Our amicable joint custody is getting ugly. What can I do?
June 21, 2007 2:40 PM   Subscribe

My ex is trying to change our custody agreement. His motives are questionable. What can I do?

Sorry for the long post...

We met, we fell in love, we had a baby. We split up, he immediately started dating another woman. Eventually we got back together. Issues not resolved, split again (both splits were his decision) and he immediately started dating (and by immedately I mean, within 3 days of our breakup). Two weeks ago (and after 3 months of dating this woman,) he told me he was ready to introduce our daughter to his current gal.

This past weekend was his weekend with our daughter. I went out with some friends, had some drinks and ended up sleeping with someone. (The first time I've ever slept with anyone outside our relationship since we started dating.) This someone is (was) his best friend. However, his best friend is someone that I introduced him to and have had an ongoing relationship with for 11 years. (No justification here folks, just FYI.) Also, my ex had been telling our mutual friend how glad he felt that he moved on, had closure, etc. Now, our mutual friend, thinking the honorable thing to do would be tell my ex about the incident told him and unfortunately, my ex flipped out. And by flipped out I mean stark, fucking crazy, throwing shit, calling me and saying some of the most vile things I've been told and so forth. In a nutshell, he didn't take it well for a man who has, by his own account, moved on. (In the spirit of fairness, I should note here that his ex-wife way before I entered the picture cheated on him with his then best friend prior to their split and they continued their relations after their divorce. So, yes, it's a hot button.)

Now, he has emailed me that he feels I am "self-loathing, negative minded, passive aggressive, selfish, manipulative and generally unfit to be the primary caregiver of our child". He wants to have physical custody of her on alternating weeks & wants a renegotiation of child support (which he pays none to me. He pays for her tuition at school and daycare at $760/mo and half that tuition is paid for by his parents. So, I'm pretty sure he's wanting to sock it to me via making me pay for half her tuition. I barely make ends meet and this would be an extreme hardship for me to have to take on an extra $360 a month). Further, he is pushing me to make a decision right now. My only response so far has been a text message to let him know that I will let him know before her next visit with him. Unfortunately, this is not satisfactory to him. He said that he will "take that as a no and will act accordingly until he hears otherwise." Up to this point, my parenting skills have been praised and generally regarded well.

I am in the process of contacting a familial law specialist (in the state of CA) to ensure my rights. We've never been married and I can't see any legal grounds for his actions other than he's hurt and trying to punish me the only way he can: via our daughter.

I'm very confused, slightly scared and more than a little shocked at his behavior. I think I'm taking the necessary steps but does anyone know of anything else I can be doing? Is there anyone that has gone through a similar situation that can offer me advice, tips or useful information? I would greatly appreciate it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tell him no. Sleeping with someone, especially while he has the child, is certainly not a real issue. Maybe if it were a pattern of sleeping around it could be construed as bad in some way, but it's not.

He's just trying to mess with you. You're doing the right thing by getting a lawyer. Hopefully he'll calm down before it comes to a head.
posted by wierdo at 2:46 PM on June 21, 2007

oh god... I don't envy you.

Because you don't have a 'formal' arrangement in place I think there is a high probability this will get messy. Just what does he mean by 'act accordingly'? this can only mean he is going to attempt alter the agreement himself (which he can't do, that's why it's called an agreement, but it may take a judge to get that through to him), or initiate some kind of battle. lawyer up and protect yourself. begin documenting incidents. start a journal. and so on.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:50 PM on June 21, 2007

Can you de-escalate? He sounds like a jerk, but if you really were amicable before maybe you can regain that. After all, sleeping with his friend wasn't the nicest thing for you to do, not that his reaction to it was sane or fair.

(This is not at all to suggest you shouldn't go see a lawyer, of course.)
posted by footnote at 3:08 PM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

IANAL. I may be wrong, but my gut says this is all sound and fury signifying jack. You're not married, never have been married, and he doesn't get to punish you and your child because you screwed his best friend after you broke up.

That said, think twice in the future about punishing him. Yeah, sleeping with your mutual friend wasn't the wisest thing to do in this situation, but everybody makes mistakes. I think you're already aware of that, though. You guys need to stop mind-fucking each other and think about your kid. A lawyer could make that particular case to your ex in the form of a strongly worded letter for starters, in my experience. You also need a legally binding custody arrangement in place to prevent this sort of retaliatory, punitive, knee-jerk game-playing on either side.

