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Father in military stationed 3000 miles away from 2 year old daughter and mother - chances of custody?

Your Question:
I am unofficially seperated from my wife for 8 months and have a 2 year old daughter. I am active duty in the military and received orders to transfer to another base completely across the country. My wife has my daughter and while no paperwork has been filed for anything yet (I am actually begging her to give it another shot even after her various marital indescretions) it is starting to get ugly. She will not move from the state she is in and even though she says I can come visit anytime I want they live on the other side of the Country. I pay daycare costs and give her as much money as I can afford to spare but her lifestyle drains it. When she becomes angry she will not answer any calls I make or call me and let me talk to my daughter. I visited them recently and was shocked at the way my daughter is being raised and the enviroment she is in. My wife is not exactly an unfit mother but seems to still be playing the bar scene several times a week and leaving my daughter with babysitters she barely knows overnight. My daughters diet consists mostly of fast food and my wife is chronically moving around (3 times in 8 months) when she can no longer afford to pay rent at a specific place and starts off again in a new apt. or home. There are undesireable people in her life and around my daughter but nothing I think I can prove. She acts like she is 15 and I am very concerned. I am in a deployable status but my family lives two hours from where I am stationed. I really would like to make things work with the wife but she has taken advantage and lied so many times and denies me the ability to even talk to my daughter when she feels like it. I really don't want to get too ugly but everyone tells me I need to step up and put my foot down. A good mom but getting worse everyday. She is in WA and I am in FL. Do I have a chance at any physical custody without having to prove her unfit?

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My Answer:
Sorry, I don't see a great deal of hope, given what you outline is your current situation. However, it's definitely worth it to examine why-- in case you can change any of it or nail down some of the things that may have an impact.

First, let's look at the facts:

  • You've been away from your 2 year old for 8 months, and I assume the time you've been able to spend with your child has been sporadic during that time.
  • There is 3000 miles between the parents.
  • You can be deployed at any time (btw, thanks for the sacrifice you make to defend and protect our country).
  • Mother has largely denied you access to the child (i.e., phone is really the only method across 3000 miles, but phone doesn't mean much to a 2 year old).
  • Mother parties, if you can prove it.
  • Mother has moved 3 times in 8 months, if you can prove it.
  • Mother lies, which is completely irrelevant to determining custody.
  • Nothing has been filed with the court yet.

Everyone who's telling you that you need to step up and put your foot down are probably not too experienced in knowing what matters in child custody. If you were to approach a court with the situation you described, I'd give you perhaps 1% chance at getting physical custody of this child; and that's being generous.

It would be beneficial to you to read "Win Your Child Custody War" by Hardwick. For convenience, I've got a link to its page on Amazon on my Resources page. It's a 600 page monster of a book, and it will help you understand tactics, strategy, and matters of relevance. You're in the military, so you can appreciate that if you're not equipped with good intel, and if you're not your own best general, your mission in this child custody matter will fail.

To that end, I'd spend an evening being honest with yourself (i.e., don't let any ego issues interfere) and outline on paper the ideal custody arrangement that you think would be best for your child. Outline actual parenting time too. By doing this, you know what you must work toward for your child.

Given that you have a practically hopeless situation right now (not to say it can't change with some effort), I recommend the following:

  • Educate yourself about child custody.
  • Find a good private investigator to spend a couple weeks observing your wife. This will provide the evidence that she's partying X nights per week, has babysitters into the wee hours, or possibly brings men home to spend the night with your child in the home.
  • Think about your wife's motivators and brainstorm what offers you can make that would bring her to Florida to live near or with you. If you can get both of them to Florida, it opens new possible doors for you, as you can file several months thereafter and establish FL as jurisdiction.
  • Find a local parenting class, take it, and get a certificate of completion. This may come in handy later.
  • Get chummy with a good parent figure who is local... like some neighbors who would be available to help you as a single parent. That would be a good complement to your family being two hours away. You want to set up a scenario that you're all set to go as primary parent if you got it tomorrow.
  • Start hounding your wife regularly for you to spend time with your daughter. Send emails hooked up with a service located at (i.e., e-certificates of sending). You want to try to show a pattern that she is frustrating your access to your child. Audio record messages that you leave on her voicemails, asking to speak to daughter.

I think your intuition is correct that you will really need to show how unfit she is before you have a decent chance of custody. At the same time, you need to prepare yourself as superdad to try to give yourself every possible chance.

Of everything I recommend, the private investigator will be the most important element in giving you a shot. Your wife has no reason to think she's under any microscope, and you may discover that she is driving drunk, doing drugs, screwing men with daughter in the home, or maybe even leaving daughter alone while she goes out. Who knows?

If you get some good dirt on her that would stand up in court, the whole playing field changes. Until then, it would seem that there's little you can do in the current situation until you can get back to WA or wife/child come to FL.

Wishing you the best of luck... I imagine it's got to be a very tough thing being away from family in the military, let alone when that duty potentially threatens a parent/child relationship.


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