The issue DH's atty thought would be trickiest was child support:
1- DSS's mom was ordered to "pay" it through the cost of visiting him here. But she has never visited much; less each year; and not at all since last Labor Day. (DSS does visit her 3x/year.)
2- It would be one thing, if she had no job or money. (Although, when noncustodial dads get behind on child support while struggling with unemployment, we as a society have no sympathy for them. Many serve jail time.) Mom does change jobs a lot, but her periods of unemployment appear to have been short or nonexistent (going straight from one job to another). We learned that overall, in the last 5 years since the custody change, her income has increased ~20% and she still slightly out-earns DH. When DSS visits her, she can afford pricey vacations and shopping sprees. She can afford to pay DSS a $200/month allowance (even when he's with us). And - honest to God - even as Mom told the mediator she was "shocked" by the "unfairness" that she would be expected to pay child support, she also tried to negotiate getting a passport for DSS, so she can take him on a European vacation this summer. The truth (albeit impossible to "prove" in court) is that she very intentionally does not visit DSS here, as part of a consistent effort to convince him that she can't be involved in his life if he lives here; that life is more fun and luxurious where she lives; and that he should campaign to move there.
3- We assumed mediation would be a waste of money. Why would a woman who follows a strict ethic of noncooperation ever agree to pay child support? I'm sure Mom herself expected mediation to fail and only looked at it as a vehicle to postpone going to court, until she could find a new attorney. And DH's atty warned that, even if we went to court later, Mom might very well convince the judge she wanted to start visiting more and paying support would prevent it. The cost of an out-of-state parent traveling to visit their child is an official reason to reduce/waive child support, here.
4- The mediator (also a family court judge) convinced Mom it was only a matter of time; that a judge would certainly order her to pay the guideline amount, if mediation failed and they went to court. (FWIW, that rings more true than Atty's concern. C/S modifications are supposed to be based on the events of the previous year and in the previous year, Mom hasn't paid support by visiting, even once.) Mom has had trouble finding a 4th local attorney willing to represent her (the 1st 3 all quit on her). She didn't want the expense of hiring one, or returning next month for a hearing, if she was likely to wind up paying support anyway. So, she agreed to start paying it. Look out the window! Pigs are flying.
5- Of course, the money will be nice, to help with DSS's tuition, health insurance and college savings. But we don't expect her to pay it regularly. She suffers from binge spending and often reneges on financial obligations. Here, a NCP can't ask for custody if they're behind in child support. Even if they catch it up before they file for custody, a history of irregular payments looks bad. The nicest thing about C/S would be if she didn't keep up with it (any better than she has, with her offer to pay half of DSS's tuition) and we never have to deal with her asking for the custody modification she has long promised. It would be nice if DSS (not to mention DH and me) could feel secure and settled about where he will attend high school. He can visit his mom. She can move here. But it would be nice to know he's staying put.
Arguably the bigger issue, to DH and me, was putting him in charge of arranging DSS's travel:
1- There's been a recurrent issue over Mom wanting DSS to change planes alone (not as an unaccompanied minor - since that entails extra fees - but as an adult). Since she must always paint herself as the better parent, she would never acknowledge that this is about money (or maybe opposing DH's every opinion). It's about principle: changing planes alone in the huge Las Vegas or Denver airports, on the last flight of the day, during the busy spring break or Christmas seasons is essential to DSS's self-esteem and she must insist he do it, to counteract DH's "fearful" and oppressive parenting instincts. Last spring break, countless direct flights were available, but Mom preferred to skip the entire visit rather than put DSS on one.
2- We've tried not to schedule activities during breaks and let Mom pick whatever dates she wants, for her visits. But this summer, she absolutely demanded that her visit conflict with DSS attending his older brother's wedding (DH's son from his 1st marriage). As DSS gets older, there may be more things he wants to do here that deserve consideration, when scheduling his travel dates.
3- Mom also sometimes schedules short visits (taking only half of spring break, or only 6 weeks in the summer when she's entitled to 7). Either she does this because it's cheaper, or perhaps because she hopes to convince DSS it's DH's fault. She definitely blames DH after the fact. It's absolutely ridiculous and unsupportable, but DSS may not realize that.
4- Well...surprise, surprise...Mom agreed to let DH make all DSS's travel arrangements, as long as he pays for the tickets. Which is fine, since she'll be paying child support. I assume C/S sticker-shock is why she agreed to this.
There were a number of more minor issues, but the most significant one was Christmas:
1- Long story short, Mom is Jewish. The 2 years she's had the chance to spend Christmas with DSS, one year she declined and the other year, she didn't celebrate it with him in any way, she just made sure he didn't see DH that day. Sometimes she goes several years without expressing any interest in having DSS on Christmas. The years she does want him, she is either furious at DH about something and clearly wants to punish him; or she claims to cherish Christmas (insisting it's "her turn" to have DSS then), but she offers to trade Christmas for something else she wants from DH. Yes, it's hard to "prove" whether or not someone celebrates Christmas. No, you don't have to be a religious Christian to observe it. But every year it becomes more and more obvious that Christmas is just a tool Mom uses, to bargain or punish.
