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Changing custody order- unable to locate father

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

Hey everyone, my divorce was finalized in March 2012 and the custody order states that I need to call my ex every 2 weeks for our oldest son to speak to him and that my ex will set up weekly supervised visits for 3 months and then we'll go back to court to adjust parenting time. 


Well, the week after the divorce was finalized, I called per our agreement, he hung up on his son (who was 4) and texted me saying never call again- I haven't. He never set up court ordered visitation either. He didn't live in my city at the time, he was literally passing through headed out east and I guess thought he'd see what he could get out of divorce court. 


So, he has had zero contact for over a year and has not even SEEN his kids for three years (never met the baby, who is 2.5 years old) 


It is unlikely that he will reappear and suddenly demand visitation, but I would like to change the court so it says no visitation. My kids are 5.5 and 2.5 and as far as they're concerned, they don't have a father. 


I have a vague idea that he might be somewhere in Chicago. That's all I know. The number I have for him is not correct. I can't find him online. 


How would I go able changing the custody order if I can't find him? Is it something I could do without a lawyer? I was lucky enough to find a pro-bono lawyer who assisted with the divorce but they are unable to help me again. 


I would also like to change the childrens' last name to my last name. Their father is from a country that doesn't have a "surname" system and they got a portion of his name that is not actually their father's last name, if that makes sense (for example, their father is named Ali Syed Hassan and the children are Syed Yusuf and Omar Syed)** NOT REAL NAMES, just an example. Their father is Muslim but I am not raising them in that religion and I don't want them to be discriminated against due to their last names (which don't even match- the boys have different last names) I already use my last name for everything except legal documents for them. I don't know if anyone has personal experience with this. I feel like the court would allow the name change but I am mostly unsure about actually serving him, since I don't have any contact info for their father. 

post #2 of 7

I think you need a lawyer on this one.  Sorry, but I don't see a way around it.  Different states have different requirements regarding what has to be done to notify difficult-to-find people about court proceedings.  I have no idea what those are for the states that you're in, but you want to find out, and you want to follow those requirements to the letter.  You're going to have to at least try to call him again, ideally in a lawyer's office, with the lawyer listening in.  I think it's wise to change the custody orders when the father is this out of touch - should he breeze back into town, he should absolutely not be permitted to demand time alone with a preschooler he's never met!  It's just in your interests to make sure that it's done correctly, and is as iron-clad as possible.


On changing the kids' names - I think you might meet more resistance from a court then you anticipate, particularly if you bring up the issues you state here.  A court might think that the name change that will make it harder for their father to find them (should he have a change of heart and decide to be a decent parent after all), and may sever an important cultural link with their father and their father's family (should they ever want to seek that family out).  If you really want the name change, find a way to argue for it that doesn't put anti-Muslim prejudice onto the table, and make the judge wonder whether this is some kind of racist thing.

post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 

Meepy- Thank you for your reply. That is my biggest fear, their father suddenly deciding to show up and start visitations when they're older. I failed to mention in my original post that there was some serious DV issues involved in our 'split up' and he spent 5 months in jail over it. I was surprised at the harshness of the judge toward him during the divorce and the religion/culture thing was mentioned by the judge regarding why he would not give unsupervised visits (ex stated in court that fathers are not the caregiver of children in his religion/culture!) but according to his religion, at age 7 boys should go to their father (girls at puberty)


I heard through the grapevine that he is remarried now and I am hoping he's just "forgotten" about us and moved on but it might work in the opposite way- he might want to show his new bride what a wonderful father he is. I do hear random things about him from time to time but everyone is very careful not to give up any 'useful' information because he is trying to avoid child support (and doing a good job of it!) 


I will continue looking for a lawyer to assist me but I really feel for my children's stability I need to get the order changed in the next year. 


As for their names- they do have Arabic first names and I am happy with that (I chose their names) but see no reason why they should have a name that is very stigmatic in America at the moment. Also it is constantly confusing that their names are not the same (Syed Yusuf and Omar Syed, for example) it is a constant headache explaining that one! "Syed Yusuf's" given name is Yusuf, which is his last name.. 


:::Sigh:::: I guess it would depend on the judge re: name change. My kids actually attend Arabic language classes and I have tried (documented) keeping in touch with my ex's family to no avail. Perhaps these things will help with changing their last name. Their first names are uniquely Muslim and I'm fine with that. I don't know! I go down to the court and talk to the clerk next week to see about what I would need to do re: trying to contact ex for court hearings. 

post #4 of 7

If there's a grapevine that you heard about his remarriage through, you have a pretty strong chance of being able to track him down to serve him with papers.  It may cost money.  Can you call up a DV hotline and the state bar association for your state and ask them to help you find a lawyer?  Under the circumstances, I would want absolutely to settle the custody thing (possibly terminating your ex's parental rights) before your older child turns seven.

post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 

I have tried to find him in multiple ways- after he got off probation he left the city we lived in together and doesn't contact anyone we knew there. We only lived together in the US for a very short time (1 and a half years) and didn't really have strong ties. I got wind of his marriage from literally a friend of a friend of a friend. I don't keep in touch with or have a way to contact anyone we mutually knew and they wouldn't help me anyway (all are from his country of origin and religion- I am the bad lady who had him put in jail and ran off with his kids) He has cut ties with all of them as well. I left that city 3 years ago and maybe 3 times I got an email from someone we knew with some gossip that may or may not be true. 


While he was on probation he had to supply his address, so I was able to serve him with divorce papers. Now he is gone.


Immediately after we were divorced he sent one child support payment via money order. I know for a fact he has nothing in his own name- bank account, lease, etc because I have tried to find him via the state child support enforcement. He is most likely working under the table and moving often. I have no hope of finding his address.


I guess my only real option is finding a lawyer to assist me. I was hoping it was something I could do myself- post an ad in a few newspapers or something. I will still talk to the court clerk sometime this week and see if they can give me any information. 

post #6 of 7

Our court office has documents online you can use to file your own divorce, custody revisions, name changes, etc...  There are also some places that sell legal documents and you can google the format.  Another option is to fill out the paperwork then call around and find a lawyer who will look over the papers to tell you if the format is correct.  This may cost about $200 but it is a lot better than the $2000 retainer many lawyers want upfront.  The clerk can probably tell you where to post and the judge may tell you to do some additional things if you don't have everything in order.  I would try it at first because it seems very straight forward and it is unlikely he will show up then get a lawyer if you need one.

post #7 of 7

Definitely need to check your local state laws and the previous posters have hit on this. Hopefully the court or a local attorney can tell you more. I did want to say though in my state at least a legal name change is a simple thing - just type the documents and file at the court with the filing fee, then judge signs at the court date. If you have full legal custody you can do this without anything from the father. My brother is actually a Jr. and wanted to have his name changed to the nickname he's always gone by instead of the full name and Jr. (i.e. Chris instead of Christopher Jr.). We were unable to do it until he turned 18 though because of joint legal custody our father would have to have signed to agree to it. So if your laws are the same you should be able to do at least that part yourself regardless of the father. Hope you figure it all out!

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