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Noncustodial mother wants to try for custody change due to teen's desire to leave father

Your Question:
My ex-husband and I have 2 daughters, 13-1/2 year old and a 11 year old. It's a very long story that I won't type all up to minimize space, when our divorce was finalized in 2001, he got custody of them. I couldn't afford an attorney at the time because I was a SAHM and attending college (our plan for him to finish college and then me). Anyway, so I didn't know what all was suppose to be in a divorce decree but his attorney purposely left off the restriction to move the girls. 2 years ago, he took the girls and his new wife and moved to where she is from, Oklahoma. I attempted to stop him and keep him in Texas (DFW) but the judge "held me to what I originally signed." Yes, my stupidity.

I still see them 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends, every Spring Break, summers, and holidays. He provides VERY LITTLE information about them to me and keeps me in the dark and bullies me around -- I take it because I don't want him to be angry and take it out on my daughters.

This past year, him and his wife had a baby and I, too, also had another baby (not married) and recently went through a custody battle over my new son (I've emailed you before) and after mediation, I have the exclusive right to establish the primary residence of him. My ex's wife is now again pregnant (2nd child for her).

In January of this year, my 13 year old came to me and said she wanted to live with me. I asked her if she was angry with her dad and step-mom and she said (very matter-of-fact) "No, I'm not." I told her to think about it some more and if she didn't change her mind, then to tell me again in a month. In March, Spring Break, she told me she still wanted to live with me. This time, she broke down and cried. She then proceeded to tell me about a time how her and her step-mom were arguing one day and her step-mom picked up an infant carrier off the couch and threw it at the wall beside my daughter while in rage. She also said how her dad gets angry and hits and slams his fists into counters and walls -- I've seen him do this before while we were married but only at a wall and a windshield, never a threat to us physically.

During this time, she was bringing home bad grades. She kept telling her dad that she wanted to live with me. In June, he said to me over the phone "I don't know if she's just acting like this just because she wants to live with you or not but I'm going to let her move with you. But I am not letting [daughter #2] come, she will stay here." I talked to my other daughter and she started crying saying she didn't want to live with her dad and her step-mom alone. She wanted to live with me. So I talked to my attorney and she sent me the paperwork for my 13 yr old to sign stating which parent she wanted to live with. In July, my ex emailed me about daughter #1 trying to figure out whether or not he needed to register her in school. I didn't respond because I needed to consult with my attorney. A few days later, he emailed and said "Forget it, she's staying here now."

My attorney went ahead and filed the paperwork and he was served the day I returned them from summer to him, July 27th. He never spoke to me about it. He got an attorney and his attorney filed for "Change of venue."

We had a court date on Oct 9th but it was rescheduled because the OK court hadn't noticed the "change of venue" and his attorney hadn't filed all of his motions. Our new court date is Nov. 13th.

Since all of this, my daughters have told me a lot of stuff. They said that when they ask for something they need (haircuts, clothes, etc.) their step-mom's answer is "Ask your mom, she has money." They babysit their now 14 month old sister and await the additional babysitting responsiblities with another new sibling. They say their step-mom comes home and puts on her PJ's and sits on the couch while my ex brings her a plate of food and my daughters then clean up all the dinner and dishes. Since my ex has been served, he has been constantly talking bad about me to the girls. 2 nights after getting them back, he sat with them and told them both "I want you to tell the truth to the judge and only the truth. But watch what you say or else the court will take away [new daughter's name] too" leaving the burden on my daughters' shoulders. He has told them that "your mom use to ignore you and was very mean to you when you were little" which is a complete lie, everyone who knew us knows I did everything for my daughters while he went to school. He has even went as far as to say "your mom is bipolar" and "I'm afraid she'll dump you off at her parent's house" and recently asked my daughter "If I won the lottery and bought you things, would you still want to live with your mom?"

Mind you, I do not have my degree yet and struggling to get by so there is no way I am "buying" their love. He and his wife have a degree. He works as an Asst. Mgr at Starbucks and she "sells education" at a local college. However, even with my child support, they do not provide for them and I have to get into debt buying all their needs for their OK home and for my home, or else they will have to go without.

I was told by my attorney (who is a friend) that we may be ordered to a facilitator. I have no idea what that is. She said it is somewhat like a mediator (since I went through one, I know what that is), but I still have no clue what to expect. She has also filed a motion for mediation order or a social study order.

I need to know what I should expect with a facilitator and a social study? My attorney said the social worker will talk extensively to my daughters. Can I get any of that into confidential information from both parties so my daughters don't have to worry about their father finding out and suffering repercussions?

Sorry so long!

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My Answer:

Let's let everyone else learn from your lesson, so the price that you paid doesn't go in vain:

Do not sign anything you don't understand. Do not sign something because you receive a verbal promise that reality will be different from what you sign. If you sign an agreement, a judge will expect you to keep your agreement.

Okay, so from what you describe, if you have an experienced attorney and a reasonable judge, I think you might at least get custody of the older child. This is assuming that you mount a case built on evidence that is convincing.

If all you present is "he said, she said", the judge will likely lean towards keeping the status quo, unless he finds the beneficiary of the status quo (i.e., Dad, in your case) has a real credibility problem.

I think if you can get a savvy evaluator (I'm using this term interchangeably with facilitator), that person should be able to get to the bottom of what's going on. Such people are expensive. It's possible that the court may pay for it, but if you're serious about pursuing custody of your children, you should be willing to do what it takes to hire one of the best "facilitators" in your county.

An evaluator or facilitator who has a doctorate in psychology and who has been doing this for 15+ years will be able to see through smoke-screens and facades. An inexperienced one may react to and focus on tangents that are intentionally set up to distract them from the real issues.

Also, an experienced psychological professional will know state law with regard to protecting minors. That professional might be able to state it is in the child's interest that session notes and matters discussed be kept confidential, out of concern that the child would be harmed if one or both of the parties were aware of it. I'm not sure about this, but ask your attorney.

Even if information couldn't be kept confidential, if a child expresses something extremely alarming, the facilitator may make solid recommendations that not only remove the child from such exposure but also restricts parties from engaging in it.

If a facilitator recommends a follow-up hearing, and reports back to the court that the child reports one of the parents has threatened or otherwise acted against the child's interest (rather than resolving concerns), the judge will bring the hammer down on that parent.

All in all, if you're going for it-- you need to go for it. If you end up $10,000 in debt when it's over, and if you have custody of at least one of the children, if not both, is that worth it? To me, it would be worth it.

Money is just money. Children are human beings, and their parents are charged with doing whatever it takes to protect them.

Bottom line... if everything you say is true, the more each home and each parent is examined by objective professionals, the more advantageous that would be for your position. So, I think your attorney is steering you in the right direction.

My only concern is whether you picked this attorney because she is your friend, or because she is a savvy family law attorney. The two can co-exist, but you need the best attorney you can find on this; otherwise you may find that you've blown your wad at this attempt, and you come out empty-handed.

Finally, your words of he bullies me around-- I take it because I don't want him to be angry and take it out on my daughters are of concern to me too. Stand up and do the right thing. If he takes it out on your daughters, it improves your case. If he takes it out on your daughters, you explain to them why you did the right thing. It teaches them that women need to be strong and stand up for what is right. Be a role model for them in every sense. By the way, bullies bully people who can be bullied. Bullies are cowards. Stand up to him with strength and conviction, and you'll find that you will experience less bullying from him in the future as he realizes you have more balls than he does.

Quit making babies, right? You've got three kids and two broken homes. Pulling a fourth kid into this wouldn't benefit anyone.

Build your case. 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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