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Have you ever heard of a case like mine...

hi mark,

i was wondering if you have ever heard of a case like mine. I divorced my bi-polar husband 9 years ago. our youngest son was 8 at the time with 12 and 13 year old sisters. i didn't have problems for several years with my ex interfering. he basically didn't want the kids when they were younger. he couldn't handle the responsibility and often forgot to pick them up on his weekends. when my middle wild child was 15, she was caught drinking at the county fair, i grounded her from the next night of the fair, and told her she would be on a very short leash until further notice. she ran away and was missing for a week. she made it appear that she jumped out of a window high enough to break her ankles or whatever. this was a ploy, i found out later.

anyway, needless to say i was frantic, and spent days calling around until i found out where she was. i asked her father to go with me to get her, he said to just let her go and she’d call me. he called to say she was with him and was too afraid to come home (i have never hit my children by the way). he used this situation to let her live with him. she loved it because there are no rules at his house, he lets her openly sleep with her boyfriend at his house.

I would make "sweeps" of the house and find a bag of pot or multiple bottles of cough syrup in her drawers etc. i tried to talk to her dad about it and he said she needed that cough syrup for her allergies or other ridiculous comments or he would say i was "making things up."

Her grades declined, the whole 9 yards. My ex cooperated loosely with the terms of our divorce initially because he thought we would reunite. he acted like he had made many of the changes i requested, but i found out he didn't and that he didn't want ME back, but his assets (didn't think me or the kids were assets). He started going out with a woman right after i told him there was no chance for us to get back together.

She had a daughter the same age as my middle girl, and a 13 year old boy who was immature enough to hang with my 9 or 10 year old son. this woman told my kids they could choose who to live with once they were 13. my oldest didn't want to live there because of the chaos but mostly because she and her younger sister hate each other. He stopped returning my youngest around this time. i tried everything to get him to cooperate. his doorbell didn't work, he didn't have an answering machine and this make communication with him and my children difficult.

i started going over to check on them every day and make sure they were okay. my ex was rarely there and didn't care if i did this at first. i kept requesting that he return them and he said it was "their choice and they preferred to be with me." i didn't want to get the courts involved so i visited my lawyer and just asked that he send my ex a nasty letter telling him to follow the visitation schedule or we would take him to court. He didn't, so i waited another 6 months and he filed a petition to change custody. he lost, appealed, lost, appealed to the appellate court in springfield and lost again. i requested that he pay some or all of the legal expenses, but the judge said i appeared to be capable of paying them even though he was (these are my words) using the courts to harass me.

I still owe money and have spent $10,000 on attorneys fees to find out that they couldn't MAKE him follow the visitation schedule, only put my children in a foster placement if they wouldn't come home. they would come home if he told them they had to. in the meantime, the court never made him abide by the visitation schedule and all this dragged on until my daughter turned 18 and then the court said she could stay with her dad (even though i pay for all her medical, dental, and eye) which means she is not an emancipated minor.

the judge actually said he couldn't really make an 18 year old live where she didn't want to live. do you believe that, i followed all the court orders and my kids and ex don't have to! anyway, that daughter and I get along well now and she has admitted that the lack of rules coupled with her dad buying her whatever she wanted was all she was thinking about when she was younger, and she regretted how she treated me.

i requested sanctions (punishment) against my ex. i didn't want my children's father jailed, so asked that he be fined for each day he violates visitation or that they let my son live with me until he is 18 as this would amount to about how much time was taken from me. instead the court said we all had to see a counselor separately and i would have to pay for half of that. i didn't think my ex would do it, but he did. the counselor's conclusion was that my son was a "pig" who had a narcissistic personality and would do or say anything to get his way. this might be because he has been living with his dad who fits this description perfectly.

do you have any suggestions for me? i feel like if i let him go, he will become more and more like his dad who doesn't respect anyone or anything, doesn't appreciate all he has since he's been given too much, doesn't know how to love and is the most unhappy man i have ever met! i'm quite worried about how he will feel about and treat women in his life. finally, are all family courts designed like the one here, to make money for the attorneys?

K.
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Hi K.,

I’m sorry you got the short end of the stick in the courts. What you described seems terribly unjust.

A child’s preference to live with the noncustodial parent can be a basis for modifying custody, but the child’s reasons must be well based and NOT appear to be the result of coaching or bribery. In one case, a father who was trying to gain custody of his 13-year-old had given his son a horse, two TVs, a minibike, a shotgun, and a private phone line the week before going to court. The father did not gain custody.

In addition to showing a change in circumstances, the parent seeking a change of custody must show that he or she can provide a better environment for the child than the child’s current environment.

A parent seeking to change custody through the court usually must show that the conditions have changed substantially since the last custody order. The change of circumstance usually involves something negative in the child’s current environment—such as improper supervision or harmful conflicts with the custodial parent or stepparent.

In order to discourage parents from constantly litigating custody, some states apply a special standard for custody modifications sought within the first year or two after a prior custody order. In those states, the parent must show not only a change of circumstances, but also that the child is endangered by the child’s current environment. After expiration of the one- or two-year period, the courts apply normal standards for modification (without having to show endangerment).

The most common standard for modification of child support is a substantial change in circumstances, which usually refers to a change in income of the parent who is paying support. If the parent suffers a loss of income, that could be a basis for reducing support; conversely, if the parent’s income increases, that could be a basis for increasing support.

Changes in the child’s circumstances can be a reason for modifying support. If the child has significant new expenses such as orthodonture, special classes, or health needs that are not covered by insurance, that too can be a reason for increasing support.

Significant changes in the income of the parent seeking support also can be a basis for modification. If the custodial parent’s income drops (particularly through no fault of the custodial parent), that might be a basis for increasing support. If the custodial parent’s income increases, that might be basis for reducing support from the noncustodial parent.

When a parent experiences a financial setback, one of the last things the parent may want to do is incur more expenses by hiring an attorney to try to reduce support. But if the parent has a good reason to reduce support, the money is well spent. If the local court is user-friendly, the parent seeking to change support might try to represent himself or herself.

If parents voluntarily wish to change custody, they may do so without having to prove special factors such as endangerment or a change in circumstances. Parents may change custody without obtaining a court order, but if the parent receiving custody wants to make the modification “official”—thus making it more difficult for the other parent to regain custody—it is best to obtain a court order modifying custody.

In addition, an informal change of custody will not necessarily stop a parent’s support obligation—only a court order can provide certainty of that.

In any event, it sounds like the court did not really do its job.

You asked if I had any suggestions: I would strongly encourage you to move on with your life. Time is ticking away …your kids are getting older. As they become more mature by virtue of time, you and they will have a greatly improved relationship. The best is yet to come. Put all the legal wrangling to rest. You take care of you. Be good to yourself. Start today!

Mark

Online Parent Support

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