Is there anything I can do to keep my soon to be ex wife from leaving town?
January 26, 2005 8:06 PM   Subscribe

The wife and I are probably breaking up. We've been together for a few years for the benefit of one kid, and another one is due this month. The problem - her family is on one coast, mine is on another. We are near mine. I'm concerned that she might just pack up and take our kids.

Is there anything I can do to keep her from leaving town? We've just bought a house, and I have no job prospects if I have to follow her to be with my kids. She hasn't worked in years, and we're here primarily to make a good living. If she leaves, I feel she will find a way to use this against me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total)
IANAL - It depends on the state, but here in Texas location is often part of the divorce decree, and once you file you can try to keep the other party within some number of miles of the county until the divorce is final.
I'm sorry to hear of your troubles, and good luck.
posted by pomegranate at 8:16 PM on January 26, 2005

Oh, man. And we can't get specific information back from you to help you out more. No, there's nothing you can do to keep her from leaving if she wants to. On top of that, hie ye to yonder relationship conseling ASAP to figure out if things will even work at all in the long run.

As a general rule, staying together for kids is never a good idea in the first place. If you were staying together for one kid, why, for the grace god gave little green friggin' apples did you make another one?! Kids do not stabilize relationships. Ever. They stress and test them. It looks like you're in for a messy custody court battle in which you'll probably get awarded custody since you can support them and she can't. Good luck. You need it.
posted by SpecialK at 8:20 PM on January 26, 2005

(Oh, let me amend that: I(also)ANAL, but I did work for a family lawer at one point. This is not legal advice and should not be considered to be such or construed as a reccomendation in any way, and is for informative purposes only. Discuss with a real lawyer at your earliest opportunity.

Depending on locality, there's nothing you can do 'cept for filing divorce tomorrow at 8am. Also depending on locality, if she up and runs off with 'em without your permission, it's kidnapping, and she will likely retroactively be charged with it during divorce proceedings if you're awarded custody and you're found to not have been a bad dad.)
posted by SpecialK at 8:22 PM on January 26, 2005

If she hasn't worked in years, she might not be as quick to run off as you think.

Not easy being a single parent with really young children.

If your inlaws despise you all bets are off tho.
posted by konolia at 8:59 PM on January 26, 2005

FindLaw may have information applicable to your situation.
posted by quam at 9:15 PM on January 26, 2005

I'm just going to share a story.

One of my best friends from HS knocked up a girl after college. They moved cross country on their way to New Mexico, ended up in Arkansas so they could find some work (they were about 23).

She found work, his was spotty. They got divorced...he is depressive and at times care barely stay afloat - there isn't enough work for him in that city. Meanwhile, she's florished, and has primary custody. That's how it's been for the last fifteen or so years.

I would have rather seen him go west on or come back to family, soley for the reason of establishing himself.

My cynical view of your case: It's likely she'll move (unless you have a great deal of friends in this city) leaving you alone. She'll head back to family where she can live, nearly rent free, has built in sitters (parents), all while she gets back on her feet. Courts like mothers
posted by filmgeek at 9:28 PM on January 26, 2005

I don't have any concrete evidence to point to when I say this, but I have several friends with kids who've gone through divorces. Generally, as part of the proceedings, you'll have to work out who gets custody of the child(ren) -- Will it be joint? Will it be one over the other, but with visitation? Will it be one over the other with no visitation rights? There are a lot of options, from what I understand, and I'm afraid I don't know all of the terms or options available.

Two different, unrelated friends of mine have joint custody of their children with their ex-husbands, but the ex-husbands are the ones the kids live with most of the time. It's stated clearly in their custody agreements that under no circumstances is the father to move without informing the mother well beforehand--so she can raise concerns or objections, if necessary--and, in one of the cases, the husband is limited from moving more than x-number of miles away from the mother without having to reverse the custody situation. (i.e., child lives with mother full-time, but gets certain weeks/weekends at the father's house, instead of the other way around.)

