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What can a father do?...

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
Hi, Everyone. I've been lurking here for awhile trying to gain some insight into my particular situation but to no avail so I figured it was time to post.

I have a five year old step-daughter and am the birth mother to two beautiful babes. Anyway, here is my predicament (Sorry if it's long)...

When I met DH he had DSD all of the time except when he was at work. This was the only time she saw her mom. She was, esentially, a babysitter. DH did ALL of the transporting even though she lived onlya town away. This lasted for almost a year and a half. Then we moved to another state (I was pregnant and wanted to be closer to my mama) about an hour and a half away. The schedule was modified so that we had DSD from Wednesday to Sunday night. Each parent was responsible for their pick-up. This went well for awhile. Then, out of the blue, DSD's called and left a message on our answering machine that said that because we had a carseat that was too small (untrue, DH showed her the one we use to prove it) and a woodstove (apparently they are unsafe) she would be enrolling DSD in daycare fulltime. Ridiculous, huh? DH called her to talk about what was going on and she just yelled and they got nowhere. I should also say here that at their divorce they both made a bad decision in that there was no written custody agreement. Somwhere in here DSD's mother marries a man twice her age who she previously broke up with because he showed ome violent tendencies. So, shortly after the phone call we hire a lawyer, they hire a lawyer. Didn't really get anywhere with this either. We suspected that our lawyers were in cahoots and it turns out we were right because their firms recently merged. What they did do, though, was to make a written agreement that says that they have shared custody with flexible visitation arrangements for DH. Since, DSD is now in pre-school she stays with her mother most of the time. The court pretty much disregarded anything DH had to say and sided with her mom. The next step we couldhave taken legally would be to hire a Guardian ad litem but we just can't afford it. So, now, fast forward to the present. DSD is sad because she only sees us every other weekend and she would like to be here more. Okay, no problem. DH calls her mom to talk about and it turns into a "let's yell and scream at Daddy" thing, while DSD was there, mind you. So after she hangs up her husband calls back and calls DH a bunch of names, threatens him (this has happened before) and hangs up. We decide to try to file a police report as advised by our lawyer previously and they won't do anything. Now what....
We've gotten the necessary paperwork to modify custody but will really help in regards to full custody to a father?

I forgot to say that this case is in New Hampshire (that may make a difference). Also, DH has expressed concern with DSD attending public school. He wants her to be homeschooled. There is also a problem regarding vax. They agreed not to do it but she snuck one in. Totally uncool!

Sorry this is so long! I may have left out some details so feel free to ask. Any hhelp would definitely be appreciated.
post #2 of 23
If the situation is as you describe it with regards to the law firm you used, you should have a cause of action against them for having an undisclosed conflict of interest. I would report them to the bar association, and talk to a lawyer see if you are eligible for any monetary settlement.

Next -- if your husband has these concerns about how his daughter is raised, and actually wants to be involved in her life, the answer is simple -- he needs to move back to where she is, hire extremely aggressive counsel, and pursue full physical custody (with the idea of settling for joint physical custody). Finally -- I am going to say something that other people are going to view as unkind, but which I believe is reality. I find it sad that your husband was willing to sacrifice his daily contact with his daughter because you wanted to be close to your mom. You both should have realized that his little girl needed her daddy much, much more than you (the adult) needed her mommy.
post #3 of 23
When ds got to a certain age, school was the big thing for the courts. First, he was supposed to do 3 weeks with us, then one with his mom, till they realized he was about to start kindergarten. That all changed and he was basically with us, saw his mom about 1 weekend a month (she was 6 hours away). It seems like since you moved away, you might get every weekend? What your vacation schedule like? If he wants her to homeschool, is he going to do it? Her mother seems unlikely to hand over the child to homeschool. I'm trying to say that wherever the girl goes to school will be her primary home so that might be the big issue. My dh had primary custody, but unless there is some reason to make a big change, you might not get that. Courts seem liek they like to go with what has been especially if there aren't big issues like physical abuse. Have you tried mediation?
post #4 of 23
Thread Starter 
Thank you so much for your responses.

bczmama-thank you so much for the suggestion regarding the undisclosed conflict of interest. Also, I don't think what you said about me moving was unkind at all. It is reality and I have beat myself up over it again and again. I had some "mommy-issues" of my own that didn't surface until I got pregnant and I made a very poor decision. Dsd is millions of times more important than I am in this case. Unfortunately, at this point, I can't take that back.

flor-School has been the big issue even though when we started all of this she was only in daycare. Keep in mind her mother didn't work, has never worked actually (all by choice, she is perfectly able to). Courts still didn't want to disrupt her schedule.

Now my questions are this: Can we request drug testing for the opposing party? WE believe that this is an issue and would like to make sure.

