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Custodial father has concerns about long-distance mother now moving one mile away

Your Question:
My husband's children (girls, 9 and 11) came to live in FL with us full time on 12/28/04 from PA. Originally, we all lived in RI which is where my husband's divorce from his ex originated and where all petitions regarding his divorce and these kids has taken place. They lived in RI until two years ago when she and her current husband "Sam", their son and our two moved to PA as a result of "Sam's" job. The exwife does not work (except for under-the-table type jobs, i.e. afterschool care for neighboorhood kids, hairdressing at home, etc.)

We have been plagued with problems with her and it got worse when they moved to PA. Issues include but are not limited to: not adhering to scheduled visitation, alienation of affection towards my husband, denied access to them, negative comments and inappropriate behavior to both her children (monitoring their conversations, taunting them, yelling, lying about what has/is happened, making them move in secret to avoid restraining orders or delays by the court) and us (every "pickup" was a terrible scene, she has spit, grabbed her crotch, yelling negative comments and taunting, to name a couple of examples), erratic behavior and emotional blackmail with the girls. It is impossible to have a rational conversation with her so most conversations are between her husband and mine. (Ironically, she broke up the marriage by having an affair with the man she is married to now).

Last December, she offered my husband physical custody because "he is making my life too difficult by forcing me to adhere to the visitation schedule". At that time, we were four hours apart by car and she was responsible to get the kids back and forth -- I believe because she moved them to PA despite a restraining order against that move until visitation had been amended -- the judge was unhappy with her defiance so he put the burden on her to get the girls back and forth at her own expense (gas). The visits were for every other holiday/school break greater than three says and for six weeks in the summer. She and her husband both had all their extended family in RI as well and visited them regularly. He missed about seventeen days the first year alone and it was getting worse.

Last Oct., we moved to FL for several reasons and had amended visition for the girls to come to FL. Last Dec., she offered us custody and they arrived two weeks later. (She told them the judge ordered it.) There are still issues unresolved with the RI family court regarding her continued disregard for previous court orders re: visitation, monetary concerns and lack of access to the girls -- this has been ongoing for the last two years, still not resolved.

Since the girls have come to live with us, she has not provided one cent of child support, has harrassed and upset the girls over the phone countless numbers of times. We have provided the girls with a safe, loving, secure and stable environment. We have provided them with cell phones so they can call their mother whenever they want to, established email accounts for them and have allowed for extra unscheduled visits by their mother who has come to vacation here. We do not speak negatively about her, do not interfere with her relationship with them and make sure they understand how important it is to keep the lines of communication open, even if it is real hard. They have never been physically abused or neglected physically by her.

Now, my question/problem is this: she told the girls yesterday that she is moving to FL in two weeks. Her last visit here was apparently for her husband to obtain employment. Not only are they moving to FL, but they are moving ONE MILE from our house. Obviously, we are upset about this and the detrimental effect it will have on the girls. They are unhappy and scared. They have adjusted and acclimated incredibly well -- straight A's, joined an after school scholastic club, take karate twice a week, have made a few friends and are very happy living here. They crave stability and security. They are terrified of more scenes like in the past and restrict and censor their conversations with her to avoid upsetting her, lying about their true feelings to prevent another blow-up and "getting in trouble". They are seeing this move as an unwelcome interference in their daily lives and we don't know what to do about it. We have already spent about ten thousand dollars over the last two years fighting to see them, enforcing our visitation and being able to speak to them inbetween. We don't know many people here yet, don't know what to expect, don't know what to do next. Any suggestions?

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing.

I think you're asking for strategy, more than anything else, to try to maintain stability in the girl's lives.

In another email (not posted), you mentioned that the parents have joint custody, though the girls have predominantly lived in Dad's home for the past 9 months. You said that there was no final order on child support, so I'm not clear if there any current orders for child support or not. Also, I'm not clear on any other unresolved issues in RI.

You'd have to check with an attorney, but it doesn't seem like RI should have jurisdiction anymore, since no one in the family has lived there for 9+ months. It makes sense for FL to assume jurisdiction, since Dad and the kids have lived there for almost a year.

I'd suggest you consider doing all of the following, but check with an attorney on the legal stuff first:

  • Get the girls to meet with a psychologist. Have Dad inform the psychologist that the girls seem anxious about the pending move of Mom to the local area, and you want to really understand the roots of it to address what's going on. Dad should make it clear that he wants to understand if he's contributing to any of it, else to appreciate why the girls are so anxious. The psychologist may, in turn, become a witness at a future hearing to testify what's best for the girls.

  • As soon as Mom has moved into her new home in your neighborhood, serve her with a contempt motion for child support. Or if there are no existing court orders for child support, serve her with an action to initiate child support. This will keep Dad on the offensive, as Mom will have to locate an attorney in the midst of settling in, and she may not have time to put together her case to modify custody or the parenting plan. Further, if Mom files to modify the parenting schedule immediately after Dad files for child support, it may look suspicious to the court. This is where you want to check with an attorney on the timing of it all.

  • All of the things you outlined -- involvement with extracurricular activites, honor roll in schools, good health, stability, etc. -- are all going to be important to introduce to the court (if you end up in court over custody or visitation). Courts generally don't want to change things when a situation is obviously working well for kids.

All of that said, it is a different situation once mom lives a mile away. You can expect things to change, and if you've been 100% forthright in the girls' attitudes, you can expect that they're going to have to deal with it too. Trying to avoid it will be an exercise in futility and frustration.

I suggest that you and Dad keep an open mind to hear the mother's first request for changes. You are going to have to accommodate something, and Dad has the difficult decision to balance the girls' best interest and what will likely be much more frequent contact with Mom.

At the same time, there should be NO compromise on letting any chaos enter your home. Boundaries are critical here. Giving Mom more frequent contact with the kids is wholly separate from keeping her crazy-making or anger out of your home altogether.

It's a very very tough position, and no one should envy your husband for the difficult decisions he has ahead of him. This is where having some objective advice from a child psychologist may really help him decide on how to best approach this.

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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