Conflicts about Shared Custody

Archived Responses: 

Questions Related Pages

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

Co-Parenting with a hostile father

Nov 2007

As a single mother of a 4-yr-old daughter, I am finding it increasing difficult to co-parent with my daughter's father. We were never married and have a co-parenting agreement in place which states that co-counseling is mandatory. Recently, he is displaying behaviors that are in line with a bi-polar disorder that runs in his family. The catch is that earlier this year he accused me of abuse (completely unsubstantiated and ubsurd) and reported it to CPS. He forced my hand and when my atty and I came to the table with his counsel, I agreed to sharing custody and completing anger mgmt classes. I did this (mostly because he motivated my anger and) because I felt it was in my child's best interest (shared custody) and (anger mgmt) would serve me well as a single, custodial (80%) parent. Now he continually thwarts any progress we make in our sessions by threatening not to continue co-parenting therapy and also seeking legal and police action. I am financially not in a good place to call his bluffs and seek legal counsel and subsequently feel helpless. I am a good mother . I work part-time and am in school to insure our future. I am tired of raising two children (the DAD and my daughter.) Any insight or recommendations on affordable legal counsel would sure help. BTW, I am in therapy for myself which helps ground me quite a bit but nonetheless, feedback is greatly appreciated. Thanks and Namaste. Distressed Single Mom

I could have written your letter, and after dealing with this for almost 4 years I have created a structure that works fairly well. First, establish a strict ''email only'' policy of communication and stick to it. All discussions or agreements need to be emailed and saved. If this doesn't cut down on the abuse, it does allow you to document it. Do not respond to any abuse or false accusation sent to you by him. Filter in only the parts of the email that have to do with direct and immediate co-parenting issues, and respond only to those issues. Do not get sucked in to responding to anything else, no matter how badly your buttons are being pushed. All of your emails to him should be business-like and should stick to the point of co-parenting only. Do not write anything sarcastic, funny, friendly, angry, etc. Just think of what it would look like in a co-parenting session or in court if all of your emails are straightforward and focused, and his are all abusive and accusatory. It won't take them long to figure him out.

Next, do not answer your phone. Get rid of voice mail and get an answering machine that you can screen. Don't answer your cell phone either. Never pick up the phone when he calls. This takes some practice, but I promise your life will improve a great deal once you do this. If he calls and leaves a message, respond via email: ''I got your message...'' If there is an emergency with your child, he will say so on the message and you can act accordingly. You are not breaking any ''rules'' by doing any of this. No one says you have to answer your phone (I haven't in 3 years). Stick to ''yes'' and ''no'' responses during drop off and pick up, or say ''I'll think about that. Why don't you email me and I'll get back to you.'' Also, look into the possiblility that he has NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder). What you describe seems to fit that. Good luck. anon

In my unfortunately similar situation I have found it extremely helpful to have good boundaries, including as little communication as possible with the other parent. I asked the court to assign a ''Special Master'' (aka ''Referee'') who makes recommendations to the court when we cannot agree. So we only communicate by email and then only to make agreements (no discussion, no complaints, no explanations). Those issues which we cannot resolve on our own go to the Special Master. His harrassment will worsen, so establish the boundaries asap. Read ''The Sociopath Next Door''. Protect yourself

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

Sharing custody with a mentally ill co-parent

April 2004

I am mother to a wonderful child whose father and I are no longer together. We were never married so we have no custody agreement. My child lives with me and spends a few hours a week with my ex, who does not provide any financial support for our child. He now wants to start having my child sleep over on a regular basis.

My child's father was diagnosed manic-depressive several years ago, and I am now seeing signs in him of narcissistic personality disorder. His behavior toward me is sometimes hostile and aggressive, and I have had to ask him to stop sending me hostile emails. He refuses to take any medication for his manic depression, and the result is a person who is very unreliable and erratic.

