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A reader asked this question sometime ago via a magazine (Indiana Parenting) that I used to write for. It is a situation that is common in blended families (including mine at one point), so I thought I’d share her question and my response.

 

Question: I have two children with someone else, and I am married to someone who has a child with someone else. Our children have different school schedules because we live in different states. My husbands “baby mama” always wants his son with us when he’s out of school, but my children are still in school, and it is a HUGE distraction for them. They are all around the same age and get very excited when they are with each other. Therefore, my children go to school tired and unable to concentrate. So, I suggested that the visitation schedule be set up for times when all children are out of school (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, MLK Day) so that no one suffers academically. We could also increase the number of weeks he spends with us in the summer because all children are out of school then (we currently only get him for 4 out of 12 weeks) My husband’s “baby mama” said that my husband should always consider the best interest of their son first no matter who is hurt by it. Simply put, my kids aren’t his kids (even though he’s the father figure in the home who’s raising them). KP, should my husband always consider his son first even though his decisions might hurt my children?

 

Answer: At the end of the day the blended family is hard for EVERYONE involved, not just one party and their children! When there are multiple children within the blended family they all have to be considered, and COMPROMISE MUST EXIST. All the children, on either side, can’t come first all the time. If everyone is considering their child first, then all you’re going to get is a 4 car collision. If your husband’s ex-wife is suggesting that he always consider their child first, then isn’t it fair for you to do the same? So, there has to be a compromise because every child won’t, and often times, shouldn’t be first all the time. The adults must do what is logical and best for all children involved. If it is a distraction for your husband’s son to be there when school is in session, that is completely understandable, and isn’t necessary when other options exist. If his ex-wife isn’t willing to review those options, then she is being difficult. Why can’t his son visit more during the summer and during the breaks when all children are out of school, as opposed to during the school year when school breaks and schedules are conflicting?

 

My advice to you and your husband is to remember the vows that you took before God – for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, and forsaken all others. Those are powerful words that mean something, and you can’t throw them out the window because his ex-wife is trying to interfere or doesn’t agree. Although it is ideal for everyone involved to have a meeting of the minds, it often times isn’t likely. Therefore, you and your husband must achieve consensus when it comes to running your household. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have to consider your children, but your husband should as you should consider his. It is also essential that you openly communicate with the children, especially his son, if schedule changes are made. You want this information to come from you and not her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve experienced many family law disputes over the past several years and if nothing else, I’ve learned two things about our wonderful legal system: the justice system isn’t that just at all and money talks. The legal system simply doesn’t work because the rules that exist within it are supposed to be fair. It works because of the attorneys that persuade the Judges to interpret the rules in a manner that proves the most benefit to their client. In addition to that, the attorneys work best for you when they are paid a lot of money. Simply put, the legal system was not created for the average person, with average money, to endure.  Have you ever heard of the saying “you get what you pay for?” If you have little to no money, you get a wack attorney, and a wack attorney produces wack results. As a result, you are left with a legal problem that leaves you financially, emotionally and mentally drained, not to mention less than favorable results.

 

My husband’s case is one in which little to no money got him a less than favorable attorney and less than favorable results (that’s putting it nicely). His ex-wife is an attorney who often uses her connections with the legal system to continually strip him of his paternal rights. Before you assume that I am being paranoid, consider my initial statement about our legal system. It truly doesn’t matter what’s in the best interest of the child. It’s about who can make the best case, and more importantly, who has the most money to keep up the fight. And, if you don’t have enough money to hire an attorney at all, then you can just hang it up because the Judge is not trying to hear YOU.

 

