Dire consequences can arise from child custody mistakes

A recent article in the Huffington Post refers to a “horror story” in the arena of child custody and underscores what can happen when divorcing spouses are overly fixated on the cheapest divorce option, with too much reliance being placed on trust rather than firm legal protections.

The matter involved a divorcing couple who did not address child custody in their divorce agreement. The father then moved to a distant state, remarried and showed little continuing interest in the couple’s son, who continued living with the mother.

The mother wanted the child to have a continuing relationship with his father and sent him to visit for a lengthy period during the summer.

The day before the child was scheduled to come back, the mom was served with papers from a court in her former spouse’s new state. Her ex-mate was suing for custody, apparently motivated by the desire to stop paying child support. He and his new wife claimed that the boy’s mother was an incompetent parent.

The case dragged on through multiple hearings over a year, with the woman spending many thousands of dollars on air fare, hotels, payment for a home study analysis and other costs that her husband didn’t need to match because all the court proceedings were in his home state. Moreover, and during the process, he had continued custody of the boy, with the mother being ordered to pay support.

Ultimately, permanent custody of the child was given to the husband, with the mother receiving limited visitation.

A commentator on the case notes the “avoidable mistakes” that led to such an outcome. The first was failure to have a custody order in place prior to sending the child to another jurisdiction. If that had been properly attended to, the mother could have insisted that custody issues be decided in a court in her state. Another error was not insisting immediately that the case be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

The article notes that many out-of-state parents “struggle with an uneven playing field” that is further complicated by not having proper legal protections in place concerning matters such as custody and support. This can be especially problematic for many military service members with children, who, because of deployments and constant moves, can become involved in interstate custody battles.

The proven and diligent representation of an experienced divorce attorney can go far toward eliminating conflicts and ambiguities.

Source: Huffington Post, “Two big child custody mistakes to avoid,” Bob Jeffries, Dec. 26, 2012

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