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Stepmom wonders if mother's uncooperative actions are bad enough for father to get custody

Your Question:
I am the SM to 3 wonderful children, ages 4, 6 and 8. My DH and I live in WA and ex, w/kids, livs in OR. We recently moved from 3000 away from kids to 200. Filed for more time (because ex refused outside of court). Had mediation. Ex refused to mediate -- she played along, but her "requests" were so outlandish (we can't call the kids by nicknames, I can't babysit for more than an hour, I can't drive the kids anywhere, etc) that we got nowhere. She has (makes) the kids call her husband of less than a year "Daddy", tells them my DH is no longer their Daddy because he left "them", and has changed their last names on school records and bank statements, etc., to her new husbands last name and has now told the kids that they are not "Smith" anymore, they are now "Jones" and they must use that name. Plus, she has the teachers at their school calling them "Jones" as well. There have been other instances of her not letting us know where she lives, not giving us the phone number, hiding them to avoid parenting time (in a hotel for 2 days -- had to get a police assist order) and other alienating behaviors.

Realistically, does he have any shot at custody? If no, we will continue with him representing himself. We have been doing ok so far with increasing his time, etc., pro se. But to file for custody -- if we have a chance -- we would want a lawyer. What do you think?

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My Answer:

I asked you for more information, and none of it was particularly helpful in really selling your case for changing custody. The distance thing happened because of both sides' decisions to move, plus one side being restricted by military base locations. So, that's a moot point.

Here's what it comes down to: the mother sounds like she's at the lower edge of "adequate" parenting. Nothing she's doing quite crosses the line into being a real danger to her kids. She's probably not going to win mother-of-the-year, and she's probably not going to win coparent-of-the-year.

The court doesn't care which parent is excellent. The court only cares if one parent is so below "adequate" that something has to be done for the children.

If you and your husband have had okay luck in improving the situation via court orders here and there, I'd suggest you follow that path.

Your case, if you can prove it, isn't entirely without merit, but I think it's a very long shot.

Instead, you'd probably have more luck filing to modify orders JUST for the problem areas. If you can think of court orders that can alleviate some of the stress and conflict, then lay out your case specific to those areas, and request specific orders to supplement the existing parenting plan.

I've had success with such an approach. I document the unreasonable and intolerable actions of the mother, and then I ask the court to now order XYZ to alleviate the problem. I've prevailed about half the time (and about half the time, the judge just tells us to get along).

But the end result is that my court orders have gotten tighter and tighter with every passing year, which means greater and greater peace for me.

So, I'd suggest that you and your husband sit down and do an inventory of all the most stressful, chaotic behaviors the mother does.

The court won't hesitate to order that each parent must notify the other of his/her residence and phone number (unless there has been violence). So, boom, done. If she refuses, you file for contempt.

The court will make orders that dad can call the kids daily. If mom blocks it, you file for contempt.

The court may or may not make orders that the kids' names be represented correctly to the school. But at the very least, the judge would probably tell mom to quit causing problems over it.

So... lay out your problems. Pick the three or four that cause the most chaos. Seek modification of orders to relieve that conflict.

Conflct isn't good for the kids, so you want the court to either clarify unclear orders, or to make further rules that are apparently necessary to encourage greater cooperation between the parents.

That's a much more reasonable approach then trying to go for a custody change (and completely disrupting the kids' lives) with very little solid evidence.

This is all my opinion, of course. But I think you'd waste your money trying to make this the battle into which you empty your war chest. Instead, keep that war chest full for when you have better ammunition against the mother.


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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