Friend just gave birth. Leaving her husband. What does she need to know?
June 29, 2013 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Not the happiest circumstances to bring a new child into this world. After years of supporting her husband, financially and emotionally, she's reached her limit. He's dealing with some addiction issues, and has become increasingly hostile with the birth of this baby. Maybe they'll work this out one day, but right now she doesn't feel safe, has filled her car with personal belongings and is staying with family. She left him a lengthy note, but does not want to talk to him in the next few days. This has been a long time coming, and while I don't imagine it will be a surprise—his family has actually encouraged her to do this—he won't react well. What sort of legal precautions should she begin taking?

Over the last four years, she's made all the payments on their house. They have some joint credit cards. I can't imagine the husband wants anything to do with the kid—but can't assume that. (This is all taking place in Canada.) What other miscellaneous ideas should she be considering in the short and long-term? She is the kindest, most loving woman I've ever met. She's just not wired to consider these questions or act out of self-interest. Very grateful for your suggestions.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Lawyer, lawyer, lawyer, lawyer, lawyer.

And get a lawyer.
posted by xingcat at 8:10 AM on June 29, 2013 [14 favorites]

Two things off the bat. She needs to be careful about preventing the father from seeing the child. The terms "custodial interference" and "kidnapping" come to mind, and if he's hostile towards her he could pursue those claims simply out of spite, even if he doesn't want to have anything to do with the child.

Secondly, she should contact a Domestic Violence organization. Even if she doesn't want their services broadly speaking, this is one of the areas in which they can provide her with specific, targeted advice. The national DV hotline is a good place to start: 800 799-SAFE
posted by Gorgik at 8:12 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Consider cutting him off from the credit cards. He may deliberately or inadverdently damage her credit for years to come.

And yes, get a lawyer.
posted by corey flood at 8:16 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

One link (found via basic Google search, so there's tons of others) listing Canadian DV resources.
posted by juliplease at 8:37 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Encourage her to be a good mother by not being nice. Her child will have many needs over the years and if she allows the child's father to keep any of the house or charge up her credit cards then that is money that she will never see again, money that her child will need. It is difficult to get certain types of men to pay child support. She needs to view him as a loss and try to get as much money for her child as she can. Contact a local domestic abuse organization right away and set up counseling for her. See if they can recommend a lawyer.

Also, I would ask his family if they would support sending him to a treatment facility. If you have a relationship with his family, you should ask. Let her have a few days to recover and enjoy baby.
posted by myselfasme at 8:46 AM on June 29, 2013

An angry addict with all of her identity info? She should treat this as though she just experienced identity theft. Credit lock, change the cards, forward the mail so he can't intercept it, move funds to a new bank, all online account passwords (and pw recovery info) changed.
posted by Sophont at 9:01 AM on June 29, 2013 [16 favorites]

Violence toward women increases during and after pregnancy. Your friend's fears are not unfounded. She absolutely needs to seek advice regarding domestic violence. Visits with the father and child might need to be accompanied by police or other people with real authority.

Lawyer. The only answer to the questions of how to move forward is lawyer.
posted by bilabial at 9:10 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get all the important documents out of the house and into a safe deposit box.
posted by brujita at 10:01 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

She needs a lawyer right away to help her establish (what will eventually be) her custody case. There are a million ways to screw this up and some of them are not intuitive at all - she needs professional guidance on what to do if he calls wanting to see the baby, etc. If she can't afford an attorney, she can at least start with one at a domestic violence clinic that is meant to be low- or no- cost, but the biggest issue is going to cross her T's and dot her I's on the child custody front, and if she can she should borrow the money to see someone experienced.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:03 AM on June 29, 2013

Start custody proceedings, get in contact with a domestic abuse shelter, and if there's one, just one hint of violence she needs to contact the police and get it on record. Not sure if you can preempt with a restraining order, but it would be something to research.

It's going to be tough with a new baby, and she may be tempted to go back just to get some relief. Help her out if you can, and rally friends around. Maybe cook her dinner, or just baby sit so she can have a nap or take a long stress relief bath.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:16 AM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

She absolutely needs to consult a lawyer ASAP, and certainly before closing/emptying any joint bank accounts.
posted by drlith at 10:38 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it's a joint bank account, she certainly has the right to totally empty it right now. So does he. He has the right to ask for, and possibly get a portion of it in a settlement or at the divorce trial.
She should keep a notebook with her at all times (I like the reporter style moleskine). The lack of sleep and stress will play hell with her memory.
She also should get a voice recorder or two and record EVERY conversation with him, and with whom she speaks to, ie lawyer, police, bank, credit card companies, etc. She is not in a condition to remember details so this could fill in the blanks, or be evidence if he threatens her.
posted by Sophont at 11:21 AM on June 29, 2013

Generally speaking, what a person has a "right" to do and what may weigh considerably against their interests during eventual litigation are often two unrelated questions whose answers may or may not overlap.