At any rate, my husband has been trying, to no avail, to get increased visitation with his son for quite some time now. The first couple of times we went to court we had an attorney that must have graduated at the bottom of his class, and his representation was indicative of that. All we requested was visitation in June and July instead of June and August, due to a conflict in both his school and our work schedules. However, her attorney convinced the Judge that it was in the child’s best interest that he spend more time with his friends (and for some reason July was the only month he could do so) instead of spending that time with his father. We fought back and forth for quite some time, but lost the fight once we ran out of money (we had actually used it all on my case, but we’ll talk about a little later). The next family court dispute we encountered was when we wanted to take his son to our Mexico wedding. One would think that this would be an easy decision for the Judge. Of course his father would want him to be at his wedding, and the Judge would agree, right? Not! Once again, her high-powered attorney beat out our inexpensive attorney on the grounds that the child might get sick and there would be no hospitals nearby to take him to. I’m not kidding. Now this child doesn’t have leukemia, bone cancer, a rare heart disease or anything like that. He had a simple peanut allergy that my husband and I had been tending to for years at this point. Furthermore, it sickens me that my husband had been the child’s primary caregiver for years before I came along. As a matter of fact, they had agreed that he would have custody of him up until I stepped into the picture. As soon as that happened she all of a sudden wanted to be mother of the year, claiming that if she gave my husband custody, then she wouldn’t have as much access to him. They also had agreed, prior to my arrival, that she would pay child support because my husband took out and was paying on the loan for her law school education, and he was also the one who was taking care of the child!  Why didn’t the Judge take any of this into consideration? It seems as if most Judges have tunnel vision. They expect most fathers to be like my ex (we’ll get to that later) so they treat all these cases the same. All fathers don’t work hard to avoid paying child support. Some actually care about their children and want what’s best for them. I’m not even saying that the Judge should’ve granted my husband custody on this basis, but he didn’t have to treat him like he was a deadbeat dad.  But, once again justice prevails for those who have the most money and power to withstand the fight.

 

My case, on the other hand, turned out a bit different. My ex is one of those people whose main objective is to avoid child support and responsibility for that matter. To this day, he tries to falsify his income so that he doesn’t have to pay a fair amount for child support, but he’ll get his. Hasn’t he learned by now that you can’t pull one over on me??? Better yet, why would you even try after the last battle that you lost in court?

 

 At any rate, initially my ex caught me off guard by serving me with a notice to appear at an emergency hearing regarding visitation with our son. He alleged that I wouldn’t let him see our son, which was partially true. My ex would pop into town after being gone for 10 months out of the year (he’s an overseas basketball player), on a moment’s notice, wanting visitation with our son. If he was in summer camp, he wanted to remove him because he thinks the sun rises and sets on his ass. Not to mention, he had lied to the court so he wouldn’t have to pay a fair amount for child support, and my son didn’t know him well enough to even WANT extended visitation with him (this alone should prove that my ex was never around prior to this little stunt he pulled). Now, his request for visitation would not have been a problem if he was a consistent parental figure in our son’s life, but he wasn’t.  

 

 

 

I didn’t have time to get an attorney. He had me served literally 40 minutes prior to the hearing – you got off. But, like I’ve always told him, “don’t start a fight with me that you aren’t prepared to finish.” He should’ve thought twice before faking his little temper tantrum to look like he was a concerned father just to impress his little girlfriend. I found the best attorney that my $2,000 retainer fee would buy, and I was prepared to finish the fight he had started. At this point, my ex was paying child support every now and then, and he only saw our son for about a week of nonconsecutive days in the summer. By the way, he saw our son as much as he wanted to. Something else was and still is always more important than him. If I was away from my son for 10 months out of every year, I would at least dedicate those 8 weeks to him. Knowing that because I had not been there HE might not want to see me, but it wouldn’t keep me from trying to see him. I realize that he has a family (his wife and other son), but ya’ll can’t sacrifice for 8 weeks so that you can spend some time getting to know your son. Not to mention that he refused to adhere to a set schedule, claiming that he could not do so because his professional overseas basketball work schedule wouldn’t allow him to. At any rate, by the time the nearly year long battle was over he was nearly in tears due to the child support payment that the Judge enforced. She made his payments retroactive from the time he started lying about his income so he wouldn’t have to pay more money (which was nearly 4 years prior). And, visitation would be at my discretion unless he provided me with 60 days advanced notice prior to entering into the country. After it was all said and done, I ended up with a legal bill of over $10,000. However, it was worth it because money got me an attorney that produced the results that were in my child’s best interest.

 

Are you starting to see how this works? In the first case we had no money and our wack attorney produced wack results. In the second example, we were able to pay for an experienced attorney who produced great results. Either case was never really about the child. It was about which attorney could present the best case, and more importantly, how much money you had to keep that attorney engaged in the back and forth arguing that is often necessary to persuade the Judge.

 

As a result, it’s a shame that serious decisions regarding children are generalized in this way. After all, the Judge and attorneys claim that these family court laws and regulations are designed to protect the interest of the child. For some reason it’s hard for me to believe that.

 

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I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for SOME!

 

 

 

 

 

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