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Mother in joint custody situation wants to move 30 miles away

Your Question:
Hi there! I had a quick question for you. Long story short, my ex and share custody of our 5 year old son. We've been divorced for 6 months, separated 2 1/2 years. We currently share a 60%(me)/40% schedule and live about 1 mile from each other. My home was recently sold (I'm a tenant) to a new owner who has given me 30 days notice to vacate as they don't want renters (understandable). Due to the current inflated housing market, I've decided to move about 30 miles south of here, with my fiancee. We're planning on getting married in the spring anyways and have been together for a 1 1/2 years. My son and my fiancee have a good relationship and I'm very happy. We both feel that moving once is more desirable and less stressful for my 5 year old than moving temporarily and then again, once we're married.

Anyways, I did consult a lawyer before I decided to move in with my beau (haven't moved as of yet) who said it was legally fine since our parenting schedule will not change. Our son will still attend his school as I work in the area and will see daddy per usual. My ex however, has completely whigged out once I gave him the notice of my intention and has filed for full custody.

I've been the primary caretake of our son and will continue to do so. I work part-time (and take my child with me as I'm a Nanny) so that our son was never in daycare (a personal conviction) and have sacrificed a lot to make our life work. My child and I have lived in the same house for the last 2 1/2 years, I've worked for the same family and do not have any alcohol/drug problems, etc.

Do you think my ex would have a chance in getting full custody based on his allegations that my beau has a drinking problem? (Not to give you lots of unnecessary details but I did tell my ex once that my beau had gotten drunk and we'd had a fight (only one time) and now my ex is determined to use that against me.) It was in an email but I feel pretty confident that since it was an isolated incident and my beau doesn't have a drinking problem and is an Naval Officer, that it won't play much of a role. My fiancee has a stellar service record and has never even had so much as a parking ticket. He's a good man who I feel would be a good role model around my boy.

Anyways, I guess I'm just wondering what the reaction is to an email that I sent in anger and in an attempt to get my ex to stop harrassing me (another facet of this) ... am I going to be crucified for a slip-up while my whole life has been taking care of our child and making sure he's safe and protected? I have an appointment with my attorney but not for a week due to his being out of town. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated as I'm a bit of a worrywart and feel like I'm in limbo. I'm sure you can relate! Thanks so much for taking the time to read my question.

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing. In another email (not posted), you told me that your current arrangements are that the parent releasing custody of the child is responsible for bringing the child to the other parent. You also mentioned that you're willing to continue to take the child to dad, and meet him at a halfway point when it's his turn to do transportation.

So, here's the thing. According to research conducted by Marc J. Ackerman, active alcoholism is the most influential factor in determining custody among judges and evaluators.

Using YOUR own words against you, the father is portraying your fiance as a mean drunk. Unlike most cases where parents make up allegations about other boyfriends/girlfriends, your ex has correspondence from YOU that paints your fiance in a bad light. I really don't know what exactly you said in your email or exactly how it's being twisted. But if a judge gets convinced that your fiance is a mean drunk and you're moving in with him, then that's not good.

Your fiance MAY be a stellar guy, and he MAY be an awesome man to have as a stepfather. But, you're entering this fight with you saying something negative about him, and your ex agreeing, and your ex asking the court to do something about it.

Obviously, you probably have learned your lesson about what you share with your ex. Unfortunately, your fiance may find out what you wrote, and you're going to have to deal with that too.

I'm not quite sure exactly what is most concerning your ex-- the 30 mile distance, or that you're moving in with a man (who may or may not be an alcoholic).

Your attorney will be able to look at the email you wrote and give you the best idea of how much it should concern you.

If I were in your shoes, here are some considerations I'd be pondering:

  • It's completely my decision to put 30 miles between the parents. We had previously lived 1 mile apart. I think it's fair - and I know a COURT would think it's fair - if I do all the transportation of our child now. It wouldn't be fair of me to ask my ex to carry some of the burden when it was completely my choice to increase drive-time between homes from 2 minutes to 40 minutes.

  • I want to move 30 miles away on the speculation that I may have to move again in a couple years. Unless I'm buying a home 30 miles away, I know there's still a chance that the same thing could happen. This move will force my child to travel an additional hour on every weekday (i.e., to/from school or to/from dad's house). I may want to consider moving in with my fiance locally, rather than 30 miles away.

  • What is the lesson I want to teach my child about living with someone prior to marriage?

  • How much do I want this latest custody round to disrupt my finances, my life, and my new relationship? If I could offer something relatively easy (e.g., I do all the transportation) to make it go away, is it worth it?

  • If the 30 mile distance gets too great for me to handle because I've switched jobs, would I want to change child's school? And I know that my ex will go to court over that, so do I want that fight?

All of that said, unless you wrote something about your fiance beating you or being abusive, I'd guess that the email won't count for much. It wouldn't hurt to have a declaration from your fiance's CO that describes him as you did.

And on the distance thing, if you still are going to move 30 miles away, the reason I suggest you offer to do all the transportation (or slightly modify the orders to make school the exchange point) is because it gives your attorney the ability to stand up in court and say, "Your Honor, this is ridiculous. Yes, my client is moving 30 miles away, but she's willing to do all the transportation of the child. There is absolutely no burden on the father here. This is completely frivolous, and my client requests that the father pay her attorney fees to appear on this meritless action."

And if he is ordered to reimburse your attorney fees, send him a sweet email thanking him, since you'll now be able to spend more money on the wedding.

Bottom line... if you're not moving in with a mean drunk, I really don't see how there is a change of circumstance in this child's life. And if there's no change of circumstance, then there should be no grounds to change custody. And if there's no grounds to change custody, then the father should lose his motion.


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