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Father with temporary orders for 50/50 joint custody about to enter a custody evaluation

Your Question:
Married 11+ years. Soon-to-be-ex-wife (STBXW) started spending a lot of time online talking to a man from Canada. At the beginning of 2005 she moved out and then a couple of weeks later moved the boyfriend in with her and our two daughters (now 6 and 9). I immidietly filed for divorce and custody. She sent the BF back to Canada a month later(I heard from a mutual friend, that her lawyer told her to send him home). She was planning on going to Canada for 2 weeks at the end of April. My attorney called for a custody evaluation. She has now changed her mind and isn't going.

---(further details later provided to this website)---

My mother actually lived with us from 9/2002 to 6/2003. Daughters spent all of the summer of 2003 living with my mom. After they came back, it was pretty much split in parenting. They went and spent all of the summer of 2004 with my mom too. After they came back from that though, most of the parenting was done by me. She was working, going to school and helping her dad one night a week and usually every Sunday. I was ALWAYS the one to check on them before we went to bed. Ever since the youngest was 4 months old, the Ex always wanted them to be in daycare so she could have a fulltime job. She NEVER wanted to stay home and raise kids.

My oldest has made accusations of the new boyfriend hurting her on more than one occasion, and of him doing the parenting and discipling of the daughters at times. Going into their bedroom and telling them what to do, and turning their tv off, taking things away from them. That sort of thing.

The youngest daughter spent 21/28 nights with me in Feb, 22/31 nights in Mar, and 4/6 nights in April so far. The oldest is 17/28 in Feb, 21/31 in Mar and 4/6 in April. On Mar 9, the judge issued the temperary custody orders stating joint custody and 50/50 time 5 days on 5 days off.

I think at this time, they would be best served if I was the primary care parent. I still live in the same house(6 years now). I live 3 blocks from their old school(the ex moved them to a new school right away). I am not involved with anyone and have no plans to be. My mother will be moving her in June. The ex doesn't know where she will live when her and the BT get together, whether Canada or a large city in the states. Also, both girls have told me that when the boyfriend comes back, the want to come stay with me, but you know how young kids are.

I am just looking for advice on what to do for the custody evaluation. and what NOT to do or say.

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My Answer:

So, you seem pretty grounded in what's going on. Your approach is pretty level-headed. All of that is good for you to immediately grasp what path you should take without worrying about fairness, justice, revenge, emotional outlet, etc.

Given what you outline, and if you haven't left out any relevant information (e.g., if you enjoy strange nighttime activities with baby elephants or goats), I think it'd be a surprise if you end up with less than 50% custody in the final judgment.

It's not quite clear on the current distance between you and their mom, but it's a shame that the kids didn't stay in their same school. By the time you get final orders, they'll already be acclimated to the new school, so it's tough for you to argue to switch them back to the old school. It's not necessarily against their interest to switch back, but that will be determined by the parenting schedule, any old/new friends they have, and quality of each school.

I don't know if you view your mom as potentially an influential factor as she may be to an evaluator or judge, so long as she's a healthy person (i.e., emotionally) for the kids. The kids are probably very bonded to her due to all the time they've spent with her. Your mom has already established herself as a third "parent" figure, if you will, by taking care of the girls for months at a time. It's not reasonable that your ex will argue that grandma is bad for the kids, because your ex agreed to send them to live with grandma for entire summers. If your mom moves in with you, or nearby, I think that makes your home even better. Talk with your attorney to see how important it would be for your mom to move BEFORE the evaluation begins. You don't want to tell the evaluator, "I plan to do this, I think that will happen, etc." You want to be able to show the evaluator that if you got custody RIGHT NOW, you've got all this going for the kids in your home. It may mean pushing up your mom's schedule a month or two.

I also think you may be downplaying what your daughter reported to you regarding the ex's boyfriend's violence. If it were me, I'd immediately take a 9 year old to a child psychologist to assess if there is any truth in what she's saying. This is for a couple reasons-- 1) it sets the stage for possibly keeping a bad guy away from your kids via future restraining order (if the allegations turn out to be true), and 2) a psychologist is a mandatory reporter. If the psychologist believes the accusations are true, and if the accusations go beyond simple strong-armed discipline (e.g., grabbing a kid's arm and leading the kid to a room, or lightly swatting a kid's butt because some idiot thinks that's good parenting), the psychologist will report it. This prevents YOU from making an accusation to authorities, which can possibly come back to bite you in custody hearings if they were unfounded.

Also, you may choose to use such person as a collateral witness for the evaluator to contact. Ask your attorney on that strategy. Of course, this boyfriend is hardly your entire case. He may disappear just as suddenly as he appeared. But based upon what you've heard, it's fair for you to voice concern-- and the disclaimer you wrote above (i.e., young kids perceive lots of things that may not be entirely true) would be perfect to tell an evaluator too.

From what you describe, I would insist that the evaluator meet privately and individually with the girls. They're old enough to do so. My 3 year old (at the time) daughter met privately with my custody evaluator, and from such meeting, the evaluator was able to assess that she likes spending time in both her homes and seems to have no apprehension about either home. She's five now, and I think she'd express something slightly different today.

I think it's worth mentioning, but not hammering, her unstable residential situation right now. It's worth a mention simply because it's a valid concern, but as your ex can resolve it at any moment by signing an apartment lease, that's why it's not worth building a case around.

In terms of what to present to the evaluator, what to discuss with the evaluator, you must frame everything around the kids' best interest.... "I think the kids would be best served living primarily in my home because..." Or, "I'm very concerned about XYZ that the mother does because it has a negative impact on the kids in the form of..."

The marriage is over, so don't slam her as being a lousy spouse. It's irrelevant. Don't slam her for suddenly having a new boyfriend. However, "I'm really concerned about this man that she has been seeing because OlderDaughter described two incidents that frightened her..."

Provide all information the evaluator requests. Don't volunteer anything negative about yourself unless the evaluator specifically asks. Be prepared to give a somewhat balanced view of your ex. The evaluator may very well ask, "What are some of her strengths as a mother?" to see if you're able to see straight, or if you're blinded by demonizing her.

Go in with an idea of what parenting plan would work best for the kids. The evaluator is bound to ask. Simply saying, "Primary with me" will show that you haven't thought hard enough about the kids' future. It would show greater depth of thought to say, "Well, I think I'm much better with homework and school obligations, so I think it would best serve them to spend most of their weekdays with me. And my mom (who the kids love) is around during the day as well, whereas my ex would have to hire a caretaker during the day. But of course it's important for them to stay connected to their mom, if she decides to live nearby, so maybe they could have dinner with her once or twice during the week? And to be fair for family bonding time, we should alternate weekends and holidays."

Be honest and try to be natural with the evaluator. That's all you can do. The evaluator ain't perfect, but hopefully the evaluator is halfway competent and insightful. The evaluator will write a report that has good and bad about each home-- otherwise, it won't be balanced.

At no time should you assume that the evaluator is your friend or that the evaluator is on your side. It's this person's job to make you feel at ease, to see what's REALLY in your head. It's your job to convince this person what you believe is best for your children, and that's all you should communicate.

It's possible that your attorney has worked with this evaluator before. Be sure to ask your attorney for any tips before your first meeting with the evaluator, as perhaps the evaluator has some buttons that your attorney thinks you should or should not push.

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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