I may be completely off the mark here, but that's at least how it is with my two friends. Perhaps you can work out something similar, so you'll always be near your kids? At any rate, my heart goes out to you and I hope everything works out for the best.
posted by abiku at 9:58 PM on January 26, 2005

Some states may allow a divorce to require that children remain within the state, or within a certain radius. Some exes may skip out with the kids despite what the papers say. Some courts may not give a shit if this happens, particularly if the departing parent is the mother with custody. Short of chaining her to a post, there's very little you can do to actually force her to stay nearby, beyond the possibility of the (fairly weak) compulsion of the law.
posted by majick at 11:55 PM on January 26, 2005

Have you considered marriage counseling? Sorry if I sound like an advice column, but perhaps talking to a skilled third person could illuminate your situation, maybe even find a solution or adjustment.
Is it possible that your wife is "stuck" in a strange town with no friends and no family? Does she feel that she sacrificed too much to further your career and that a "nice living" is not sufficient compensation? Could a change in her social opportunities change her attitude, and yours?
posted by Cranberry at 12:41 AM on January 27, 2005

If your worries come true and you're separated from your children, it doesn't necessarily mean the end of your relationship with them. I went through a similar situation and wound up living on the other side of the country from my daughter, who was around six at the time. I didn't try to stop my ex from leaving because she had a life to get on with. It's a difficult situation, but it can be negotiated through regular visits and lots of e-mail/phone contact. Obviously the newborn complicates things, but as long as you and the children's mother maintain a respectful relationship, at least when it comes to visitation rights, etc., anything is possible to deal with. (Although I would try to convince her to stick around long enough for you to develop a relationship with the newborn.) Maybe you could split visitation rights so she has them for the school year, you get them for the summer and holidays, etc. Of course, if you think a bad split is in the works and it may affect your opportunities to see your children, then a court battle may be the only option.

In my experience, kids are happy with whatever comes their way as long as they feel loved. Do what you can and make the most of what you have.

That said, I truly hope this remains a hypothetical situation for you. Best of luck.
posted by showmethecalvino at 1:32 AM on January 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

The important thing here is how well you get on with your wife. Yes, I know you're probably breaking up but how civil can you both be about it? How much anger and hatred is there? This is something you really, really, really need to sit down and have a serious, calm, rational discussion about.
posted by humuhumu at 2:16 AM on January 27, 2005

The guiding principle in child custody law is the "best interest of the child." To decide what that is, courts look at the following factors:
o The wishes of the child’s parent(s)
o Wishes of the child,
o Interaction of child with parent(s), siblings, and anyone else who may significantly affect the child’s best interest,
o The child’s adjustment to his home, school, and community, and
o Mental and physical health of all individuals involved.

Many feel that courts should allocate custodial responsibility so that proportion of custodial time each parent gets approximates the proportion of time each parent spent performing caretaking for child (so the more time you've spent with your children so far, the more likely you are to get time with them in the future). The assumption is that it’s in the best interests of child to continue the arrangement and that parties have implicitly already agreed to this arrangement.

Courts also try to allocate decision-making about significant life decisions to one parent or both jointly in accordance with child’s best interests, taking into account decision-making authority up to this point (decision-making is called legal custody, separate from physical custody).

As for when one parent moves....the California Supreme Court has said that the parent with physical custody has the right to choose the child’s residence, unless the other parent can show some detriment to the child. At that point, a judge must undertake “best interests” analysis. The Colorado Court of Appeals has said that the parent who wants to move must show a direct benefit to the child, not just an indirect one like a job opportunity for a parent. So it depends on where you live, obviously.
posted by equipoise at 7:36 AM on January 27, 2005

Anon, I hope the information above helps you understand a bit about custody law. I would recommend talking to a lawyer soon--if you're worried about affording one, many cities have free or low-cost legal aid clinics. Also, you should consider working through these issues via collaborative law or mediation--both processes help preserve or strengthen the relationship between the parties rather than heightening tensions. As mad as you may be right now, it's probably best for everyone involved if you and your wife can figure out a amicable way to deal with one another. Good luck!
posted by equipoise at 7:43 AM on January 27, 2005

