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Never-married mother of infant with joint custody is about to enter a custody evaluation process

Your Question:
Father and I have joint custody of our 1 year old child. We were never married or had a relationship other than me getting pregnant. We had went our separate ways before I knew I was pregnant. Court order was done in January 2005 after settling on a parenting plan that the father insisted. Father has visitation 6 days every week which consist of Mon-Wed including 2 overnights and then on Thur-Sat from 10-3 p.m. He has a full week work schedule in which he is now working on his parenting time which is his Mon and Tues overnights. I have tried to talk with him concerning that if he has to work I would like to have right of first refusal. He leaves our daughter either with his 21 yr old girlfriend or someone else. Also he puts in motions every 2 months. The last one was for an evaluation accusing me of being a unfit mother. This was back in March. I heard from the evaluator yesterday and he wants to set up an appointment for May 26th in 2 weeks. Apparently the father had his yesterday. Does it matter who has their interview first? Also do I need to prepare for this and what it involves. I asked my lawyer and she wouldn't give me any details only to tell me to be honest. What I would like to know he wanted all this parenting time and isn't with her most of the time and how is that benefitting her if her if she is being left with legal stranger than with her other parent. Any input would be appreciated.

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing. I asked you to give some additional details (not posted), and I took those into account in my response.

I think you're facing one of these three scenarios: 1) You're not being honest with yourself about some major parenting shortcomings you possess, 2) You're not being honest with me about your major parenting shortcomings, or 3) You've got an increasingly combative relationship with the father, who is making assumptions about you out of either malice or in reaction to some malice that he thinks you're doing.

Reading into your style (in the above and also your lengthy second email), you come across as pretty stable, only a tiny bit dramatic, and pretty clear-cut in your direct answers to my direct questions. So based on that, I don't think you're someone who likely lives in some world of self-delusion. I'm thinking that you're facing the third scenario I laid out above.

To ease your mind, and also help you understand what's relevant, very few of the details you provided will have any bearing on a custody decision or evaluator's recommendation. You didn't provide anything that necessarily makes dad a bad father. He's perhaps not an ideal one, but the courts (and evaluators) are only concerned if a parent is not "good enough". Dad seems "good enough", as do you. In family law, there aren't really brownie points for being a stellar parent. You just have to be "good enough."

Your attorney wants you to come across as honest with the evaluator, and that's why she doesn't want you to think too much about it. If your responses to the evaluator seem rehearsed, then it can have an impact on your credibility with the evaluator. I have the slightly different mindset that it's very important to be prepared for the process, while still remaining honest.

This evaluator is going to make a recommendation for what is in your child's best interest. You should have a crystal clear idea what that is in your perspective, and your perspective MUST include involvement of both parents.

To wit, I happen to agree with the father's perspective that infants should see both parents daily. Those first twelve months are critical for building trusting bonds between parent and child. Whether it's 2, 3, or 4 hours with each parent daily, by the time the child becomes a toddler, a deep-rooted familiarity and bond will be there with both parents. This presumes that each parent is responsive to an infant's needs. The jury is still out, in the child development world, whether it's healthy or not to start overnights that early.

Daily contact between parents not together is very tough, but for parents who can do such a schedule for the welfare of their infant, it's commendable.

When the child starts approaching 18 months, I think the daily contact can move towards alternate days of contact for somewhat longer periods. And perhaps around 3 years of age, the parenting plan can shift yet again to perhaps two to three days (at most) spans that the child doesn't see one of the parents, but the custodial time is longer in length with each parent.

In your situation, you've set up a scenario that 50/50 may be an eventual outcome. Both parents have been involved with this child nearly every day. Unless there's a big reason to avoid it, the evaluator may shoot for something in that direction.

So, what are the big reasons the evaluator may consider? This is where you get to say your concerns: 1) You are concerned that dad's hectic work schedule may interfere with his ability to exercise lengthy custodial periods; 2) You believe that each parent should offer right of first refusal to the other parent, rather than babysitters.; 3) There seems to be horrible communication between the two of you, and communication is critical in joint custody.

You may also want to have in mind a short-term and long-term parenting plan, if the evaluator asks you to describe one.

One of the worst things you can do is complain about the father with information that is not relevant to child custody, or based on speculation. If he hangs out with a younger crowd that you think is into drinking, it's only relevant if you can 100% tie it to the child's welfare. To be honest, once again, very little that you wrote would give an evaluator concern about either of you.

The one thing you should be prepared to explain is what happened that led to the father filing his first action. You described that he did something a bit troublesome to you and that you didn't trust him after that, suggesting that you may have really cut back on his access to the child for a couple months (I'm just reading into what you wrote, so I'm not sure that happened). What he did may not have been acceptable. He may portray your reaction as overkill and against the child's interest, if you tried to limit his contact with child. Just be prepared to explain yourself, even if you now feel it may have been a mistake-- but you simply didn't know how to prevent him from doing the same thing again.

To better understand the process, I suggest that you buy The Child Custody Book by Stewart. There's a link to it on my Resources page. It's about 100 pages long, and it's easy to read. It's a great overview from the evaluator and judge's viewpoint. I think it would benefit you... "big picture" perspective more than actual detailed instructions, which other books would have.

The evaluator may be the most important person in this whole process. His recommendation will weigh heavily in court. I agree that you should educate yourself a little bit before meeting him. I don't believe it matters WHO gets interviewed first, by the way. Just spend a bit of time thinking about what is best for your child, and focus ONLY on your child with the evaluator.

Good luck. Please let me know how it goes.


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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