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Noncustodial father wonders if mother's refusal to communicate can reward her

Your Question:
OK, I am a dad with a 9 year old. My ex and I got divorced over 7 years ago and have shared joint custody since then without major incident.

I got remarried 3 years ago. Communication has been fine up till about 5 months ago when I got served papers seeking full custody on grounds that I I now take my daughter to Catholic church where my wife sings. She has also accused me of making "unilateral" decisions regarding my daughter.

Our preliminary court dates established the child support and kind of the church issue. The custody issue was handedover to a Guardian (GAL) and we go in to hear about the custody decision on Oct 11th.

My wife and I are scared that we might lose custody of our daugther. My ex has a live in boyfriend (with a PhD) and has lied about doctors appointments to me in emails. I gave the GAL two 1 inch thick books of emails between my ex and I.

Just recently when trying to find out about my daugther's dentist and her teeth cleanings, she has come back saying that she takes her but will not let me know who.

We are TRYING not to be petty in all of this with tit-for-that, but we are concerned about losing this custody thing. We have felt all along that we'd be ok, but in talking with the GAL she basically said that if we can't communicate, she'd have to award sole custody to one of us (not a choice she wants to make).

So basically my question is, "Can my ex gain full custody by spoiling the communiation between us?" One of the requirements of joint custody is that the parents can communicate. Can my ex be completely unreasonable with me, not communiate with me, just blame me for our lack of communication and gain full custody?

I have recommend mediation and counseling for our daughter and for us to be better at communication, but she is completely against any type of counseling. Of course it wouldn't work anyway if she didn't go into it with an open mind. So, there it is. Sorry for the long email, but trying to be thorough.


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My Answer:

I think your approach is one that seeks to minimize damage to your child ("Can't we all just get along?!"), but you're not handling it aggressively enough in the proper way. Based upon the information you provided me (including an email not posted), I'm wondering if your attorney is simply reactive and not proactive.

You've mentioned that you have joint custody, but the reality is that your ex has the child 5 days per week. Unless you demonstrate some serious flaws in the other parent, if forced to pick one parent as having decision-making power, a judge will almost always pick the one who has majority timeshare of the child.

The religion thing is something the court won't care about. You live in America, and you have a right to practice whatever religion you want. If you have joint custody, you have the right to expose your child to that religion (so long as it's not an extremist, dangerous cult that has kids handling venomous serpents).

You've got two thick binders of communications, but your problem is that nobody - no GAL and no judge -- will care enough to read it all in attempt to figure out with 100% certainty who the problem parent is.

Here's what it sounds like the GAL is seeing: These parents bicker and can't agree. The GAL will report such to the court.

The minor lying that the mother has frequently done? As far as the judge is concerned, most parents lie. It really doesn't matter in your case.

So, where are you now? It feels too uncertain, as you've laid it out. And that's not a good place to be when entering a courtroom.

Live-in boyfriend? Who cares? You've got a live-in wife. It only matters when such a person poses a danger to the kid.

You've wanted counseling and she doesn't? Who cares about that? She'll just claim that it's your attempt to be emotional engaged with her.

I suggest you seriously consider each of these tactics as potential avenues for helping your case:

  • Hire a private investigator to try to dig up dirt on your ex. You really have no clue what she's been doing during the past 7 years. She's secretive about innocent stuff, and you haven't even cracked those tiny secrets. Try to find a big secret that is relevant to your daughter's welfare, and raise it with the GAL and court.

  • If appropriate and possible, have your attorney depose your ex. Have her explain a few of her best lies. You get to sit there and listen. Sometimes people like her will implode during a deposition, especially seeing the ex listening to everything and looking pretty smug. All you need to do is to catch her in some crazy rant, and then that can be used as evidence. Additionally, you can have her verify that you're a good parent (and if she can't admit it, to have her pinpoint exact reasons - with examples and dates of when examples occurred). You'll lock in her testimony that she really has no concerns about you as a parent (i.e., either through admission or inability to substantiate it).

  • If appropriate and possible, push for psychological evaluations of you and your ex. You sound grounded, she sounds a bit off. The court may appreciate further information, if the judge is really interested in getting to the bottom of what's going on. This can also be a stall tactic for you to avoid any ruling while you continue to build your case.

  • At this time, push very hard for court orders to jointly attend a co-parenting course that has a goal of reducing conflict. Don't expect her to change, but again, it's a way for you to delay any ruling on a custody modification.... "Your Honor, shouldn't we at least try to get these parents through a course to reduce conflict before we completely disrupt this child's life? And perhaps come back in four months to re-assess?"

  • Push very hard for court orders that parents shall notify each other of healthcare appointments and both parents shall be allowed to attend such appointments.

At what point do you stop taking her crap? You've probably been accepting it for 7 years without taking any action to stop it, and it's gotten progressively worse recently. That's one of the reasons why she continues and why you've gotten to this point.

You need to get more assertive with this situation. Simply whining about how uncooperative she is and how much power she has... you see where that attitude has delivered you. You're now wondering if you're going to lose even more of a connection with your child.

I think you need to have a status meeting with your attorney to talk proactive strategy. Get some convincing evidence that starts to show the mother as a questionable parent. Put it all together and go for more time with your daughter. In order to do that, it seems you need a stall tactic right now (as outlined above).

BOTTOM LINE-- GET ON THE OFFENSIVE. You'll feel better and more empowered about the situation, you'll improve your outcome, and you'll start putting the fear of God into the mother that if she doesn't straighten up, you're serious about fixing it. People seem to have a wonderful way of behaving well if there's a figurative two-by-four plank held above their heads (i.e., "Either behave, or we go back to court for contempt.").

You'd really benefit from the book, "Win Your Child Custody War" that I describe on my What You Must Have page. It's chock full of advice for effective tactics and has many attitude adjustments about how to look at one's situation.

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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