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Dad has been primary caretaker of baby; Military Mom returned home from Iraq with anger issues; divorce seems likely

Your Question:
Our son, 25, is a military dependent and stay at-home-Dad to their 13 mth old daughter. Our daughter-in-law, 24, is a Sgt. in the Army, stationed in Hawaii. We live in Maine and her family lives in CA. When she was deployed to Iraq in June 04, our grand-daughter was only 3 mths old and our son chose to stay in their home in Hawaii and raise their daughter. He did a tremendous job, the baby not only survived, she Thrived in his care! They never missed a doctors appt. and they met with WIC workers every month. My son stayed in touch with the extended family and his wife via phone and computer, sending a steady stream of digital images of a beautiful, healthy, Happy baby girl. Being so isolated on the island with few friends and no family, my husband flew down in July for 2 weeks and the father-in-law flew down for 10 days in late Aug. to make sure everything was fine. Feed back from CA was very positive and they commended our son for doing such a great job. Now the kicker...his wife returned from Iraq in Jan 05 with nothing but a "large and in charge" attitude and a seemingly intense hatred for our son. She seems to resent everything our son has done and swears her daughter was in danger with an "alcoholic dad". She has been hell bent on trying to get our son to move out, trumping up excessive drinking and verbal abuse charges, to be put on paper for the day she goes for custody. She knows the system as this is her second marriage/divorce...the 1st ending just months before marrying our son in Feb.04 and the birth of the baby in March 04. We all believe she is suffering from post- tramatic stress or bi-polar, but she refuses help. Our son initiated marriage therapy 3 weeks ago, but she doesn't seem to be co-operating and still wants a divorce. Our son is and has been the Primary Care Giver and his wife the Primary Provider. What rights does he have? Can he leave with the baby and come to Maine? He has no income other than what his wife gives him. Any light you can shed on this tragic break-up with the least amount of damage to our grand-daughter will be greatly appreciated. Sorry so long but Thanks for listening.

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My Answer:

Thanks for your contact.

I'll start off on a positive note regarding your daughter-in-law-- that I appreciate the sacrifice she's made for serving this country.

That said, I think your son is in a decent position to get majority timeshare of custodial time with your child, but it'd likely come at a large price of attorney fees because mom will probably try to fight him on custody.

Until court orders are in place, each parent has equal authority to do whatever they want with this child with regard to travel.

So, the short answer to your question is... sure, your son can take the baby to Maine.

That said, he'd be shooting himself in the foot for future custody if he doesn't inform the mom. He doesn't have to give her advanced notice. He can leave a letter, send an email, whatever; on the day of his travel.

He needs to tell her where he took the baby. He can say something like, "Visiting my folks, be back soon, and I hope this little break will help us with our marriage" and leave it at that.

The problem arises with what mom will do after he leaves. If mom files for divorce in Hawaii, that state will have jurisdiction. Moving it to Maine will be unlikely, if the petition for divorce happens shortly after he takes the baby away.

He'll have to come back to Hawaii for the case, likely more than once. Flying 4000+ miles each way, several times, ain't going to be too practical. It's arguably not in a baby's best interest for such extended travel, so that means he'll have to leave the baby with you.

If a Hawaii court orders the baby returned to the state pending a final determination of custody, then he has to move back to Hawaii.

The place that I'm leading you is... I understand how much support he'll get in Maine, and how much it may make sense. However, it may not be the best move.

I could see, instead, him finding a little one-bedroom apartment in Hawaii and moving out with the child. You've described a home that sounds too volatile in which to raise an infant.

I'd strongly encourage you to help your son find a family law attorney in Hawaii. I have no idea if this case would have any military involvement (i.e., its own special handling?) or not. A local attorney would know that.

Also, your son should be building his case to go for primary custody. This means: a) gathering credible witnesses (e.g., pediatrician, pastor, rabbi, neighbors) who would testify on his behalf that he's been a stable, primary caretaker in this child's life, b) documenting the volatility of the mom upon her return, c) starting to figure out how he'll be a single parent supporting a kid.

For understanding strategies and tactics in this LONG (i.e., 1 to 2 years) process, I recommend that you buy him "Win Your Child Custody War" by Hardwick. There's a link to purchase it on Amazon from my Resources page.

What could potentially work AGAINST your son is if he announces that Maine is his end goal. A judge then has to consider how this child will stay connected to the mother, which is important to the judge (i.e., as are both parents). A parent in the military has fewer options for place of residence. Then again, a parent in active duty cannot be a stable parent who's guaranteed to be around all the time. These are some of the factors that will all be considered.

But, the best boon to your son's position is to cement his role as primary caretaker. If he truly has problems with alcohol, he needs to stop drinking immediately and get into a support group. Alcoholism is a big factor in custody decisions. If he doesn't have alcohol problems, then don't sweat it. False allegations occur all the time in custody proceedings.

Bottom line... you really need to consult with a strong family law attorney in Hawaii to talk overall strategy; before your son makes any major decision in next step.

Good luck with all this. Take solace in knowing that the big part may all be over before your grandchild has any memory of it. She won't have to struggle with conflicts about remembering one home splitting into two homes.

Please let me know what happens.


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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