. Her teachers help, too, since they usually figure out a few months into the school year who's doing it with her. This year my daughter told her teacher directly that her dad is a ''forgetting dad'' and asked her to give important papers to me.

It's certainly not ideal but we're getting through, and she does very well in school. The best part is that it eliminates ongoing arguments with her dad, which is a blessing. I envy divorced people who can work productively with their ex-spouses --for me, this kind of discussion rarely goes well so my daughter and I have taken an alternative path. Good luck to you, and I hope you find your own path. Sympathetic mom