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Father having on-going problems with difficult mother with questionable parenting skills, wants to know chance of getting primary custody

Your Question:
I am a police officer with a rotating schedule. Three years ago when the mother and I came up with our current order the kids were 6 and 3 years old. I had agreed to have the kids on my days off which is three days a week. The problem is when i have weekends off. she gets them an extra week or two per year. She usually has them 7-12 weeks more per year than I do.

In addition, and this is for backgroundbecause i know I can't really do anything about it, she has some poor parenting habits.

She will allow the kids to stay up until 10 or 11 on a school night(2nd and fourth gr)She will allow them to stay up on the weekends until 12 or one pm. When i pick the kids up they are exhausted and run down. They need to take 2-3 hour naps tp catch up and the young one gets sick a lot. If i go four months with only seeing them on school days, that is very little time not doing homework and getting prepared for school the next day. They eat very poorly and never a fruit or vegetable. They can come back to the house sick and teeth not brushed for days. Any concerned voiced from me is me being unreasonable.

She told my daughter about a year ago that one time when we were arguing in front of the house that I shoved her. This was huge eye opener as to her ability to manipulate the kids and alienate them from me. Needless to say that never occurred. My daughter was beside herself that her mother would lie to her face. She wasn't even going to talk about it. It came up through just talking about feelings that we may be going through. The kids at the time were moving into different houses and their mother was about to be married.

the mother is deceitful and has no true ability to make decisions in the best interest of the kids. If we show up at a practice, she will pull them out early and leave so we can't see them. My wife had for years insisted that things would settle down and she would be able to work with us. She has now given up.

We are perfectlly aware that we can not control what happens in the other home. We are concerned though that she festers lies to teachers and coaches and very well to the children as well. Proof..not really. Only that teachers are a bit hostile towards my wife and i. The fourth grader has a teacher that mentioned to my wife..i wish you could all sit down and talk. and the second grader was referred to counseling. The mother was fit to be tied and had a long talk with my son about it not being a bad thing. That he wasn't there because his parents are divorced.

The list goes on and on. She is extremely difficult. We just went through mediation with a PHD of Psychology. At our last session the mother accused me of not paying enough attention to my daughter and that my son was afraid of me. The mediator suggested having the kids come in and talk. She said that they are past the tender years and that its evident that i will go to court for custody. She refused the meeting.

In a nutshell my questions are

With a rotating schedule that is soon to change due to detective status, should i now go for a typical 5-2 week. How powerful will her argument be that on days I may work the stepmom would pick up kids and put them in bed. I beleive the only difference here is that typically stepmoms may help out in the morning versus the evening. Our situation is reversed. I believe for the very simple reason of consistancy that the 5-2 week is best. She will argue fervently about the bedtime. For a year though she went to school and had a neighbor put kids to bed 1 or 2 nights a week. That was ok. It was not the stepmom whom the kids have grown to adore.

Second: Primary custody. Can it be changed from her being primary to me being primary due to her inability to be flexible? By making it difficult to schedule time as she schedules for vacations? By the way i can not raise any type of discussion with her about the well being of the kids without hostility and rage?

Is there any way that I can protect my children from being hindered any more by her negativity?

Any advice is welcomed.

Thank You

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My Answer:

You describe a person who is apparently unable to work cooperatively with you. You describe a mother who isn't going to win mother of the year. I think that's what much of your lengthy list of details boils down to, presuming that everything you wrote is correct.

The difficulty you face is that it doesn't sound like the mother is doing anything bad enough to lose custody in a slam-dunk hearing. And the big problem about what you allege is that I can't imagine you have reliable evidence, which the court will require:

  • The kids go days without brushing teeth in mom's care. Got proof?
  • The kids go to bed after midnight regularly in mom's care. Got proof?
  • The younger child is sick as a result of insinuated neglect in mom's care. Got proof? Got a doctor's diagnosis of such?
  • The kids never eat fresh fruits and vegetables in mom's care. Got proof? And beyond proof, that may describe millions of kids in America, so it's largely irrelevant. Not right, just largely irrelevant to a court's ruling. If you have a doctor's diagnosis that the kids are malnourished, that'd be different.

As to the false allegation of your violence, it's very common in child custody battles and divorces. Many of us have been through it, myself included. Chalk it up to learning that you can never again be alone with your ex.

Okay, on to further questions you asked.

If a court has never ruled on custody, and if you and the ex can't agree to custody, it's possible that you'll get an evaluation ordered. However, it will have to be an extensive evaluation (i.e., many thousands of dollars) for the evaluator to possibly pick up on the manipulative and deceitful ways of the mother. The evaluator will likely want to speak to the kids as part of that.

However, your career decisions pose some issues for you. You've decided to work evenings as part of your job. You're going to have to explain how this is best for the children. One example would be, "This position will last about a year, and then I'll move into more normal hours as LT or Captain, etc., which is ultimately in the kids' best interest."

It's not necessarily a bad thing that stepmom puts the kids to bed, but YOU are the one about to go for more time and seemingly shirk the responsibilities of parenting to someone else. This is how the mother's attorney will argue it, certainly.

I think you need a bigger, longer term approach than what you're thinking. Slightly crazy people (i.e., I'm paraphrasing how you describe your ex) are much more difficult to deal with than very crazy people. Everyone, courts included, immediately recognize very crazy people for who they are. It's easy to take custody away from a very crazy person. However, slightly crazy people are good enough liars and actors to fool many people, but their true selves are shown to anyone over time (i.e., years).

With everything you outline, I don't think you'll get primary or sole custody. The mom just isn't bad enough, and that's topped with you not being home to care for the kids as a primary parent needs to be.

So, I suggest that you think about your long-term approach. As I recommend to many folks in difficult custody situations, invest $70 and purchase the only child custody strategy book you'll ever need. It's called "Win Your Child Custody War" by Hardwick, and there's a link to it on Amazon on my Resources page.

Meanwhile, if there are certain issues that are absolutely unbearable, file orders to address just them. I'm not clear on the exact problems with vacation, for example, but if 99 of 100 people would say that mom is outrageously unreasonable in how she causes problems with vacation, file an order to clean up the orders on how vacations are handled.

That way, until your ready to take on the final battle, just keep chipping away at the areas that drive you bonkers and that you can reasonably control through court orders (e.g., vacation is handled through orders, but forcing fresh fruits is not).

Finally, on protecting the kids from mom's possible negativity (about you), check out the book "Divorce Poison" by Warshak. Also linked on my Resources page.

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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