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Noncustodial father offers a better home to three teenagers than their mother, but does he have a shot at changing things?

Your Question:
Hello, I am coming up on my court date in about 3 weeks, just looking for an opinion from someone who has been through this. I am the ncp of 3 teenagers, who is trying to get more time. I previously lived in another state, and have moved to the kids school district to be with them. (their mom has been depressed and unstable for years, her parents have had the kids a lot of the time, I was given the run around until I finally was able to move here.) I was only given 1 meeting with the kids guardian ad litem, my current wife was not included in that, even though she has been with me since the kids were toddlers and knows them well. The kids and their mom have only met with gal once, and gal declined to do home visit, even though my attorney requested it. (x house is a project house, bare walls, exposed pipes, etc.) My oldest son has been living with me for 8 months now, since I moved here, but my ex told the court that he still stays with her "a lot". Just wondering if it would be reasonable to hope that I will get at LEAST a 50% share of parenting, hopefully more. I gave the gal records from social services, showing how her parents applied for state aid for the kids when she left them for about a year to live with her boyfriend, also letters from school official of how she has tried to keep me from seeing the kids, and police reports about how she has violated visitation agreement. I am just praying that the court sees how much the kids need the stability and love that I can provide, any response or advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated. thanks

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My Answer:

I read your whole note, I have empathy for the situation your kids are in. That said, I don't have a good sense that you have a very strong case for the two younger kids.

For you to change the current custody orders, you're going to have to show the court that significant things have happened since the last time orders were made. It's your burden to show this, and the hearing isn't going to be a new fresh look at looking at the parents on an equal footing. You've got to show what's so bad for the kids that the parenting schedule needs to change.

So, let's see what we've got from a judge's perspective (i.e., not to discredit your position, but to look in the light least favorable to you):

  • Mom is depressed and unstable. That's what most of us say about the other parent (and most of us are probably right). However, you got any proof or diagnosis of this? If not, irrelevant.
  • Mom lives in low-income housing. So do millions of other parents. It doesn't automatically make them bad parents. Do you have evidence of vermin infestation, unsafe living conditions, gaping holes in the floorboards, high threat of violence from neighbors, etc? If not, irrelevant.
  • Mom abandoned the kids to live with boyfriend. She left them with her folks, who you don't accuse of being bad parent figures. You did nothing at the time (i.e., regardless of reason), and it's ancient history, right? This may have a little sway, but not enough by itself.
  • Oldest child has been living with you for 8 months and is of age to have his desires heard by the judge. Son will presumably say that dad's house is better because he feels more loved, supported, etc. He'll say that Dad is better at helping with homework. He'll say that stepmom treats him really well too. This is very relevant and arguably a change of circumstance. However, the court may also consider a possibly negative impact of splitting the children. But, this is among your strongest areas, I believe. Just make sure your son doesn't blurt out something like, "Dad's house is better because he got me a mini-bike."
  • You're now local, vs far away. It's certainly relevant when it comes time to modify the parenting schedule, but in and of itself it's not a slam-dunk... that is, unless you once had an evaluator recommend what the schedule should be if you and the mother lived near each other.
  • GAL's recommendation, currently unknown. This will have the most weight with the court. Your attorney should be prepared to outline the crappy investigation this GAL did, if the recommendation doesn't lean in the direction that you're seeking.
  • School letters and police reports. If she was violating orders, you could have pursued contempt against her. A contempt finding would carry much more weight than what you have. What you have may offer a tiny bit of influence.
  • You and your wife walk on the metaphorical water of perfect parenting, or something close to it. But it is only relevant if the court finds that the mother's parenting and home are so far below average that it threatens the kids, warranting placement into a better home.

Overall, I think you have an okay shot at perhaps changing the parenting schedule a bit. But your attorney is really going to have to argue why the change is important TODAY for the kids, not just that Dad wants more time. On all three kids, I dunno. I hope you'll write back and let me know what happens.

It's sounds like you have a good shot at getting primary custody of your oldest son, if your attorney can effectively represent what you outlined, especially the new status quo (i.e., son living with you for 8 months).

Good luck on all this. Just do everything you feel is possible to help your kids, and that's all you can do.


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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