I have been married to my current husband for almost two
years (in August.) I have a 7 year old son from a previous
marriage, and we have a 1 year old son together. My
husband also has a daughter from a previous relationship,
which is what I'm writing to you about. I'm sorry that it
is long, but I wanted to make sure you had all of the
details to get a better perspective of the situation.
When my husband and I first got married, he had no court
ordered visitation schedule with his daughter and there was
no court ordered child support. Occasionally, biomom would
allow him to visit with his daughter in her home, but
didn't allow him to take her anywhere (at the time, his
daughter was 3 years old.) When my husband and I got
married, and biomom found out, she filed a VPO against him
claiming that he was harrassing her and had attempted to
break into her car. Needless to say, this was nonsense and
the courts found her request baseless, denied her request,
and made her pay all the court fees.
After that, she filed for child support. For an entire
year, we paid child support and had to save up money for an
attorney, because we knew that we could do nothing about
the visitation situation until we went to court. So
finally, in October of 2004, biomom's lawyer made her agree
to a graduated visitation schedule (because as he put it,
going to court would just waste her money and time since he
had a right to have visitation with his daughter.)
We were pretty elated and excited. Of course, since it had
been over a year since he was allowed to see his daughter,
my dh had to start out with eight weeks of supervised
visits. Unfortunately, biomom used that as an opportunity
to make my dh's time with his daughter miserable. She
required the visits to be in her home (no going to the park
or McDonald's or anywhere else.) She also had her mother
there everytime. During visits, they would sit in the
livingroom and make sarcastic comments, and so forth.
Biomom even required them to stay in his daughters room for
the entire visit (which of course, his four year old
At any rate, biomom, unbelievably, managed to drag out this
eight weeks into six months!! She denied a few visits here
and there, and when the eight weeks was finally up, and she
knew it, and daughter was to be released to my dh for
visits at our home, biomom decided, as she put it, that, "I
don't feel that daughter is ready for this yet." Well of
course, we were outraged. Keep in mind, he'd been doing
this for months, on her terms. Not only that, but daughter
had never been able to meet me or her brothers. In fact,
biomom insisted that dh not speak of her other brothers to
daughter, because she felt it confused their daughter.
While all of this was going on, we put his daughter on our
health insurance. The child support order required that
the NCP carry his daughter on his health insurance. The
insurance was provided through my work, so we added her to
the policy and gave biomom a copy of the insurance card.
She was so outraged that she filed a claim with the
insurance commissioner's office. I also got a letter and
an email from my office's human resource department.
Apparently biomom had called them on several occasions
demanding that my stepdaughter be removed from my health
insurance. They sent me a copy of the letter which they
sent to her stating that they had their legal department
review her request and that they could not comply with her
request because it is legally acceptable for me to carry
her on my insurance. Still, bm would call us on many
occasions to advise me that I'd be going to jail soon.
At any rate, we got so fed up with this that we contacted
our lawyer and wanted to file contempt charges due to the
denied visitation. Eventually, the two parties agreed to
involve a parenting coordinator to mediate the dispute.
So, my husband and I visited with the parenting coordinator
first, then she visited with biomom. Then she evaluated my
dh and daughter (I guess because biomom had indicated that
my husband couldn't care for daughter on his own.)
Naturally, as the parenting coordinator explained in their
final session together, she saw no reason or indication
that daughter should be kept from her father any longer.
She recommended that biomom immediately start sending
daughter over to our house for unsupervised visits.
The first visit went great, or so it seemed. We had to
take my stepdaughter to the store to buy her new shoes,
because one of them broke while she was at our house.
Biomom got really upset about this because we didn't ask
her permission before we took stepdaughter anywhere.
Other than that, the visits have been great, but even
though the parenting coordinator told biomom that she needs
to give dh every other holiday, as per the visitation
schedule (keep in mind that my dh has had ZERO holidays
with stepdaughter.), she has consistently refused such,
even up to the present.
Originally, we wanted to go back to the parenting
coordinator regarding the issue, but our parenting
coordinator had her license revoked for unknown reasons.
So our lawyer told us that at this point, we would have to
simply go to court. Due to the nature of biomoms
hostility, her refusal to abide by the visitation schedule,
and her inflexibility in cooperating with my dh, he decided
to request joint custody. Here are the reasons we are
-Most importantly, in talking to biomom, the parenting
coordinator will be testifying as a witness to her
hostility and lack of cooperation. In fact, she got in an
argument with the parenting coordinator because she did not
want to send daughter to our home and said she wanted a new
-As I stated previously, BM has denied all holidays (except
Father's day and only because I think she had plans or
something.) She even told the parenting coordinator that
she feels that daughter should be with her on holidays
since she knows her family best.