What am I to do about my child spending time with his father, now and in the future? I have spoken with lawyers about filing a petition for custody/paternity, but I'm afraid this could backfire and result in 50/50 custody; I also would like to avoid the cost and ugliness. I would love to hear any advice in dealing with this kind of person, as well as what legal steps people in my shoes have taken. I feel I need to tread lightly, but at the same time I feel terrified that my child and I are so unprotected. Anon

This is a hard one. I have a co-parent who suffers from depression that became much worse when I left him. He always denied that he was depressed when we were together, but then when I left he actually had to be hospitalized for a short time because there was a fear he would commit suicide. This is very tough on a child, and we have 50/50 custody. My son, who is sensitive to his Dad's moods, often worries about him and begs me to come back so that Dad won't be sad. When I left my marriage, I worried about giving up half-custody of my son in this situation, but because his Dad was at that time not seriously ill, there was no argument against shared custody. And even now his father denies that there was anything seriously wrong -- it was all a mistake that he was hospitalized, he claims. So it is hard. I would consult with a lawyer, perhaps, in addition to the mediator. The mediator has to work with both parents, and that is a good thing, but you also need to know your rights in the case of more severe mental illness. Good luck in your struggle for your child. wish I had more custody
I'm sorry to hear about your situation. I have a sister who has narcissistic personality disorder and my experience is that there is no way to reason with someone like that. And for my situation, trying to reason with her just feeds her need for anger, resentment and blame. I understand your hesitation with hiring a lawyer, but I really think you should. And get a good lawyer, preferably someone who has dealt with something like this. Hopefully you will get better legal advice from people on this list than I can give you. But really, really do not make this mistake of thinking your ex-partner can be reasoned with. You need to take every step possible, legally, to protect yourself and your son, and do it sooner rather than later so things do not get out of hand. It is your primary responsibility to protect your son, so please do everything you need to to that end. Good luck! anon
My husband is bipolar and we went through a very rough period in which he blamed me for everything and said nasty things to me. So much of what you said sounds familiar; luckily my husband started treatment and things are a lot better now. It's true that there is no way to know what the outcome would be, but in your shoes I would definitely go to court trying to win full custody. If your ex has been formally diagnosed but won't take medication to stabilize his condition, it seems that with the proper court-ordered evaluation he would be determined to be unstable. When I was considering divorce, I thought a lot about this, and I would definitely pursue that course of action, with as much evidence as possible to prove that the dad is unpredictable. I would push for some sort of evaluation or mediation prior to each visit with the child, too, but I have no idea if that's something that actually happens in the real world. It's your responsibility to protect your child as much as you can, and in this situation a good way to do this is to go for broke and get as many legal rights with respect to your child as you can. I know you said you want to ''tread lightly'' but I don't think you can finesse your ex's reactions on this one anyway, so you might as well throw the book at him. Maybe he will realize that he needs to be treated, or maybe he'll freak out on you and you'll have to get a restraining order, which would also work to your advantage in court. wife of bipolar
Please, please get a court order! Your post really upset me because you seem to have done everything to avoid going to court. DO IT! Based upon what you have said, I doubt you will get 50/50 custody, but even if you did, anything is better that the chaotic and unstable arrangement that you and your child are living under. Everything calms down once there is a court order dictating the structure of a co-parenting arrangement, I promise. Somehow you have the wrong idea about how things work in family court services. You mentioned that you have not gone to court because you were never married. Being married has nothing to do with custody issues between parents. Forget a private mediator - Run, do not walk, and file an ''Order to Show Cause'' and get that court order now! The court will appoint you a mediator for free. They will even deal with child support. Please stop hoping that he will be reasonable and agree with you. You seem to have a lot of flimsy excuses not to go to court. It will stop the craziness and offer you some peace and stability - Please do it tomorrow! 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

Shared custody with hostile and abusive dad

July 2001

Can someone give me advice, direction, on what agencies or groups can assist a single mom who is struggling with the dad of her teen son, a dad who harasses the mother at work when he's angry and likes to humiliate her in front of their son.

My son is a teen and is shared between me and his dad, so my son lives with me as well as his dad - but, his dad puts him in the middle when he's angry at me, last incident he removed my son's belongings from my apt., has my son and is effectively holding him until I succomb to his verbal abuse. I am not allowing it, filing a restraining order, etc., but my son needs help; he loves his dad, but receives verbal abuse from him as well, he suffers when it's happening but then forgets about it and doesn't understand why I can't forget it (now that dad isn't angry anymore), and why it can't be the same anymore.

My son is not the kind to open up or agree to any kind of outside involvement, and he will be furious with me when his dad gets served with a restraining order, and ordered to court, reads my declaration. I cannot call my son now without the threat of his father getting on the phone and doing his ugly tirade, he can talk normal tone but say the ugliest most horrible things to embarass me in front of our son.

Although he is a good dad in some senses, he's terrible in others, and I am figuring out a way to put a stop to his dad verbally abusing him - saying thngs like f****r and I'm going to smash your dreamcast, etc. It's one thing to be angry, but it's another when you're that ugly to your own son.

