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Never-married father of infant files for joint custody after being involved during pregnancy and early months; mother counterfiles for a move-away

Your Question:
My boyfriend has a 3 month old daughter. They were broken up before she even found out she was pregnant. They get along fairly well, he was there for the birth and went to her Drs appt with her during pregnancy. He has paid her child support since the day the baby was born and has seen the baby 2 - 3 days a week since the baby was born. No overnights, but usually from 9am to 9pm on days he has her. There was no court order at all. His name is on the birth certificate as the father, they both signed an ackowledgment of paternity when she was born.

He just filed for joint custody/visitation. He wanted to make his rights legal, because he understood that she was under no obligation to let him see the baby without a court order.

She just counterfiled with the fact that she wants permission to move out of state (to PA) 3 hours away.

Here are my questions, and I have a lot!

1. Will visitation be determined seperately from her request to move away?

2. Will they take into consideration the amount that he has already been seeing his daughter when they determine visitation?

3. What can he do to ensure she doesn't win her request to move away? How can he prove that her having a relationship with her father is important?

He is very nervous and the court date is in one week!

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing.

Though he won't have time to read prior to the hearing, your boyfriend would do well to invest $70 in the book Win Your Child Custody War by Hardwick. It's pretty much the only book he'll need to help him understand how family law works, and what strategies he should employ to protect his ability to remain involved with the child. There's a link to it on my Recommended Books page. Better yet, if you really love this guy and want to help him, buy it as a gift for him right now. Unless you can bribe the judge, it's about the best way to help your boyfriend.

The court has to rule in a way that best serves the child. The court must do that while also considering the US Constitution, which ensures that every adult has freedom of movement.

So, the court can't stop the mother from moving. But then the court is left with determining what schedule is best for the child.

Based upon the information you provided, the child has been with the mother most of the time in its short three months of life so far. You don't say that the mother is evil, is trying to keep the child away from the father, or that she's a bad parent... so I'll assume none of those are the case.

It's my guess that the court will find it in the child's best interest to primarily stay under the care of the mother, no matter where she moves. It's irrelevant how good and devoted the father is, for that particular decision.

So the court then has to look at how to maintain the paternal bond, which is also in the child's best interest (to have a healthy father in her life). This is where the father needs to shine, to have the best shot at getting frequent and reasonable time with the child.

As I'm suggesting that Dad will lose on the move-away, I don't think he should be putting his eggs in that basket. Instead, he may want to start thinking about how to make it work.

Based also on the information you provided, I wonder if your boyfriend would have a decent shot at requesting a parenting schedule where he has the child every weekend, both days. I'd suggest a parenting plan akin to the following... trying to balance travel (so the kid isn't shuttled 6 hours in a car every two days) with quality of time:

  • Child to be with dad from 9AM every Saturday to 5PM Sunday through the child's first year. Thereafter, step up to 9AM Saturday to 9AM Monday thereafter. Receiving parent to pick-up the child (i.e., Dad picks up child Saturday morning and drives back home. Mom picks up child Sunday evening and drives back home).

  • Dad is entitled to give at least 7 days' notice to mother that he will pick up child at 4PM on any Wednesday and return child by 7PM the same day (i.e., if dad wants to spend a few hours with child mid-week near mother's home-- go to a park, to a mall, etc).

  • Joint legal custody

  • Step-up to more time with dad if dad ever moves within 5 miles of mom.

  • Lay out the holiday schedule, including extended periods after age 2.

Ideally, if Mom can't be convinced to stay in the area, Dad should plan to move to where she is. It's a major hassle, sure, but it'll be best for the child to always have two healthy parents nearby and with whom to spend frequent quality time.

On a final note, it may be worth approaching mom with a settlement to see what she's willing to do if dad agrees to the move-away. If she's willing to do something like the above, that's pretty good, and it avoids the uncertainty of what a judge will do. Mom has odds in her favor, but no guarantee, so she may be just as happy coming to a settlement.

Dad should keep in mind that while weekends with a 3 month old infant aren't much different from weekdays, once the child becomes a toddler and older, there's a world of fun stuff to do on the weekends... and Dad will have a ton of real quality time with the child if he has every weekend as his custodial time.


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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