I'm an attorney relatively familiar with family law in my jurisdiction(s), but those are not in Canada; I am unfamiliar with Canadian law. I can't give you legal advice ("What sort of legal precautions should she begin taking?"). As other people in this thread have recommended, your friend should seek legal counsel in her jurisdiction; and as one person noted, one reason for this is that sometimes what's wise or necessary in this area of law may not be intuitive.

You would be wise to consider anybody else's suggestions in light of two questions: (1) Does this person have experience with similar circumstances, in Canada or elsewhere; and (2) Does this person profess to be an expert in this area of law?
posted by cribcage at 2:09 PM on June 29, 2013

Legal matters will vary somewhat depending on the province in which your friend lives, since family law is a provincial matter. Some resources:

Advice from the Department of Justice (Canada)

Ontario Women's Justice Network

Family Service Toronto (lots of good links here)

BC-based domestic violence helpline

It would be helpful to gather documentation supporting your friend's feelings of unsafeness as well as any attempts he makes to contact her and all financial transactions from the past year forward into the future.
posted by thatdawnperson at 2:58 PM on June 29, 2013

Get copies of documents. Set aside some funds from joint accounts, in as fair a manner as possible. Lawyers don't keep you safe from angry people and court orders may help, but only up to a point. Her family should read previous questions about domestic violence, and talk to the nearest DV shelter as soon as possible. Talk to a lawyer about child support, how to deal with finances, etc., but talk to DV experts about safety.
posted by theora55 at 4:03 PM on June 29, 2013

talk to local women's rights organizations and get a referral to a lawyer.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:19 PM on June 29, 2013

1) Get a lawyer.
2) Get a facial, mani, pedi, and massage. (You have to look good when facing trauma, yo!)
3) Make a list.
posted by lotusmish at 11:07 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ignore the entirety of Gorgik's answer, for a variety of reasons I won't spell out because, like Gorgik, I'm not a lawyer. Also, a hotline for another country is probably not useful.

In Ontario, any lawyer will give you a free half hour consultation; I think this is the case in most if not all of the rest of Canada? She should use this to (1) as soon as possible get a professional assessment of her rights and what she does need to worry about, (2) interview a few to find an attorney whose style and personality are a good fit for her and her situation. They come in different flavours -- some are very aggressive, and some are very mediation-oriented. You can help by working your own social network for recommendations for the best family law attorneys in your city, assuming you're local to her? You can also help by, with her permission, rounding up people who can offer practical assistance -- moving things comes to mind.

I have heard wonderful things about domestic violence shelters &c for helping women fleeing in the middle of the night etc and having to start over from scratch with no resources at all. But as far as I can tell they are generally shoestring-budget operations with limited resources themselves, and are of limited use to somebody who is able to access the appropriate resources (legal help, counseling) on their own.

In re. "She's just not wired to consider these questions or act out of self-interest" -- encourage her to act in the child's best interests. A lot of murky 'What now' can be quickly and ethically sorted with the objective answer to 'What is in my child's best interests?'

On the off chance that she is in or near Ottawa, I have been through a comparable situation and am happy to recommend this and that; e-mail's in profile. But most of this would be about how to accelerate finding and funding a good lawyer, which is, as pointed out, the only way to go forward from here.
posted by kmennie at 6:38 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

She needs to evaluate the urgency of the situation. A woman's organization can help her with that. If she decides it's urgent, they can help her get out tonight. But in many cases it's better to be patient and shrewd. If that is the case, she should start working with a lawyer as soon as possible to preserve her and her children's rights and interests. The woman's organization should be able to help her figure out how to do this with complete secrecy, which sounds like it may be essential.

Generally: it's worth it for her to spend her money more open handedly now on things that could save tons of time, energy, and money in the future. On my list that would include therapy, legal advice and services (and second opinions if she wants), babysitting/daycare to give her time and space to do what she needs to do, a secret phone and PO box and whatever else the women's organization might recommend. Perhaps counterintuitively, now is NOT the time to skimp if she can afford it. She needs to be careful, shrewd, and keep her perspective (and her eye on the long term outcome that is best for her and her child.

For you: support her without pressuring her, and understand that this might take her a frustratingly long time.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:04 AM on June 30, 2013

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