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Father moved away on good faith parenting agreement with mother-- he learned a hard lesson-- options now?

Your Question:
I am in the Military for 17 years. My co-parent (CP) and I have been unofficially seperated for the last 4 years (ever since she told me she did not love me at the time, did not love me when we married, and could never reconcile), but she did not want a divorce and wanted to stay in the same house for the sake of the children to have both parents. That was in the 8th year of marriage. She lives in military housing and must move at the end of the school season or sooner at completion of divorce.

She is a very controlling person who gets verbally and emotionally abusive when she doesn't get her way (she has hit me twice-but I didn't make any phone calls) to include letting loose in front of the children at me and towards them. This is california. We always talked about mediation. 14 months ago I pressed her to "work on the relationship, mediate the dispute, or I would file through a lawyer" she did nothing but get worse as I loosened her grip on my psych and emotional well-being. I filed 5 months ago and stayed in the house. I have been the primary care provider since my return from Iraq in 2003, to include while she was going to school nights despite the demanding job.

We went through the court mediator. My position was I can provide for the same standard of living the kids are used to, I am more stable, and have cared for them as the primary for the past 1.5 years (acknowledged by the CP). I would sacrifice my career to include resigning/taking a dead end assignment in California but prefered an assignment in an adjacent state because of low living costs and better schools/climate.

Despite the CP saying she could only concentrate on finishing school and did not know where she would live or what she would do after school and that she would not move anywhere she didn't know anybody regardless of the best interests of the kids the mediator recommended 62-38 split if in state and 86-14 if out of state. (the mediator did mention she had been divorced prior and had also gone through the process)

My CP made an offer of 73-27 which I took because everyone in the process said it was healthier for the kids to agree. Once I accepted the orders and moved, she declined to sign and is demanding the 86-14 split despite expert research and court sponsored Kids' Turn personnel (facilitators and others saying that was not a healthy split for the kids).

I fell into the old trick thinking that she would actually put the kids interests and well-being first and that I could trust her. Lesson learned. Won't happen again.

I have her friends saying that she doesn't care for the kids, plus at least one class-mate as a character witness against her, plus several people saying she was smoking pot or asking them for it--I caught her once, but didn't take the pipe away from her.

Chances maybe slim, but I am now fighting for primary custody. I realize that she and her lawyer won't play fair or do what is right. She has been looking for someone to take care of her her whole life and only stayed married long enough for the benefits (she has no honor) while making everyones life hell. She will ruin the kids. I will wait her out and love the kids regardless. What can I do to help my case now as well as in the long run. 3 kids:13-8- 6. The 13 year old even stated: "why does mommy want us, she can't even handle all three of us?" I don't tell her it is because she is afraid of losing control and that I would be a better parent as well as the money.

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My Answer:

First, thanks for protecting and defending this great country.

Second, I can't believe that after you did your tour in Iraq and had to determine who was insurgent and and who was friendly among many people that all looked similar-- your ex and her lawyer shot a rocket straight up your behind without you ever seeing it coming!

Like the imagery?

Okay, seriously now. Outside of what is posted above of your situation, you clarified to me that you have left the state, and that the mother has the kids the majority of the time. You also clarified that there are no court orders in place.

So, you've got some decision making to do regarding your kids.

I don't think you have much of a shot to get majority of custodial time with your kids as long as you reside far away, unless something major happens with mom. I feel this assumption is the foundation from which you look at options.

I'm going to presume that your kids are your priority, because you pretty much laid out that you were willing to quit your military career, find some dull job, and raise them.

I have no idea what your financial situation is, but I'm going to outline a scenario that I think would put you on the path of greater involvement with the children.

  • You don't have much of a fight from far away. So, first step is to move back as soon as possible. Rent out the home you purchased out of state if you can't sell it, or break your lease. Get back local. It's best for the kids, regardless. There may be a better time in the future to leave California, but your timing was awful (which you now acknowledge).
  • Hire a private investigator (or use a military buddy) to see if you can get evidence of mom's illicit drug use. If you have credible witnesses, use their testimony to ask the court to order drug testing of the mother. Express your concern that her drug use will impair her parenting as well as use resources that should be going to shoes and books for the kids. This is a legitimate concern that the court will recognize, if you lay it out correctly.
  • Being local will also help you keep your finger on the pulse of what's going on with mom.
  • Get back to as much parenting time as possible with the kids. You said you were their primary caretaker for 1.5 years. Maybe mom will let you have that again before orders are made. If it means paying her off for a little while, then eat that.
  • It may be to your benefit to request that a custody evaluator be appointed. If you're very stable and an excellent parent, and if mom is not, that may have a good outcome for you.

Don't tell the mother about any of your plans, beginning now. I think you've learned that she is truly your enemy now. She is fine destroying you, as you're beginning to realize.

If you aren't able to move back to California, you may want to go ahead and try your luck in court. 86/14 doesn't really say much about frequency of contact or how the parenting plan is laid out. It's very possible, and I dare say probable, that you'll do better in court if you've been an involved dad all these years. If you get 8 weeks during the summer, a week at spring break, a week at winter break, and let's say four weekends (in California) per year, that's nearly 25%. And it would be reasonable for a court to order something like that for a father who has been involved with his kids.

Keep in mind that very few people involved in the "process" really cares about you or the kids. They have jobs to do, and they want to move cases. After moving your file off their overburdened desk, they'll immediately make decisions about other families. YOU are the only person who should make decisions about what is best for you and your kids. Then you USE resources in the system to help you achieve that as best you can. This is what your ex's attorney will be doing on her behalf. It's that attorney's job to screw you as much as possible. If you're not prepared to play on the same battleground, the "shock and awe" that you're seeing now from the attorney will continue and get sealed into orders.

Good luck. Please let me know when something 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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