-Proven hostility on biomom's part toward me (which the
parenting coordinator was first to identify) and toward my
dh due to issues in their relationship long ago. I have
the letter from the insurance commissioner's office
advising me that she filed a complaint against me.
-Refusal of biomom to list my dh as an emergency contact at
stepdaughter's daycare. In fact, she instructed them that he is
not permitted to see or request information about her
-Refusal of biomom to give dh access to daughter's medical
records or even advise him of who her primary care
physician is. We had to obtain this info on our own.
Also, when we reviewed the medical records, we found that
daughter had been referred to a specialist for evaulation
of possible ADHD, but biomom did not take her to the
These are the main points that we are arguing. Thursday is
our pretrial hearing in which (from what I understand, all
issues that will be addressed are brought to the table.)
My question is, what, if anything, I've listed above is
relevant? Is my dh demanding too much by requesting joint
custody with primary residential? Is there anything that
we've forgotten? I have been told before that requesting
primary is too much. But I've also been given advice that
we should request sole custody.
Thanks so much for reading all of this!
Thanks for writing.
In my opinion, Dad sat on his butt for far too long. I'm not sure why, whether he lacks strength or simply wasn't interested in his daughter for a while. I would hope that he's on base with as much or more enthusiasm and conviction than you present. Regardless of your heart and your devotion to your husband and his child, you really don't count much from a legal perspective. Dad has to be the one leading the charge for this to really succeed. I don't know anything about him, so I'm speaking generally, in case it applies.
I've got a two-part reply. One is about strategy that I, as a layperson, think would be good. The other is about the philosophy of what you face.
I think it's best for Dad to hammer on questionable mental health of the mother. The parenting coordinator will an awesome witness, provided the license wasn't revoked for a reason related to her ability to assess a custody matter.
The whole insurance thing and her hostility towards you should be downplayed or not mentioned unless she has physically threatened you with harm. Yeah, it's annoying. Yeah, it's poor behavior. But you're a stepmother, and the biological mother sees a bullseye target on your forehead, the same fate as millions of other stepmothers. The court won't care much about it, and it distracts from the bigger issues.
I think the biggest issue is the on-going interference with the father/child relationship, year after year. If Dad is an average parent or better, the mother is continuously acting against the child's best interest by keeping her isolated from her father.
The ADHD thing is a minor point perhaps worth mentioning, but you'll have to prove she didn't take the kid to a specialist and that it was urgent for her to do so. For the payoff, it's a large burden to prove.
In my state, I believe that a parent with sole custody controls all legal matters, including who is placed as emergency contacts, who has access to records, etc. I'm not clear if the mother has had sole legal custody up to now. While it may not show much cooperation, I don't know that it was unlawful or against court orders for her to do that.
So, if it were my case, and I'm speaking as a layperson, I'd be going for joint custody and seeking majority timeshare in my home. I don't think I'd try for sole custody because the judge hasn't seen you guys enough... you keep settling prior to reaching the judge, so the judge isn't repeatedly exposed to the problems that the mother creates. I'd be requesting orders that are very specific and clear as much as possible.... exact times of each parent's custodial time, exact times that each holiday period begins and ends, exact times that the parents may call the child in the other home along with a requirement that the parent exercising custody must answer the phone and/or return messages, and an exact description of how exchanges are to work.
Exchanges can be flashpoints for conflict. I've gone through a few rounds over the years of figuring out how to eliminate most opportunity for conflict at exchanges. My orders now state specifically that the parent receiving the child is responsible for transportation, that the receiving parent must remain at the curb, that the releasing parent must remain in the residence, that the child will walk from one parent to the other, and that parents will engage in no conversation at exchanges. It's ridiculous to have such asinine orders, but when dealing with an emotionally volatile person; it's a necessity. Above any other, the orders for this type of exchange, plus the court orders for email-only communication between parents, have been such a huge blessing for peace in my life.
So, going back to hammering that the mother has mental problems, I think there's enough in this case that would warrant orders for psychological evaluations. See what your attorney thinks of that.
Now, on to the second part, the philosophical part of what you and your husband face. See my answer to another person's questions HERE
. I've found that managing a custody case takes more than mere legal tactics and strategies. Sometimes there are other forces at work that must be contemplated too. What you describe of the mother warrants that you and your husband should really read what I wrote to that other person and spend significant time discussing the validity of it. Ignore the first few paragraphs unique to that guy's situation, but the rest certainly applies to your challenge.
Good luck, and please let me know what happens.
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.