Also, what constitutes 'neglect'? Dsd certainly doesn't get the kind of care and attention that she should but how can we prove neglect?

Also, does anyone know about Parental Alienation Syndrome? This, too seems to be a factor. I am going to post a new thread in regards to this question. Thank you so much
post #5 of 23
you can't practically coparent long distance. I am sorry. If you want to be a part of her life on a daily basis you must move back.

I understand your feelings. My dh and his ex are long distance and I live near my family too. But there are realities to being long distance.

A move away long distance father will never get the court's respect.
post #6 of 23
Originally Posted by MommyMine
you can't practically coparent long distance. I am sorry. If you want to be a part of her life on a daily basis you must move back.

I understand your feelings. My dh and his ex are long distance and I live near my family too. But there are realities to being long distance.

A move away long distance father will never get the court's respect.
"Respect" is going a bit far! It's pretty accepted that when adult relationships break down people sometimes move away, whether for job opportunities or whatever, and that kids' relationships with their parents are still to be valued. That said, yes, it is difficult to get things turned upside down and primary residence shifted once there's a set pattern.
post #7 of 23
We tried arguing that dss should always be with us because his mom chose to move away from him, but the mediators kinda laughed at that line of thought. They said, people move, what are you going to do about the child's relationship now. So, they did respect a mothers decision to move away (a little to much, IMO, but oh well).

Courts are very hesitant to change a childs schedule unless their is a HUGE reason to do so.

Neglect is hard to prove. If her teachers/day care providers were making reports that would be a concern.
They do look at the source of the report and an exhusband trying to get more custody probably isn't going to be listened to as much as an outsider, neighbor, teacher, etc.

As a mandated reporter, I have made many calls for abuse, none for neglect, and I do have some pretty uncared for kids in my school. All parents parent differently so they would look at extremes-- unfed, not properly clothed in extreme weather, not taken to doctor when very sick, not picked up from school on a very regular basis, unclean, left home unsupervised for a period of time not appropriate for the age-- are some things I can think of.
post #8 of 23
Thread Starter 
I just want to say thank you for all of the responses. This has been a really emotional topic for us and it helps a whole lot to have outsiders opinions.

What I would like is for Dsd's mom to just realize that we would give her more of what she needs. That will NEVER happen and so it seems that we just keep fighting a losing battle. DSD is such a beautiful child and I feel like she needs to be nurtured so much more than she is. Her mom and step-father smoke around and she constantly wreaks of cigarettes. Her hair is shabby looking. Her clothes are ususally too small. She is so tiny you can discern specific bones under her skin. She and I have such special times together and I can just tell that she doesn't get that kind of attention at her mom's house. She just eats it up and it makes both of us feel so good. She is so good at articulating such grown up thoughts. I feel so good about being able to reach her on that level. She certainly does need someone to talk to and it makes me feel so special that she feels comfortable enough with me. I just want to be able to have her here so that she can strive and get the things I know she misses out on at her mom's house. The frustration is knowing something and not being able to do a darn thing about it. Dh is "only her father" and that doesn't seem to mean a whole lot to anyone.

Sorry, I could go on forever. I guess I need to vent a little.
post #9 of 23
Unfortunatly, it seems that kids want to be with the parent they are attached to regardless of the care they receive. Even physically abused kids would often rather be with their parents then somewhere else.

My experience is that kids who go back and forth are happier where ever they are. They adore being at your house, then they go to the other house and adore being there. If she cries and wants to stay with you, she may do that at her mothers house too when it's time to go to your house. Thats how dss is anyway.

I have heard that smoking can be considered in custody cases in many states now.

I think that before you move forward, you need to decide what your goal is. The courts like 50/50, so how would that work in your situation? Every weekend, summers, etc. because it seems like she is going to stay at her mom's during the week.
post #10 of 23
I'm not up on the ins and outs, but in this situation:
I'd start changing the way you and your dh think about her mom. If you call someone names, like a babysitter, then you minimise that person's connection with that child. This is a lack of respect, and the courts will pick up on it and consequently lose respect for you.Treat her like an equal.
Tell her mom that you're taking your kids to the hairdressers on the weekend she visits, ask if you can take her along as well. Same with things like shoes: it's completely possible that her stepfather is keeping her mother short of money and so the daughter is missing out. I'd also consider offering to pay for school activities, if there's anything she really wants to do: again, direct to the school, not via the mom.
I'd go back to court, cite the original agreement of "equal time" and ask for Friday afternoons to Monday mornings, 52 weeks a year, plus some time in holidays. After all, the status quo and everything that was agreed to in that document said equal time, and she has broken that agreement.
I personally don't agree with the concept of "I could do this for my child but I can't afford it." If it's important, you find the money somehow- it's 100% a question of priorities. Then again, I just don't understand why people would consider moving away from their children.
post #11 of 23
Thread Starter 
hey everybody. thanks for your help. i have to say, though, that the negative responses really aren't helping at this point. we realize that moving away was a bad choice. howver, we are here now and our love for dsd hasn't diminished in the slightest. for anyone who has been in this situation it is extremely hard and exteremely emotional. i was under the impression that in these forums i could find support from mothers and that would be very helpful. the negative remarks feel like just a kick-when-i'm-down kind of thing and i'm not sure why anyone would feel like it is okay. perhaps i'm overly sensitive today but the negative stuff has really hurt my feelings.

