I am an unmarried father of a beautiful baby girl (7 months
old). I have been with the baby's mother for 5 1/2 years.
While I was at work, she left, taking her belongings and
the baby. She stated that she loves me, but feels that I
am not ready or willing to be a father/husband. She also
stated that she was going to a shelter. My world dropped
when I received the news by mother. She came over to see
the baby. There were no signs of this coming. It has now
been 5 days and still no contact from her. I was served
with temporary custody papers, and child support papers.
Her attorney stated that she has a desire to move to Fla.
I have hired one of the best child custody attorneys in Ct
and I meet with him tom.. For background info, I work full
time, and I go to school and pull straight A's. I am going
to school to be an attorney. This move of hers is killing
me, and is definitely not in my daughters best interest.
What are my rights, what should I expect, and what should I
Thanks for writing. I asked you for additional information (not posted), and I'm going to intersperse some of the additional information you provided with my answer. If any other readers wonder how I know so much, that's how.
You're a bright guy, and you need to make sure you understand that family law is like no other field of law. Don't let any arrogance gained in law school trick you into thinking you've got an advantage. Family law is not about justice. It's about many presumed set of factors that create a "game" of child custody, and the parent who quickly understands that it is more about strategy than justice will do much better from the get go.
I tell you this because you're already fighting an uphill battle, which you may not yet realize. The mother has completely blind-sided you, knows exactly what she is doing, and has been guided to do what she's doing.
At present time, your chance of securing primary custody of this child hovers around one percent, and I'm being generous. The strategies that you employ in coming weeks can increase your odds.
The reason why your odds are so bad are a couple-fold. Courts want to know who has been the primary caretaking parent. You admit that it has been the mother. You have excellent and noble reasons for why that came to be, but that's largely irrelevant at this point.
Secondly, the courts will look at the status quo. Judges and evaluators assume that disrupting the status quo is bad for a child, so the reasons to do so must be good ones. Right now, mom has the child. You weren't married, so you have no rights to the child until a court finds you to be the father (or you and mom stipulate to such).
Let's stop for a minute, because you and many readers may be asking... how is that fair?! How does that serve justice?!
As I mentioned, there is no justice in family law. It's all centered around "the child's best interest", and over the course of time there have been many presumptions that have become the gold standard in most family courts. I'm trying to help people understand those assumptions ASAP, so they minimize time spinning their wheels and getting nowhere.
At this point, if you go down the traditional path with a traditional approach with an attorney that doesn't have effective tactics in place, you're so screwed. The mother will be allowed to move to FL with the child, and until you move where she is, you'll be pretty marginalized as a parent.
First, I recommend that you purchase Win Your Child Custody War
by Hardwick. There's a link to buy it on my Recommended Books
page. It'll cost you the equivalent of less than 15 minutes of your attorney's hourly rate, and it's the best resource available.
Second, I recommend you do as much of the following, ASAP. I mean, you need to burn the midnight oil over the next few weeks to do as much of this as possible, because once the kid leaves the state, your position gets even worse:
- See if your attorney can get a temporary restraining order prohibiting either parent from leaving the state with the child until the completion of a custody evaluation, including psychological evaluations.
- Find and enroll in a parenting class (you don't need to tell anyone that you're doing it, at this point). Completing a parenting course may prove invaluable later, if you're accused of being ignorant and incapable of parenting.
- Ask your attorney about propounding discovery ASAP and doing depositions ASAP. I think your best shot at staying involved with this child, and giving a judge a reason to hesitate rubber-stamping a move-away is the mental health angle. In deposition, your attorney can lock in her testimony that you don't have addiction problems, that you've never struck the child, that you're nurturing with the child, that you spent 6 hours daily with the child over the summer, etc.
- I encourage you to check into the book Child Custody A to Z by White. It's also on my Recommended Books page. It discusses how to build your case with evidence.
- If a specific accusation does ever come up about you (e.g., you regularly smacked your wife), immediately ask your attorney to hook you up with a polygraph examiner. Though not admissible, you could offer it to the court, and the opposing side will object, and the judge will know exactly what the report says, without having to see it. Likewise, you CAN provide it to a custody evaluator, who isn't bound by rules of evidence.
- Never hesitate to re-arrange your schedule around your child, and never hesitate if a judge or evaluator asks if you would do so. Your answer is, "My daughter is my priority. If it means I delay completion of law school for a few years, that's what I have to do." Of course, you must be genuine about this.
- Start collecting affadavits immediately from friends and any objective witnesses who say that you're a great guy and devoted father. A priest is a great witness, as is a pediatrician. These affadavits can help you minimize the damage of temporary custody orders. If you go in with 10 affadavits from a variety of credible folks, it may help getting slaughtered by the status quo that the other side holds (i.e., de facto custody).
I'm not sure why you think you have the best child custody attorney in your state. It sounds like you will need an aggressive, strategic one... so hopefully that's who you have. The mother obviously intends to push you aside. You're likely going to be litigating this, and so you need a good litigator. If there was no adversary between parties, I'd recommend that you'd want a good negotiator. But you got hood-winked, and the mother clearly has been thinking her plan out for a while.
If you take the offense on this (e.g., propounding discovery about her past, her mental health; scheduling a deposition, filing for a TRO against interstate travel, etc), it upsets her plan, and it buys you some catch-up time.
Your goal, by the way, is to give this child high access to two healthy parents. It's not to destroy the mother. However, the mother has left you no choice but do aggressively ensure that the father isn't removed from the child's life.
If, at any point, the mother asks to tone down the fight and try to settle, always be willing. Mediation is always preferred. But never let down your guard. Pray for peace, and prepare to fight.