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Divorcing father with informal joint custody is wondering about finally getting court orders for it

Your Question:
I am currently going thru a divorce which has gone smoothly up to where our 8 yr old comes in. I currently have a 50/50 custody and pay $520 a month for private school and daycare. His mother doesn't feel he should be with me for two school days a week and all talks of compromise ends with her way or no way. I am very active in his school and have letters of character from his teachers and principal in regards to my active role in his education. I am not sure if I should go ahead and retain a lawyer or try to do things on my own? I have heard so many horror stories of fathers losing their rights in CA. I have kept reciepts of all moneys paid towards my sons eduacation and medical expenses paid in the lasr 4 years of seperation. I have done everything I can think of to support my case if it has to come down to it but am still worried about retaining a lawyer and causing more hostility from his mother.

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing. In another email (not posted), you let me know that this informal arrangement - with no court orders - has been going on for four years.

I have two recommendations for you. The first is to get the book Win Your Custody War by Hardwick. Read the chapters that apply to your situation, so you have a strong sense of how the family law system works.

The second recommendation is... YES, you should seek out and locate a good attorney in your area. I'd suggest that you find someone with at least 10 years' experience in your county, which means that attorney will be familiar with the judges, will have significant experience under his/her belt, and will know the "tricks of the trade". If you don't get any good referrals from friends, co-workers, or family members, go the the courthouse in which your divorce was filed (or go to the closest courthouse in your county) and sit in a family law courtroom for half a day. They're typically open to the public. Watch for an attorney who is a strong advocate for his/her client, who knows the details of the case without bumbling, and who is assertive without annoying the judge. Then, follow such attorneys into the hallway after they finish their case, and ask for their cards.

All in all, you have a very good chance at getting court orders to continue the status quo or something very close to it (i.e., roughly 50/50 parenting schedule). The important thing you'll have to demonstrate is to correctly prepare your pleadings and enter evidence and witness testimony for your case. Testimony (i.e., affadavits, not just letters) from the teachers and principal is great, so you want to make sure it's entered properly for the court to consider. That's why you need an attorney.

Ideally, you and the mother will be able to hammer out the parenting plan via mediation and never see the inside of a courtroom. From a mediation agreement, you then get those entered as court orders-- and you don't have to argue anymore! Just follow the orders, ma'am, thank you.

On timing of it all... I suggest that you find your attorney, and you put your case together, all ready to file. Then approach the mother and see if she's willing to mediate at an appointment you set up with a mediator within 48 hours. If she's not willing, or if she wants to delay, then file your whole package. You don't want to give her time to find her own attorney, put together her own case, make a false allegation against you, etc.

There are three common reaons that I think fathers get screwed... A) they are bad fathers, B) they didn't hire a good attorney, or C) they gave up too soon.

The fourth reason, which I think is probably much less common, is that they truly got screwed by the system when everything should have happened differently.

You have complete control over those first three scenarios, and don't sweat the fourth one-- none of us can control that element.

Good luck.


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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