I think you also need to start thinking about what will be best for the children, not just what will be best for you. Most times children are better off with the mother rather than the father. Maybe not in your case. You need to think this through solely from the kids point of view first. Will they be better off in your wife's custody, if so will her family support on the other coast benefit them, is that other coast such a bad place to be especially if it allows you to see your kids? You may very well decide that they will be better off with you or with your wife but staying in your present locale, but for their sake make the decision honestly. The temptation to make this into a battle of wills with your wife can be high but if you let that happen the children will suffer for it.
posted by caddis at 8:06 AM on January 27, 2005

If you want to maximize your time with your children, go for joint custody with shared (50/50) physical custody. That type of arrangement usually makes it much harder for one parent to move.
Just make sure you're doing it for them, and not just for you.
posted by rocket88 at 8:15 AM on January 27, 2005

If you're in california - she simply can't move more than a reasonable difference without your permission. (a case was just decided there a month or so ago that stated that a mother couldn't move out of state with the kids, she could move - just couldn't take them with her)

Almost anywhere else, it's the same. In Missouri (where i'm going thru this) - the primary custodian can not move at all (even across the street) without 90 days written notice to the non-custodial parent. The Non-Custodial has the right to deny the move request (and it will have to be settled in court after that.)
posted by muddylemon at 8:38 AM on January 27, 2005

I'm struck by your situation - a new kid on the way, a new house. These are all really stressful events! Obviously no one knows the specifics of your situation, but it sounds like your relationship was going well, and then something happened and now it's all crashing down. If that's true, maybe you should consider holding off on the divorce/custody fight and get some good marriage therapy to see if it's possible to heal whatever's going on.

I realize this isn't what you were asking, but the divorce/custody fight path you are contemplating can be *really* awful for everyone involved, and anything you can do to try to head it off will be time well spent, IMHO.
posted by jasper411 at 9:12 AM on January 27, 2005

What caddis and jasper411 said.

You say you're concerned your wife might just pack up and leave - do you have evidence of this? Has she said she wants to do this? Has a stockpile of empty cardboard boxes suddenly appeared in the garage? As someone pointed out, if your wife has no income of her own, she may not be about to jet off into the wonderful world of social assistance or family charity.

You probably need more information before you figure out what to do. Talk to your wife, do some thinking on your own, and find out if both of you are still willing to work on the marriage.

If not, then you need to know what what both of you want. Talk to her about her plans, ask her what she sees as the ideal option for her and for the kids. Figure out what you want for yourself and for the kids. Then figure out an option that takes everyone's well being into account.

Ideally you'd both live as close to each other as you comfortably can so that you can more easily parent the kids. Maybe that means living in the same house but occupying separate bedrooms, or separate floors. Maybe it means you live next door, or on the next block.

It might turn out that you need to sell the house. You might need to move. But those can be relatively painless if stressful compromises if they're well-planned and carefully negotiated. Maybe you and your wife could compromise on moving to a place that's not quite as close to her family as she would like, but that has job opportunities for you.
posted by orange swan at 9:28 AM on January 27, 2005

muddylemon, as I've learned from first-hand experience, the situation is similar in Virginia. I learned that when my ex gave me one month's notice that she was planning to move to Washington state. Once I lawyered up, she dropped it.

AnonyOne, talk to a lawyer--it might be easier to prevent the move than you think. If you're in the DC Metro area, I can recommend a good one; my email's in my profile.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:15 AM on January 27, 2005

konolia, alimony and child support. His wife can say that she's been out of the work force to have kids, so he should support her until she can support herself, or something of the like.

Anon, you need to think of the pregnancy, too. If she has another child on the way, she needs to be in the most comfortable environment possible. You don't want to endanger the new baby with stress, emotional upheaval and all the other dangerous possibilities that a divorce takes on. Unfortunately with a pregnant wife, and another child, your wishes should be just about dead last.

If she is so far away from her family, that may be part of the problem. My inclination is to say let her go. Let her be where she can get the support she needs, if you've gone through thorough counseling to conclude that you cannot provide it.
posted by scazza at 10:21 AM on January 27, 2005

Anon: (this hasn't been stressed strongly enough) -> Get a lawyer.

Otherwise, anything you may do to stop her from leaving could be construed as harassment, or worse.

(Also, what caddis said.)
posted by mischief at 3:03 PM on January 27, 2005

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