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What to do when other parent suddenly stops the regular parenting arrangement that was in place for years; no court orders ever established?

Your Question:
I have a 5 yo daughter. I had her in high school, and have not been with her mother in about 4 years but we have always had a fairly "friendly" relationship so we could always do what is best for our daughter. We have never gone to court for anything as we felt that we could just work conflict out.

Well, we did that until about 3 weeks ago we got into an arguement and mother said that I could only see my daughter every other weekend unless we got court order saying otherwise. (She can do this as in MI mother has full custody by default unless otherwise noted) Of course I called lawyer, and I am in the process getting it back to how it was until we get something official. (Before I had her nearly every day while at home, then mother had her nearly every day while I was at work.)

Some specific things you may want to take into account.

***I reciently got married.
***Mother reciently got marrried.
***Mother reciently had child services called on her by hospital for our daughter going to the hospital for "severe dehydration" when she was sick with the flu. (we are trying to get ahold of CSS to see what if anything they are doing) Child Services called us and asked our oppinion. We gave the following info.

* Mother takes our child who has small broncial tubes, and gets severe coffing problems several times a year to her mothers (childs grandma) frequently...GrandMa and GrandPa smoke heavily, and have 9 cats (our daughter is allergic to cats)

*Mother let daughter get herself ready for school, then brought her with non-matching socks, shoes on wwrong feet, shirt/pants on backwords or inside out.

*Mother has very lax disciplin in her house.

*Several other things that do not come to mind right now.

***My wife is a stay at home mom with our (my wife and I) new baby, and babysits for our nephue.

***Daughters mother works part time at radio shack. Her husband is a long haul truck driver and is gone most of the time.

I hope some of this helps to paint a picture.

I am looking for any advice you have to give. Our lawyer suggested mediation asking for 50/50 legal/physical custody, no child support either way, and we would have her one week on, one week off.

Idealy I would like her more, but I doubt it would happen, and we lack the free cash to do what would need to be done. Thanks for any help.

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My Answer:

Well, at least the good news is that you and the mother have a history of seeming to work things out among yourselves. Hopefully, this is just a little bump, and you two will be able to return to a civil, cooperative relationship.

Now, on to your current situation. According to you, the mother has essentially cornered you into either accepting alternating weekends or taking her to court. If you don't like her proposal, which can certainly change on her whim at any time in the future until there are court orders, then you're left with filing a paternity action.

You were never married. As a result, it's true that until a court declares you're the father (or both parties declare it to be so), the mother has all rights.

So, time is of the essence now. Your attorney should be able to reasonably argue that the two of you had been operating for five years under a fairly regular and mutually acceptable parenting schedule; and that arrangement was great for serving your daughter's interests. Time is of the essence because until 3 weeks ago, that was the status quo and that is what your daughter knows. If it takes 6 months to appear before a judge, this new alternating weeks schedule is the [new] status quo.

You didn't disclose any reasons why the mother may have suddenly changed the schedule 3 weeks ago, other than citing an "argument." If it was an argument over you being a heroin addict who poses a threat to your daughter, that's not good for you. If it was an argument over nonmatching socks, or being around grandma's smoking; and the mother overreacted, then that's not a big deal.

Given that the two of you did well for years with your daughter, I'd suggest filing a paternity action, outlining how great the existing schedule has been for your daughter, and requesting the court to order a parenting plan that is very similar to what existed prior to 3 weeks ago. You'd want to include evidence/affadavits from doctors, teachers, neighbors that describe you as a very involved, devoted father.

I specifically suggest that you NOT bash the mother in this initial lob.

I suggest withholding anything ugly because perhaps your attorney could include a cover letter when serving the mother with the paternity action. The cover letter could express your sincere desire to resolve these issues through mediation and avoid an ugly, adversarial process in litigation. The cover letter could encourage her to contact you directly to pursue mediation either via the courthouse (if your courthouse has a mediation service) or with a private mediator on which you both agree.

This would be ideal for all of you, and it would be the least costly for you. However, filing the action gives settlement some time urgency, which is what you want.

During the process, let the mother be the one who decides to turn it ugly. At that point, it's no-holds-barred, and you can take off your gloves. If you have to go to court over this, all of you will lose, including your daughter. Nothing about litigation brings parents together for the sake of a child. Court should be the last resort to which the mother pushes you.

In terms of the details about the situation, I don't see much in there that would influence a custody decision towards either of you:
  • If daughter suffered severe dehydration due to flu, mom knew enough to take her to a hospital, even if she was a bit ignorant about keeping fluids in your daughter.
  • Mother's occupation is irrelevant, unless she is a prostitute. Mother's husband's occupation is irrelevant. Your wife being stay-at-home could be viewed as mildly relevant, but not if you're intending to shirk your fatherly responsibilities onto your wife with regard to your older child.
  • If your daughter has been diagnosed by a pediatrician for having small bronchial tubes, and if you and the mother have been advised to avoid smoke and cats, then mother's decision to expose your daughter to her folks' home is a bit relevant. But not enough to influence much. If daughter's pediatrician would be willing to write an affadavit of that diagnosis and recommendation, best way to use it is to get court orders that neither parent will expose daughter to homes that have smokers or indoor-only cats.
  • If you can get an affadavit from daughter's teacher or school principal that daughter frequently arrives disheveled, inappropriately dressed, then that could have a bit of influence in a custody decision.
  • Lax discipline isn't enough to influence a custody decision, unless it's so permissive that daughter runs around the neighborhood naked at 1AM, gets to skip a ton of school on her whim, and is encouraged by mother to pursue daughter's interests in small animal torture.
You've got very little relevant and strong evidence - by what you outlined - in terms of taking custody away from mother. Because going to court is a real wildcard, mediation is your best option. But, force the mother into taking mediation seriously by having a court date on calendar (i.e., by filing your paternity action). Know your "bottom line" that you think you need to have in mediation, and if you don't get it, then prepare for court.

Good luck to you. If you file your petition within a couple weeks, I think you're giving yourself your best shot rather than waiting.


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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