thanks for all the positive feedback everyone.
post #12 of 23
I have alot of experience with this type of situation. So here goes. The neglect thing you should probably throw out the window. As the pp said, and I have talked extensively with social services about this, it's hard to prove. Did you know that your dsd's mom doesn't even have to live in a home with running water or toilets? I found that hard to believe as well b/c I provide such a good home for all of my children that includes electricity and running water. However, when my ex doesn't have that it is still not neglect. Sad I know. As for the drug testing. Yes, your atty can request that there be drug testing based on your concerns. My ex requested that in our custody case. Why I don't know, b/c he is a known drug user, but I guess he wanted to make himself look good and had refrained from drug use long enough to pass a urine screen. He requested that both parties submit to testing and he offered to pay. Of course I agreed and we both passed. I reccomend you go for hair strand. It detects all use in the last 3 months. It is not that expensive. Under 100 dollars here. Drug testing is not uncommon, it happens quite regularly where I live. On the husband of your dh's ex. If you can please tape all conversations that you have with them in the future. I suggest going to a store and purchasing a recorder with a mic attatchment. You can hold the mic up to the phone ear peice and it should record just fine. If someone threaten's you verbally, they can be charged with terroristic threatening in my state. And from experience, this can land them in jail. You mentioned money being an issue. Unfortunately this is why you need to think long and hard. You will spend thousands upon thousands if you pursue this. You need to be ready to invest at least 5,000 to start. Atty take retainers that are lower than that amount, but trust me, you will always go over that amount. If you do this, you have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other day after day and be prepared for a long long battle. You should also consider what benefit's the child will reap if you gain custody and will they outweigh the cost the child will pay. I know you said the child is sad about not visiting enough You also need to know that in general atty's only work as hard as you do. You need to start taking notes about what you do with the child when she is visiting, what she says, always date everything. Take pic's if neccessary as well. You will probably need to do this for at least 6 mo to a year before you go forward. You have to stay on atty's about what you want. If you want more visitation I suggest mediation. Most court's make you do it anyway to try and reach an agreement before they intervien. Again if you get dead locked in a nasty battle it will affect the child and so you must really be sure if it is the right time. Do you actually have enough evidence to pursued a Judge? Get online and look into your state's laws and find some other's to chat with about it. Good luck.
post #13 of 23
I suggest you think long and hard about what your priorities are on a going-forward basis and what, given the situation with her mom, you think will benefit your step-daughter long-term.

If you think being with you more will benefit her long-term, you need to factor in all of the icky stuff the previous poster mentioned and see how you feel about that all being part of your life and hers. For us, we cannot live like that and do not want our stepkids to do so either - the endless note-taking, documenting, spending, etc. A certain amount of going to court was definitely worth it, in terms of fixing when we see them, but that was enough; after that, we have simply tried to avoid conflict even where it means seeing them less, because the conflict was not good for them or for us. It took us a while to see that, though, and it still really bites in a lot of ways.

There are some extreme situations out there, but for the most part my view is that the children do not benefit from parents putting all their energy into conflict with each other, even if the desired end point is something that might benefit the kids. If you do go down this road, do at least be sure to take a good hard look at how things are going and the various costs from time to time.
post #14 of 23
Thread Starter 
I really appreciate your responses kyangel80 and mammastar2. Is there any chance we would have the slightest chance doing this without a lawyer?
post #15 of 23
That's a really broad question! It would depend on your own comfort level at dealing with all of the administrative and strategic stuff that comes up, your financial situation, what's coming at you from the other side, etc. A good lawyer can be invaluable, but many people in the family law system end up going it alone for financial or other reasons.

