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Newly separated father feels screwed by collaborative process with 150 miles between homes

Your Question:
My wife and I have an unusual divorce/custody situation. She and I have been moving around the country together, during my medical training, for 15 years. Eight years ago she chose that we move to California, which we did, while previousy I had chosen that we live on the East Coast, which we did. Last June I finished my training and, based on my job offers, we had two choices for our future residence: the Midwest or the Pacific NW. I wanted to live in the Midwest and she wanted the Pacific NW. I argued that, since she had chosen our last place of residence, this time it was my turn to choose. She replied that she'd rather get a divorce than move to the Midwest. Tired of the constant arguing, I agreed to a divorce. We had few ties to the local area, where we'd only been living for one year, and my wife still wanted to move to the Pacific NW. We wanted to stay in the same town for the sake of our small children, so we started to plan our move to the Pacific NW and to plan divorce as well. We agreed to pursue a "collaborative" divorce process. While we were still picking our attorneys, my wife decided to stay in California and move to another city, 150 miles away. She took the children without my consent. In the meantime I decided to stay where we'd been living until the divorce was done (bear with me, I'm getting there). Now, through the collaborative divorce, we have a child therapist who is supposed to advise what is best for the children. There is no judge in this process. We agree on the terms of the divorce and our lawyers put it in writing for us to sign and the court to approve. Here's the catch. The therapist believes the children are too young (at two and five years) to travel often; she advised that if I move out of state, they should only visit me once a month. I thus turned down my out-of-state job offers. Now the therapist says that if I stay where I am, I'll only see the children two weekends per month, since the travel distance is still too great for frequent visitation. The therapist wants me to move to the area where my wife is living. I have no interest whatsoever in moving there. There are no jobs there in my highly specialized field. However, I want to see my children more often than twice a month. My wife does not want to return to the town where we were last living together, which is where I still am and where the divorce is being processed. At least here I can get a job according to my training. My question is this: should I leave the collaborative process, where the therapist now wants me to move or see my children only twice a month?

Since we are in separate towns and my wife was the one who moved, I believe I should be the one with custody and she should be the one with visitation, rather than viceversa.

If I pursue traditional divorce, is it likely that a judge will agree with me, or is my wife more likely get custody while I only get visitation, 150 miles away? I feel likle I'm getting screwed throught this so-called collaborative process.

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My Answer:

Life ain't fair. Did you read my What You Must Know page?

I put in bold the crux of your argument above. That's what it comes down to for you.

What if your wife said, "I'm the one who moved around with him for 15 years during his medical training for a highly specialized (i.e., lucrative) field, so I should get half of all his future earnings!"

Do you buy that logic?

Fortunately - or not - individual opinions of how it should be is not how it plays out in family law.

I think you're being very focused on YOU. In that extremely long note you sent to me, you didn't manage to include a single sentence about your concern for the children or what you think is best for the children.

If you go to court with that attitude, you probably won't get the outcome you seek.

I strongly suggest you set aside your ego, set aside your focus on fair/unfair, and start over within yourself.

Here are the facts of your situation:

  • The mother lives 150 miles away from you.

  • In your current city, there are job opportunities for you that would maximize your income and stimulate you in your medical practice.

  • There are not job opportunities in her city that would maximize your income nor stimulate you in what you love to practice in medicine.

  • However, there are probably job opportunities in medicine in her city that would allow you to live a middle-class life doing a medical job that may not be of high interest to you.

  • The children are 2 and 5 years old. The five year old has either recently started kindergarten or will in 2007. The 2 year old will probably start preschool in a year and kindergarten in a couple years.

  • Unless both parents live in the same city, the children will have a primary M-F home (due to school).

So, that's your situation. If being a parent is the ABSOLUTE MOST IMPORTANT thing to you, you'll figure out a way to move to the mother's city, you'll take a job that you may not love at an income that is less than your potential, and you'll ask the mother to agree that whichever parent moves thereafter will give custody to the other parent.

If being a parent is AS IMPORTANT as developing YOUR CAREER, you'll stay only 150 miles away from the mother. You'll work with her to maximize the time you spend with the kids.

From the emphasis you place on your career, I'm going to assume you ain't going to sacrifice it. This means that the mother's home will be 150 miles away from the father's home.

This is what I suggest:

  • Get a home for yourself closer to the mother that is the maximum commute you'd tolerate for your city. E.g., if you're willing to do a 30 mile commute, it means the kids are now only 120 miles from you.

  • Agree that the children will be in your care on alternating weekends (i.e., don't use the terminology "twice a month"). Alternating weekends is 26 weekends per year. "Twice a month" is 24 weekends per year. Is a weekend defined as Friday evening at 5pm to Sunday evening at 5pm (i.e., this allows reasonable bedtimes)? Outline the details.

  • For transportation, the receiving parent picks up. The mother moved, so on THIS issue you are reasonable to say, "Lady, you're doing at least half the driving." So, you pick up the kids on your Friday evenings, and the mother picks up the kids on Sunday evening.

  • Propose that the mother will not move more than 150 miles away from your home, else parents agree that the children should live with your for stability.

  • Realistically look at your anticipated work schedule. Are there any weekday afternoons you'd always be available? Are there additional weekends you'd always be available? Don't pursue it if you'll end up disappointing your kids with your no-shows due to work. But if it's feasible, propose that you will travel to the mother's city to spend time with the kids every Wednesday from 2pm to 6pm (you can go to a movie, park, restaurant, library, mall, etc). Propose that one additional Saturday (or Sunday) per month, you will travel to mom's city to spend time with the kids from 10am to 6pm, and you agree that you will not transport them to your city during that time. If everyone is okay with you and them sleeping Saturday night in a hotel in mom's city, then maybe turn it into 3pm Saturday to 11am Sunday (i.e., mirroring a hotel's check-in and check-out times). That'll give you a "home away from home", especially if you stay at a business suite (i.e., kitchenette and bedroom) like Fairfield Suite or Residence Inn-- so you can even make dinner for them. If you use the same hotel every month, the kids will have familiarity with that routine.

  • Propose that the kids are with you during the week of spring break. Define spring break per the school system of mom's county.

  • Propose that the kids are with you for two weeks of summer vacation in 2007, and three weeks of summer vacation thereafter.

  • Propose that mother is to inform you of all school appointments and events, and you're allowed to attend. You can stay involved, if you're willing to drive.

  • If money is an issue (which is shouldn't be, if you're a highly specialized medical practitioner), propose that the mother pays you $150/month for gas. With what I propose, you're doing 7 round trips per month (i.e., 2000 miles). Get a hybrid. :)

  • If money is not an issue - i.e., if you have a high amount of disposable income - you may wish to pursue a pilot's license and do timeshare ownership of a small aircraft. Suddenly, your travel time is cut by 60%. Anyway, isn't it a mandate for specialized practitioners to own at least one small aircraft?!

  • Alternate all the holidays between you and the mother.

So... the plan I outline has you seeing the kids with pretty good frequency, considering the distance: alternating weekends, one weekday afternoon (in mom's city), and over one additional weekend per month (in mom's city).

If you throw this back to the therapist, and if the therapist doesn't agree that increasing the time you spend with the kids is ideal (and recognize the huge burden you're willing to take on for travel)... then I think the therapist is biased or you haven't disclosed your own parenting shortcomings.

If your proposal (as I suggest) falls on deaf ears, then go to court. I think a reasonable judge would find my proposal to be in the kids' best interest, and frankly would be impressed with your willingness to travel so much to be with the kids.

Biggest suggestion to you is to argue your case from the kids' perspective. That's all that counts in court.

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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