My son loves his dad very much, he also loves me, but it seems he is very protective of his dad, possibly because he's been brainwashed into thinking that the most horrible thing I could do to him is to make it a court action. I have to do that and I am so afraid my son will not speak to me, and his dad will keep him longer than he should on his turn now, and make it impossible for me to contact my son without confrontation and possible physical threatening from his dad if I go to his dad's place - it would become any ugly scene, something I am dead set against happening to my son every again, even at the expense of not seeing my son for days. I am trying to get it all resolved right away court-wise, but my son needs an outlet, peers or something - soon - when I am able to get him back. I am living paycheck to paycheck and can hardly make ends meet, and for that reason I find I have very little resources. I can't even afford an attorney - not even for 1 hr., I make too much money to get low-cost, nobody cares too much about the effects of verbal abuse/harassment and the illegality of it, it's only physical abuse that seem to get everyone's attention.

This is a dreadful situation you have to deal with. Don't believe the abuse your husband throws at you--it's not true--let it roll off your ears. Don't get sidetracked by that. Do let your son know that abuse is unacceptable and no one deserves to have to deal with it.

I had decided to use the court as a last resort since I didn't want to get into psychologists, etc. Surprisingly, each time I decided that it would be worth it, he changed his behavior (without my ever going to court.) It must have been my attitude.

My son decided that he didn't want to live that way and refused to go to his house. Since it wasn't I who was preventing my son from going, the dad had no legal recourse. He got so that he would hang up on his father. We put a service on the phone where after the first abusive call, we could refuse further calls from his phone number that night, then give him another chance the next day. He'd never say anything negative about his dad, but did use the phone service.

I went for counseling instead of sending my son. That way I could learn ways to help him and myself. And finally, things change. They will not always stay the way they are now. Take care of yourself and your son.

Try the Family Violence Law Center in Berkeley 540-5354 (they may be able to represent you in court, or at least counsel you or suggest legal counsel) and the Berkeley Community Law Center 548-4040 and maybe the Parental Stress Service 893-5444 (more of a crisis line, but may be able to refer you to resources). If you want to contact me about my experiences with filing a restraining order, feel free.
Bad news: You need to either go ahead and get as nasty as it takes -- including restraining orders, court, jailtime, incurring debts for legal help... whatever it takes (I would consider leaving town with your son and disappearing for 3 years...) OR, you need to completely give up and let your husband raise your son without your input. Maybe that's the only solution, if you can't do anything else... it sounds like in your absence your husband is only verbally abusive...and with you there its even worse. At the moment you are teaching your son that a) you are powerless and b) evil wins, c) some things are more important to you than he is. Good luck, I'm sorry you have to go through this, and I know it must be hard for you, but I urge you to stop even LOOKING at the reasons you can't do anything-- and DO IT anyway -- whatever it takes. You are raising a man, and have the opportunity to send him a clear message on what a man is like, and that you can't tolerate and don't expect anything less than that for him. Heather
I am going through a difficult divorce myself right now and I have found Alanon to be invaluable in helping me deal with all aspects of this process. (See Alanon for the rest of this message.)

You probably know this but Nolo press is a good source of help with the legal aspects of divorce...they have many excellent do it yourself books and a low cost service of some kind. I send my best wishes to you. Hang in there. It will get better.

If you haven't already contacted STAND, they are the formerly Battered Women's Alternatives agency and they can offer you help both emotionally support wise and also give you legal advice and depending on your situation find you a pro bono (no charge to you) attorney. You can reach them at 1-888-215-5555 24hr/7days.

As you can see from the thread, teen-age boys are quite a handful and they do reach a point where it is really important that they separate from their moms (on some emotional level) as they seek to learn what it is to be a man. Oftentimes, they turn to their dads and it is difficult when a parent is both a loving and abusive parent. It is tough enough when the parent is mostly loving and making the usual list of mistakes that parenting brings. It is so confusing when they send both love and rage at the same time. I have two sons, 14 and 15 years old. On a good day :)), it's great to see them struggle back and forth as they choose between who they are and what they want to be whether it's with me or their dad or their friends. On some days, I don't want to even own up to the reality that they are my children!

Even though your expectations are that your son will be upset with you and furious if you take action against his dad, he probably will be more relieved that an adult has stepped in to put some boundaries on out-of-control behaviors and inappropriate actions by another adult who is important in his life. Much as they rebel against it, children want structure-- if nothing else than to bounce off of as they search for their own identities. When abuse is present than if someone doesn't stop it and/or confront it, then children involved receive the message that it's okay to do this and can/do start acting with similar behaviors.

