Navigating the world of child custody... with a dysfunctional coparent
March 16, 2015 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Seeking recommendations of any things to do/not do in the child custody court process. Specifically for children of alcoholics: in your experience, what do you feel would have been the best custody arrangement/visitations/etc for you as a child? Additionally, I’m convinced there's definite differences into how different states handle child custody… Can anyone else speak to this? Thanks in advance.

I work closely with families in Colorado and have noticed with my clients (and peers) that CO seems to strongly prefer 50/50 custody arrangements, and “unenforced” child support (I’m not sure what the legal term is for this, but basically there is child support ordered, but not enforced, and I’ve been told- limited to no consequence if it is unpaid). It also seems that parents can “get away with” more than I’d like to see- I have seen numerous families in which a parent is unfit and even nonfunctional as a parent, and yet the children remain in their care, unless there are orders/removal from DHS (which appears to be a very, very long and not-often-observed process). I’ve seen children remain in a parent’s care when that parent is documented as psychotic, an addict, DV perpetrator (unless the violence was directly towards the kid) too many times to count.

When I lived in Texas previously, I rarely remember seeing 50/50 arrangements, and felt like TX seemed to “favor” the mother more, and be a bit more cautious in protecting the children. I almost always observed families where one parent (generally the mother) had primary custody, and the other had visitation rights. It seemed like they were more likely to mandate things like supervised visits and other restrictions when a parent had limitations that could impact the child (like in above ex: in cases of DV or an addicted parent). I also recall that the father’s child support was taken automatically from his paychecks and that there was some consequence if unpaid.

Due to my child’s father being an addict, I anticipate that my child will be most protected if I seek primary custody and am guessing based on the numerous stories I’ve heard, that this would be much more likely to be awarded in TX vs CO. I’ve talked to a CO attorney that made it sound like primary custody would be possible, and not difficult, but found it hard to believe based on the numerous arrangements I’ve seen myself. I’d likely relocate to TX (or another state) if it was in the best interests of my child.

Can anyone else speak to differences among the states in this matter (trying to confirm there is a legitimate difference and this is not just coincidental)?

Or can anyone recommend any things to do/not do in this process, in general? Specifically for children of alcoholics/addicts: in your experience, what do you feel would have been the best custody arrangement/visitations/etc for you as a baby/child/growing up?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I won't go into specifics about our situation but see if CO has any resources available for you (in MN, these were called Parent Advocacy resources or groups. I'm not sure if the name will be the same) - the courthouse should be able to direct you to some.

In regards to specific things, a petition for supervised parenting for the coparent was granted (we paid since that was one argument, it was too expensive) and also, the guardian ad litem. They are not mutually exclusive, but both helped us navigate the headache that was the coparent going off his medication.

Good luck.
posted by lpcxa0 at 2:03 PM on March 16, 2015

Yeah, it looks like CO is pretty tough about custody.

From Legalzoom:
It’s usually not easy to obtain full custody in any state, but Colorado makes it particularly difficult. Section 14-10-124 of the state’s legislative code specifically states that children should have “frequent and meaningful” contact with both parents post-divorce. Your best chance to achieve full custody depends on proving that your child’s other parent is unfit, but his bad behavior must have a direct effect on your child.

You also need to find out what legal ramifications there might be if you move your child to another state without his permission.
posted by Huck500 at 3:36 PM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Definitely check in with the lawyer about what will happen if you leave the state without the father's permission. Moving to a more favorable jurisdiction just because it's a more favorable jurisdiction is generally not allowed.
posted by woodvine at 4:09 PM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also note that you must file in the state where the children live and that there is usually a residency requirement.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:42 PM on March 16, 2015

(By residency requirement, I mean that you must have lived in that state for a certain amount of time.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:43 PM on March 16, 2015

it's a pain to fight for sole custody--and also very expensive. going for sole custody will also likely make the situation much worse as your spouse will most likely fight it. it's much better to get joint custody with you being the parent that has some more legal determination.

courts will look with disfavor if you try to move just before filing or whatnot. your spouse will likely counter file in your old jurisdiction and you will have to go back. you might be able to get an exception if there is abuse but sloppy parenting will not qualify.

it is much easier to control the visitation and deal with custody issues once the divorce is final.
posted by lester at 8:41 PM on March 16, 2015

I'm glad to hear that you have consulted with an attorney, but it sounds like you need more legal advice about your options. As commenters have already mentioned, it may not be feasible to simply move to another state. Your own lawyer can explain the details of the applicable laws and any exceptions that might apply to your specific situation.

As to your concern about child support, the Colorado Division of Child Support Services offers information about enforcement options, which apparently include wage withholding and tax refund intercepts, among other options. A Colorado attorney with experience in family law can provide you with specific information relevant to your situation.

I do wonder if some of the horror stories that you have heard are related to a lack of legal representation. One thing to consider is that an attorney can help negotiate a settlement agreement with the other parent, and there may be several options to help protect your child. Are there reasonable grandparents in the area? Maybe they can supervise visitation. Is the other parent willing to participate in an intensive treatment program? Maybe an agreement can be crafted to outline steps that the other parent must complete (and produce evidence of completing) before they can ask the court for unsupervised visits.

Your options depend on the facts of your case and the applicable laws, and I encourage you to interview several attorneys to figure out which attorney seems like the best fit for you and your case. The Colorado Bar offers a searchable lawyer directory and links to lawyer referral services. The Texas Bar also offers a searchable lawyer directory and a lawyer referral service.

Basic information about Colorado family law from Colorado Legal Services is available here. Basic information from Texas Law Help is available here.
posted by Little Dawn at 10:03 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

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