Another Question About Child Support and Visitation Rights

A woman recently posted on Avvo:

I divorced my husband because of abuse. My daughter is 4½, and he hasn’t visited her since she was one (court-ordered supervised visits). He also hasn’t paid his court-ordered support in approximately three years. How do I go about getting him to sign off on his rights?

As we’ve noted before, this is a very common misconception: Payment of support is actually a separate issue from termination of parental rights (TPR). The woman in question could “TPR” her ex-husband and still collect. That said, she might use non-payment (and most certainly abandonment) as evidence for a TPR.

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Which State’s Laws Govern Child Support?

Good question from Avvo recently:

I live in New Hampshire; the divorce and child support were determined in Massachusetts. New Hampshire does not require support of an 18-year-old student; Massachusetts does. We changed some orders in New Hampshire when my daughter went to live with her dad for a year in Ohio. She has been living back in New Hampshire for the last three years. My daughter is a college student and needs the financial support that her father can afford to provide. [Which state’s] child-support laws govern her support?

If the original decree occurred in Massachusetts, then that is the law that should be applied. The mother in this situation could attempt to suggest a change in circumstances – but she would be wisest first to retain an attorney to review the facts and circumstances of her specific case to see how that applies.

Can a Judge Order Joint Family Therapy?

Divorce is never easy, as this recent question posted on Avvo demonstrates:

My teenage child has severe behavioral problems due to our divorce and now wants to move in with the other parent, who does not accept that anything is wrong. Can I request the judge to order family therapy before such a change happens?

I have asked the other parent about having post-divorce counseling for the two of us, but he disagrees and says the child is fine and that does not understand why the child should have any problem since the divorce is between the parents. As the custodial parent, I am the one getting all the anger from the child for the break up, while the child is a love-starved puppy when visiting the other parent because of fear the father will “divorce” the child as well. My only option is if the judge orders family therapy to address the teenager’s issues. Can a family court judge mandate family therapy for us, and can I file a motion requesting it?

Yes is the answer to both halves of this question. The woman should request a GAL in order to support her, and consult a local attorney before beginning the process.

When Is the Guardian ad Litem Required to Be Present?

A good question on Avvo from a mother going through the custody process:

Does the appointed Guardian ad Litem need to be present at the meeting with family relations at which they will be sharing their recommendations? I don’t have the money to pay the GAL and my current attorney. Can the meeting take place with the father of my children and me? Why does the GAL need to be present if he is only reading the report and we are supposed to reserve our comments for court?

Simply put, if it could affect the children, the GAL has a right to be involved. What the mother could do in this situation is see if the GAL is willing not to show up. If she tells the GAL they are close to an agreement, especially both parents, then the GAL might be willing to skip the meeting and just read the report later. If there is any two-way discussion involved at this meeting, however, then the mother is likely out of luck.

What Can You Do When the Other Parent Stops Communicating About Your Child?

A father asks on Avvo about resolving a communications issue with his ex-wife:

My ex-wife of six years has not been communicating with me about our son, who is 14. I have tried every avenue to reach her, with no response. My son, with whom I’ve had a great relationship, is suddenly acting differently and won’t talk to me. I moved to Florida last year to be closer to my gravely ill mother, and it is important for [me to receive] those updates. My ex-wife leaves my son home with his grandmother, who lives there and is now diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. There seems to me to be a breach of a parenting plan. (She has physical custody, but we have shared legal custody.) I have no news on my son’s health, school, or emotional well-being. What can I do?

Simple answer to a tough situation for the father in the above scenario: He needs to retain an attorney and exercise his legal right to access and order that he be communicated with. It sounds like he has no other choice.

When Is Showering With a Child Defined as Abuse?

From a concerned grandmother who took to Avvo to find out the definition of abuse:

What is the best way to compel the father of a four-year-old girl not to shower with her? Does this constitute abuse? My granddaughter’s father does not think he did anything wrong.

A grown man showering with a four-year-old girl is definitely crossing the “icky” line. It was enough for DCF in Connecticut to make a case in juvenile court with a past client of mine.

A restraining order would work, along with a no-contact order. Most importantly, the father should not be given the child until he gets some help to understand why such a situation is a problem.

Can a Single Mom’s Boyfriend Adopt Her Kids?

Whether a single woman’s boyfriend can adopt her children was asked on Avvo recently:

I’m a single mom – have been for five years. My kids’ father hasn’t seen or spoke to his kids in the five years that he has been gone. He doesn’t pay child support – nothing. I have a boyfriend I’ve been with for 11 months. He lives with us, helps with the kids, and my kids adore him. He is the first male figure in their lives (besides my dad and brother). Well, my boyfriend is here to stay. We have talked about him adopting the kids. He helps support them, so why not? He already treats them like they are his, provides over 50% of their support. How can we do this, and is it possible to even though he and I aren’t married?

The simple answer is yes, and it might actually assist with the termination of parental rights, if that is what the mother is seeking. However, this is an enormously complex issue with many legal and practical pitfalls, so I strongly suggested she seek specific advice from an attorney in her area.

Child Support Is a Separate Issue From Termination of Parental Rights

A recent Avvo post caught my eye, as the issue raised by the mother is one often misunderstood:

Can a father who owes $25,000 in child support see his child even though he has been absent for 12 years? The biological father of my child is seeking visitation, but has never paid child support although there is a court order, and my daughter does not want to see him.

Support and visitation are supposed to be separate issues. That said, 25k is a lot, and I expect that a judge would certainly ask what the father is doing in that department. The age of the child is the most important issue here. The child does have a say in things, but the weight of that is relatively minimal. That is, until it’s just about dispositive after 16. Anyone involved in such a situation should seek the advice of a local attorney.

Can You Get a Restraining Order on a Parent?

From a recent Avvo post:

I am 17, and when I attain 18, I will be moving out of my home. I wish to get a restraining order on my father, because I am afraid of what he will do. He is very controlling and I fear he will do something to me and the people who are involved in helping me leave…. I know I am just a kid and this is huge, but my dad used to abuse me and take things too far. I am just trying to protect my future and those around me from what he may do.

As I explained to this young person, control is not enough. It would have to be fear from harm. If past abuse makes this person fearful, that might work:

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What Can Be Done When One Parent Does Not Follow the Parenting Plan?

A divorced woman posted on Avvo recently:

My ex-husband is trying to have my daughter go out of state with his girlfriend’s mom and pick her up the next day so that his girlfriend can go to the dentist. According to the parenting plan, if a parent requires child care by a person who does not reside in the home for a period to last longer than four hours, then they have to offer the other parent the opportunity to parent the child during that time. What can I do legally? Can I involve the police if this person takes my child? He is also refusing to give me any contact information for this person.

I responded to the woman that I would certainly memorialize these concerns via e-mail prior to the ex-husband’s actions – especially the lack of contact information and the leaving the state. She should call the police if she has specific concerns about this person (i.e., violent history or sexual offender). Otherwise, I suggested threatening a contempt motion and making good on your threat. (And checking in with an attorney in her area as to the specifics, especially as a contempt finding would gain her fees paid.)