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Frequently the mother claims that the father is not a good parent, or too immature, or too uneducated on how to provide for a newborn. I think those are weak arguments at best and disingenuous at worst. If a man is old enough to father a child, to be required to pay child support, then he should be old enough to take up the mantel of parenting.
Today, as it stands, fathers who want to obtain, or increase, their visitation and custody orders need to keep in mind the following: Proximity, Paperwork and Persistence. They can make or break your chances of getting the orders issued by the judge. Most fathers start out a custody case at a disadvantage. When dad moves out, the children are left with mom, and that becomes the way the court is inclined to keep the situation. The moment that dad moves out of the family home, is the moment that mom gains an advantage in child custody hearings.
Here’s why, the courts don’t want to upset the children’s living environment. They focus on keeping the child stable, and that means in their historical home.
So how then does a man recover from the mistake of moving out of the house? He must show to the court that he can effectively parent the child, with as little disruption to the child’s routine as possible.
This means how far or close dad lives to the child’s home and school. This is a major factor in increasing, or acquiring, custody and visitation. The closer dad is to the home and school, the more easily he can be present for the child, and the courts give this great weight. If the choice is for a child to be in a car for five minutes getting from mom’s home to school or a 25 minute drive from dad’s home, the court is going to prefer mom’s home. It is also more likely that the child’s friends and social network are close to the school they attend, which is a factor for the court.
Cases are won or lost on documentation. Dads should keep a Calendar or a diary of all the time that they are with their child. In any contested case, mom has something that she will use to show the court how little time dad spends with the kids.
A simple calendar which shows the days that dad took his child, and what they did on those days can make all the difference for a change in custody. If dad keeps the receipts for what he did with his child, it will allow his lawyer to prove that he took the child to see the movie Cars on a day when mom says he didn’t visit. This is a crucial credibility issue, and one that with a little bit of work by dad, can yield big gains. The court will see that dad is truthful, and he’s come a long way towards winning the credibility wars, and that can lead to more time with his child.
The biggest factor that effects whether or not a dad will win more visitation or even equal custody, is his ability to come back, time and time again. The successful dad in family court, is the dad who never gave up, and was willing to do whatever it takes, no matter how difficult it was, or how long it took, to prove to the court that he wants and is capable of being a loving, attentive and present father.
The successful dad who wants to increase his custody and visitation, will live close to his child, keep good records, and never give up when dealt a bad hand.
“I love it when a plan comes together.” Those words were made famous in my childhood by George Peppard when he was playing John “Hannibal” Smith in that great television show “The A- Team” – soon to be a major motion picture. In the show, the team of ex-military men who had been wrongly accused fought the forces of evil and in the process the good guys won, and hilarity ensued. Ah the golden years of television, but I digress.
This past Sunday night I received an email from one of the private investigators I have working on a case. It’s been a difficult case, because the ex-wife has been especially diligent about covering her tracks. When she and my client divorced she was awarded spousal support in a very large amount every month.
Everyone who pays alimony hates it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, straight or gay, if you’re paying money to your ex each month, you’re going to resent it, and them. The spouse getting the money may enjoy the funds, but they need to be aware that with those funds comes a prayer each month for their death. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to, who has to pay, tells me they have thoughts of the death of their ex.
I think it’s pretty much a human reaction. Spousal support is a reminder of a relationship, and while we might want to remember the good times, let’s face it, it’s the bad times you remember when you’re writing a check every month. It’s like paying for someone else to go out to dinner, but you don’t get to enjoy the meal.
Which brings me to the current case, man and woman get divorced, she gets a large monthly amount, for a long, long time, until she cohabitates romantically with someone, or re-marries. She decides that she wants to move, because she’s met “him.” But she doesn’t want to give up the monthly income from the ex, so she puts all of her addresses to a P.O. Box. She refuses to tell her own children where she is living.
My client keeps paying and it’s killing him. He knows she’s taking him for a ride, but what to do? He hires me, and the first thing I say to do is hire a private investigator to find out where she lives and what the real story is. We have enough clues to start digging around where she lives, and in the fact finding process, it turns out the new boyfriend has an ex-wife of his own. She’s kinda chatty.
As the investigation proceeds, it comes out that maybe there’s been a marriage that no one was invited to, so that the alimony checks keep coming from my client. This is precisely the type of information that my plan was designed to find out. It’s the crucial piece of information that will set my client free from the fraud and deceit of the ex so that he can stop praying for her death.
When people become deceitful, they don’t realize the cost to their family. A few years ago, we had a case where the ex-husband had forgotten to tell his wife about the $20 million or so that he had squirreled away in the Bahamas. He kept claiming poverty, but she knew better. When it finally came out that there was a huge amount of money that had been kept separate from the wife, the damage that was done, was not to the wife, but was to the children. It was their relationship with their father that was hurt the most. They now had a father who they knew was willing to sell them out in exchange for his own financial well-being.
People tell me often how hard they think it must be to do what I do. They’re right, it is hard when you care about your clients and you get involved in their lives. But every now and then you get a win like finding out that the scumbag deceitful ex has remarried, or where the hidden millions are. You can be sure that as soon as I have a copy of a marriage license I’ll be in front of a judge asking for termination of spousal support.
That’s the plan at least, and I love it when a plan comes together.
The biggest frustration most people have in court, is the lying. In theory, no one is lying, because testimony is taken under oath. In reality, every case is riddled with lies, half truths, shades of fact and the greatest of all, the omission of a critical fact that totally changes the situation.
In the court’s eyes, as a lawyer I’m supposed to be the champion for my client, and I’m expected to have vetted their testimony to make sure that it’s true. Most of the time I’ve spent a great deal of effort to explain to the client that judges hate liars and I coach them to be as truthful as possible.
Inevitably when I get in to a child custody hearing or a divorce trial, it gets heated and the cries of “She lied!” “She’s committing perjury!!” “That’s a lie!” start.
In every courtroom, those phrases are said, every day. And frequently it’s true. Some days it’s her, and some days it’s him, but no matter what, someone, somewhere is shading, spinning, omitting or outright lying.
I know it. You know it. The judge knows it.
The angry and frustrated clients always say “Put her in jail!” That’s not going to happen so much. Judges can’t put away everyone who lied in court, there’d be no room for the real criminals.
So what’s the point of having people testify under penalty of perjury, if there’s no penalty ? Well, it’s about credibility. Once a judge knows, or even suspects, that someone’s lying to the court, their credibility goes out the window.
I had a case earlier this year, where the ex-wife said she was married in a Michigan court, and then said she was single in a California court. The judge looked at the other lawyer and said, “so either she lied in Michigan, or she lied in California, either way, she’s a liar!”
It was a bad day for that lawyer, because now they’re fighting up stream with a judge who’s experience with the client is that she’s not to be trusted. In Family Court, when the judges are making decisions on issues like who should be the primary custodial parent, that sort of taint can kill your case.
Which is why I always advise my clients that lying is a very bad thing. No they’re not going to go jail, but they’ll never have the same, and in some courts any, credibility again.
The question then becomes how to prove your case, if you know you’re dealing with a liar. Fighting a lie, is like shadow boxing, for so often it comes down to: he said, she said. Generally the best way to get rid of the shadow is to turn on all the lights and face them to your accuser and make them fight a battle that they don’t want.
If my client is accused of being a pot smoker, we provide the prescription, then we attack with bad parenting and lack of time to devote to the child. That’s how we fight a war, in which there are no winners.
“Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.