2- The mediator said the new standard of practice is that, regardless who celebrates what, divorced parents alternate who gets the 1st half of winter break, which results in alternating Christmases. The psychologist who "team-mediates" with this mediator suggested adding a stipulation that, if Mom's going to get alternating Christmases, she must put up a tree and give DSS gifts.
3- This really ticks me off. It flies in the face of 3 separate references in our state guidelines, re apportioning holiday parenting time based on which holidays parents actually celebrate, plus the section of DH's and Mom's orders that compels them to strictly follow every word of the guidelines. Also, if you have to order a parent to engage in the superficial trappings of celebrating a holiday, why don't you just let the kid spend that holiday with the parent who doesn't have to be ordered to pretend he observes it? There's fairness, and then there's just stupidity.
4- I have a hard time backing down, when I think something's fundamentally "right". DH is better at negotiating and recognized the benefit of not letting this otherwise successful mediation fail. He agreed to the alternation, as long as we get DSS this Christmas. Mom said OK, as long as DH dumped all his requests for her to finally pay her share of custody evaluation / counseling / medical fees she has blown off, the last 5 years. They total thousands. He said fine. I was surprised by that, but he figures by next year, who knows what Mom may be willing to trade/sell Christmas for? We may still wind up having DSS then, every year. And do WE have a price, for spending the holiday with our kids? I have to agree, we don't. And honestly, we didn't expect Mom to actually pay any of those fees, even if she were ordered to. (FWIW, DSS has repeatedly told us he wants to spend Christmas here, but doesn't want to tell his Mom that because she'll be mad. We would not try to keep him from celebrating a holiday with his other parent, if she actually celebrated it and he wanted to spend it with her.)
The associate pastor at our church is now someone DSS can officially talk to, in private, if he has opinions about his travel dates. The AP will then email Mom and DH, to convey DSS's wishes. (They're supposed to consider DSS's wishes, but aren't ruled by them. And if DH and Mom can't agree, DH makes the ultimate decision, by virtue of the fact that he now buys DSS's airfare).
I am flabbergasted that Mom agreed to this. She wanted DSS's official confidante to be her old best friend here, who has a son DSS's age. Mom has told this woman endless horrible things about DH. (Mom told the mediator this woman's son is DSS's best friend, which is enlightening. DSS and this kid no longer get along and haven't seen each other in 2 years.)
I must assume Mom agreed to this because she believes DSS will always parrot her positions, even to the AP at the church he attends with us.
It remains to be seen how well this will work. ALREADY, Mom has contacted DH, saying she only wants him to have half the winter break parenting time they JUST AGREED he would have, this year. DH said no. Mom kept trying to call him, but DH wanted to stick to text or email. Mom said DSS should decide. The next voicemail DH received was from DSS. Mom had him call, from her phone #. DSS was very halting and obviously upset. He repeated word-for-word what Mom had said in her messages. I feel so bad for him! What kind of parent does that to their kid!?!?
However, it's not like that is new. Mom has been pressuring DSS and putting him in the middle that way, since he was a toddler. This is just the first time we have recordings of it.
It's not reasonable to expect that Mom will change or DSS will stop being made to feel torn between his parents. Overall, it IS an improvement that DH will arrange DSS's travel; that there is finally clear direction about how to divide winter break; and that DSS has a third-party outlet to discuss his preferences. How honest he is - and how much use he makes of our AP - will be up to DSS. But he does have a resource, now.
Mom did not bring up any of her accusations about DH, or the fact that she wants custody back. (Well, Mom was in a separate room. It's possible she did bring up those things, but they never made it out of her room.)
DH does not think Mom will bring up any of that stuff, in future, since Mom expected the mediator to sympathize with her, but she did not seem to, at all.
I think Mom will still try for custody. DSS turns 14 this summer and that's when she has told him she'll get custody back. The European trip was clearly meant to be a victory/reunion celebration.
BUT, as I understand it, now that this successful mediation agreement has become a court order, it resets the clock. Any "significant changes" Mom claims warrant a custody change would have to be SINCE mediation (or else she should have raised them during mediation). She can't possibly make that argument. And the messages from DSS and her, THE DAY AFTER MEDIATION (trying to make DSS decide whether to cut his dad's holiday parenting time in half) would surely be the death knell to any custody request.
I am finished being worried about this. We can help DSS deal with his mother's reactions, while feeling secure in our family structure, as he finishes growing up.
I feel sorry for Mom. She seems small, sad, alone; ruled by anger, rigidity and financial concerns. She communicates and tries to meet her emotional needs in ways that drive people away from her and she doesn't understand why. She feels like everyone is unfair to her and can't see the truth. She misses her only child, but can't make herself come back here and be part of his life. He's a teenager and will be gone, on his own, in a few short years; but she's still waiting to "win" a fight with her ex-husband and resume her old life with DSS. But that little boy she once isolated with her, who was utterly dependent on her and made her feel like she wasn't alone...doesn't exist anymore. She really is alone.
I have seen her as an enormous, looming threat to my family. I have spent hours of my life keeping records and fine-tuning arguments, to defend us against her attacks. But they were feeble and we were over-prepared. I almost feel guilty. Almost.
Edited by VocalMinority - 12/22/12 at 4:12pm