I really hope you are able to contact STAND. They are incredibly helpful and can probably give you some advice with your son as well as with practical stuff. Shirley

Hello, You sound just like me a few years ago! I can refer you to a lawyer who helped me sort of Pro Bono. I owe her alot of money, but I can take time to pay it back. I was in and out of court for 10 years. I had to prove to the court that the skeletons in my closet were dead. My experience is probably different than yours in some ways, but I had to reply (even though I'm too busy). I found that nobody, not even my family, wanted to get involved. There's a tendency to think both parents are crazy. (We were crazy to be involved with these horrible men in the first place, but the crime doesn't fit the punishment or vice-versa.)

You love your son. He will suffer if you say or feel negative things about his father. For your own sanity try to understand that what his father is doing to you is not about you. Never trust him, but leave the anger behind. Fight for your son's well-being; not to win. Your son needs to be safe. You must decide if the verbal abuse merits ending their relationship. Your son will be angry if you take away his father, but maybe he'll get over it. I don't know what your particular situation is. If at all possible let the court mediator (mine in Alameda County was Narvelle Handy and she was very good) help you come to an agreement. Whatever they say goes in the courtroom. Court battles can be very costly especially if you have a good lawyer; which you'll need.

My heart goes out to you. I know what a horrible nightmare you're experiencing. Make it clear that you are not under his thumb. Be strong and clear, and consistent. Take good care of yourself so that you can take good care of your son.

My situation is in a way similar to the previous posting about this issue. However, my son idolises his father, and wants to go and live with him. His father is still in England, and if my son leaves now he will not get a green card. I've been trying to persuade him to wait until the green card arrives, as then if he does go to live with his father, it will be a reversible action. Otherwise, if he doesn't like it there, he will be stuck in England and I wouldn't be able to help him.

My son is now fourteen, and has stopped working at school completely in an effort to 'get back to England'. This is self-destructive behaviour; he's been threatening suicide as well.

It's a horrible decision; his father has a drinking problem, and was abusive - violent - but also emotionally abusive both to me and the children. Also my son idolises his excessive drinking behaviour (even though on an access visit last year he had to carry him home from a festival on his shoulders.).

His father refuses to visit him in America (says it's a disgusting place) - and my son makes excuses for this, saying he understands how his father feels.

His father has been complaining that I will not let my son see him, going to agencies in England etc... but on a recent visit he refused to return my son to America, made him miss the flight at Heathrow...I have told him that he can visit here any time, and even offered to pay his fares over. He refuses to come. I feel confused, upset, hurt by my son's reaction to his father. I try to overcome my own feelings, to look at it objectively, to try and see what is best for my child. My gut instinct is that it would be wrong, damaging, for him to live with his father - but then I would expect myself to feel that on some level, even if his father was great...

The history makes this all very ironical; I was a single parent in England, when I struggled through college, with no child support; the father then took out a custody case when I had just finished my finals and was starting postgraduate work. My son was three at the time. An elderly English judge decided that the children 'needed a parent', not to be in nursery school (it was a great school!). It took me two years to regain custody of my child, and during this time he formed an attachment to his father. I am trying to deal with my own feelings over all this - as I still haven't recovered from it.

When we moved to America, his father wrote a letter to my son saying I can only say that I hope everything goes terribly wrong. I face a difficult decision - I'd appreciate any thoughts on this...I have other children, including a seventeen year old daughter who has decided, after a similar crisis last year, to stay in America.

I'd like to commend those who are recommending taking a stand, albeit difficult, against an abusive parent of their children. It is important to set a clear example for our children that abusiveness is not acceptable. Deep down, I would expect your children to be relieved to see you take a stand against the inappropriate behaviors. Hopefully your situation will find resolution. The words were very true that: When abuse is present, than if someone doesn't stop it and/or confront it, then children involved receive the message that it's okay to do this and can/do start acting with similar behaviors. Not only do the children involved receive that message, but the victim of that abuse can herself start to believe she deserves it, and lose her self-esteem. Years ago, I saw the following, which I hope is helpful to you:
Your Basic Assertiveness Rights 1. To act in ways that promote dignity and self-respect without violating the rights of others. 2. To be treated with respect. 3. To say no and not feel guilty. 4. To experience and express one's feelings. 5. To take time to slow down and think. 6. To change one's mind. 7. To ask for what one wants. 8. To do less than humanly possible. 9. To ask for information. 10. To make mistakes. 11. To feel good about oneself.
Good luck to you. Carol