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Never-married father of toddler has recently separated; he worries that mother may leave state with child

Your Question:
My girlfriend and I have recently decided to split and go our seperate ways. We have a 19 month old son who is going to be caught in the middle of our seperation. She is unemployed and about to get evicted from her apartment. I need to know what steps I need to take to ensure that she doesnt leave the state with my son. We have lived together from day one of my son's life and I am not ready to give up my rights as a father. She has taken him away before and threatend not to return. She told me she was taking him to see his family in New York and then she didnt want to come back, she said out there for 2 months. What can I do to make sure that doesn't happen again. Also I have my own place now, and I am currently a Desk top Support Specialist for XXXXXXXXXX, Inc. I would like to also get information on how to get full custody oif my son, at least until she gets a stable job and a place to stay.

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My Answer:

Sorry to hear of this pending trauma all of you are about to endure.

I think the best protection you have to circumvent a move is to file a paternity action. Based upon her past behavior (i.e., disappearing for 2 months and refusing your access to the child), it may be reasonable to get an immediate court order restraining both parents from removing the child from the state.

You have a couple things going for you-- the stability of your home and your 19 months living with the child. The more time that goes by from your separation, the less powerful your argument is about living with your son.

At this point, you should try to spend as much time as possible with your son, documenting every minute of it in a personal log.

You really need to hire a good family law attorney. Ask colleagues or friends for recommendations. This is not a time to be bashful or ashamed-- many people go through this, and many of them have had attorneys who helped them get good outcomes for their kids and themselves. If you can't get any recommendations, go to the courthouse in your county and watch the proceedings (usually open to the public) in one of the family court rooms. When an attorney impresses you with his/her assertiveness and advocacy on behalf of his/her client in front of the judge (and the judge doesn't get peeved), approach that attorney in the hall (after he/she walks out of the courtroom) and ask for a business card. Then, later, set up interviews with the attorneys who impressed you.

Also, it's crucial for you to educate yourself as quickly as possible about what matters in child custody. Finances are rarely considered, for example. I strongly urge you to purchase Win Your Child Custody War by Hardwick. There's more info about it on my Recommended Books page.

This is going to cost a pretty penny to try to do it correctly right now. You'll pay thousands to an attorney just for this first round (i.e., to determine paternity and get court orders for an initial parenting plan). However, I'm assuring you that spending several thousand right now, in a smart way (i.e., as I've only started to describe, along with what you'll learn in that book) will save you tens of thousands over the next several years. If you don't have the cash reserves to retain an attorney (retainers range from $2,000 to $5,000... or even more for the most "prestigious" firms), it's time to call in loans from your family, put it on credit cards, etc.

If an attorney can help you stop her from moving the child, think about how much peace of mind and avoided travel costs you'll have right there over the course of the next 2 years.

Given what you've described of your situation, every day that passes is probably not good for you. If you read any of my other responses to folks, you may have observed that I rarely tell someone an immediate action is critical and urgent. So... take heed... I'm telling you that immediate action is urgent and critical. Once she's taken the child out of state, it's a whole different ballgame (and your team is suddenly down by 10 points), and you want to avoid that.

So... today... start looking at attorneys, and order that book.

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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