Again, factor in quality of life - both the lawyer's fees, and the time, energy and worry you might spend doing it on your own.
post #16 of 23
Again, lots of experience here. There are some things that you can absolutely do on your own. As far as the whole thing in general, not a snow balls chance in you know where. Sorry. The only reason I am able to do things on my own now is b/c I have had 4 yrs. of experience with the same Judge and I know what flys and what doesn't. The 4 yrs haven't been an embittered custody battle either. These were absolute neccesity situations where my child was abused or where my ex took me into court and I had no choice but to respond. I have only intitiated one action against him in the 4 yrs. We have successfully mediated and he has refused to follow the mediation at a later time and there is really no recourse for that but to file a claim in court. I have not done so b/c I find that in the past the court doesn absolutely nothing to him but note he isn't following mediation. Also I forgot to tell you not to pursue anything through social services unless it is serious abuse. And the guardian ad litem can be a double edged sword as well. You never know who's side they will be on. You can do things like check criminal records on your own if you think that there are any. You can get copies of any public records that might pertain to the other parties such as police reports, as long as they aren't domestic, then you would need a subpoena. You can file claims pro sey, but unless you put the time into research you may get a less than favorable result. You really need to consult with an atty. My atty has discouraged me many times from doing things and at the time I didn't see why, but down the road I definately can see he was right. I hate to say this but the Court doesn't always do a good job. For instance, here, the court can only grant primary custody to one or the other. They can not and will not grant joint physical custody. That can only be obtained through an agreed ordered by the parents. Can't remember if you said that custody was ever formally established. If it's not and that is definately what you will seek to do, then don't be hasty. Take the next 6 months to a year to bide your time and stock pile your evidence or facts to present to the court. Don't even mention what you are thinking to the other party. They will just get a head's up and potentially start to conceal things. I also can tell you that a PI can be of great use to establish routine at the other home. There are things you can do on your own and even with an atty pls don't forget they don't just do for you unless you ask or unless you spend big bucks. Most atty's here practice family and other types of law so they aren't just gung-ho on custody cases like what you might see on tv. KWIM? It's not going to be fun, but you need to do an internet search and start getting more info than I can provide you here. There are alot of resources for info on child custody. You will probably spend several weeks at this. I think you should read up and then revisit this issue with your dh. Oh and the parental alienation thing is a waist of time too unless you would like to spend an addittional several thousand on a psychologist! And that is if you can find one who will give you a weekend appointment b/c I doubt the mother is going to agree to letting you schedule psychiatric appts. for the child.
post #17 of 23
I don't think anyone is really trying to be unsupportive. I think we have some experiences to share though. What I have learned is that custody issues involve a ton of compromise and we don't get what we hoped for. Also, that an ugly fight, even with best intentions, backfires and isn't good for the kids. I think people where sharing their real experiences and really saying to look hard at the future and be sure you are willing to except the hurt of all involved if you go full force into a custody fight. I know there was a point when I couldn't imagine that we'd back down, and that we were fighting the good fight. What I learned is that the biomom felt that she was fighting the good fight too, and I underestimated her willingness to prolong it. I wish you good luck.
post #18 of 23
Herbalmommy, I'm truly not intending to be unsupportive: instead I'd like to show you that there exists ways of getting through this without the courts. An open dialogue could get them implementing the 50/50 custody agreement already in place: but for an open dialogue you need trust and respect. Even though she's acting like a total dingbat, you and your husband still have room to improve your own behaviour.
FWIW, the thing that got me negotiating with my ex was his parents welcoming my daughter as one of their family. (I'm a birth-mom- the boys stepmom could pretty much have written your post. And yes, I truly hate his guts.) Sometimes how you say things means a lot more than what you actually say.
post #19 of 23
Thread Starter 
flapjack-i appreciate your explanation. however, i think, in our case, we have changed our behavior extremely. we are super respectful of dh's ex. we send books, food, whatever we end up having that we know she would be interested in to her with dsd. as far as discussions with her go we cater to her 100%. she is a very difficult person to talk to so when we have something to say we plan it out ahead of time choosing words carefully so as not to offend her. we NEVER, Never talk badly about her in front of dsd. we come to her defense when dsd says negative things about her. as parents something that is really important to us is teaching our children to be acceptant and tolerant of individuality. we have framed a bunch of old pictures dh had of he and his ex and hang them on the wall in her room. at nighttime dsd and i often talk about how pretty her mommy is and about all the good, fun, caring thingshe does for dsd.

i guess the reason i felt like i was hearing too much negativity was because i really felt like you jumped to the worst possible conclusion regarding our behaviors toward dh's ex.

thank you.
post #20 of 23
Thread Starter 
I just wanted to say that all of your advice was really helpful. Sometimes it's the simplest thing that is hardest to see. I think we have decided that was is best for our whole family to just move closer to dsd and bide our time with the custody issue. We will pursue the every weekend thing but as far as full custody goes we will document EVERYTHING and when it is time we will know it. If we move closer we will be able to see her more anyway and that is all we are really looking for. Moving from her mom's house now, if that's what would happen if we pursue full-custody, would be so traumatizing no matter what we do that could be "better" for her. It's just not the right time. As I've said before, there is such a huge power in prayer and that's all we can do. Pray not have dsd live with us but pray for what is best for her.

Thanks again,
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