Also, we've had a few divorces in our family and it seems as if the laws are usually on the side of the mother. I'm unsure how it works in cases where the parents aren't married. All the more reason to get someone to advocate for you and your kid in this situation.

On preview, de-escalating is right on, IMO. Leave him alone for several days and let him cool off. Stay away from the friend. In the meantime, find a good lawyer and discuss your options. Try and keep your kid out of the middle of this mess. Good luck to both you and your child.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 3:20 PM on June 21, 2007

You need a lawyer.

That said, I believe in California custody defaults to the mother when the parents are not married and the child is very young. DEFINITELY do not sign anything or agree to anything (over email or anything else) before you talk to a lawyer - any documented agreement could constitute a precedent and cause you trouble in the future.

My understanding comes from a co-worker who had a child with a woman whom he was not married to. When she decided to move, it was clear he did not have any case for custody as they had never been married. His choice was simple - never see his daughter or move. He moved. Please verify this with your own attorney. But I don't think your ex has a leg to stand on.
posted by zia at 3:29 PM on June 21, 2007

Lawyer, lawyer, lawyer, lawyer, lawyer! Everybody hates lawyers until they need one. IANAL, btw.
posted by AaRdVarK at 3:33 PM on June 21, 2007

First, take a deep breath and relax a bit; you have the good fortune to be of the fairer sex and to already have primary custody via your informal custody agreement.

I am not a lawyer, and you should definitely go to a lawyer (like now) for legal advice, but everything I know of how family court works indicates that you have the advantage, at least for the moment.

But that could change with too many untoward moves, or if you wait too long to exercise your legal muscle.

Your tryst with his best friend? Not untoward, and absolutely laughable as an excuse for the bullshit he's trying to pull now... I suspect he'll be laughed out of court, if he's foolhardy enough to persist with it.

But his actions indicate an immediate need to formalize your custody/support agreement. The mere fact that he appears willing to take advantage of its present informality to answer a perceived slight is proof enough of this.

For now, until you get competent legal advice, I would urge you to definitively parry his requests for an answer. As in:

"No, I don't have an answer for you yet, and if you don't stop calling, I will have you up on charges for harassment."

Good luck.

Again, IANAL, and TINLA.
posted by The Confessor at 3:43 PM on June 21, 2007

Not untoward, and absolutely laughable as an excuse for the bullshit he's trying to pull now... I suspect he'll be laughed out of court, if he's foolhardy enough to persist with it.

Yeah. Make sure that you document as much as possible, that his newfound desire for more custody and less child support is retaliation for you having sex with someone else.
posted by grouse at 3:56 PM on June 21, 2007

You need a lawyer, and a court order. Now. Do. not. wait.

You have informal custody. I would advise against letting the child go with him until you secure some sort of legal arrangement in writing - particularly if you have a bad feeling about it. But again, IANAL and only know from my own experience in a situation similar to yours. You absolutely need a lawyer, and you need to get a custody/visitation arrangement made.

This will probably get much, much messier before it gets better. I would advise you to resolve to be the better human, and take the high road in all cases. Don't let him push you around, but remember the child needs him in it's life. It's a lot harder to make those two things work, but the child will definitely appreciate the effort once they are old enough to have some objectivity.

Good luck.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:58 PM on June 21, 2007

Where abouts in CA are you? If you're in the South Bay, I can recommend an outstanding divorce lawyer.
posted by browse at 4:04 PM on June 21, 2007

Get a lawyer. There should be a Legal Aid office somewhere near you. You really need good legal advice. Just today, someone told me how much our local Legal Aid Office had helped her with child support issues.

It was wrong of the guy to tell him you slept together. It is absolutely none of your ex's business. Just a thought: Did learning that he wanted to introduce your child to his gf influence your decision to sleep w/ his best friend? It's immaterial to the custody issue, but worth some thought.

Document everything. Keep a log of calls with content, save emails, keep a diary just for this. Interact in the calmest way possible, and always in the best interests of your child. Interact only when you must. Try to interact by email, so you can convey information with no emotional spin.

It's not clear to me if you have a court-ordered custody arrangement. You need to assess whether or not he'll take off with her. The throwing things, and abusive behavior may be grounds for a restraining order if you feel that he is unsafe to be near.

He's using child support & custody to punish you. Judges really don't like that. He should be paying you actual child support. Don't be shy about getting the money you need to give your child good care.

Your child needs a good relationship with her dad, so do whatever you can to shield her from this.
posted by theora55 at 5:33 PM on June 21, 2007

Get off the internet and get on the phone. Now. With a lawyer. This is your kid we're talking about. Don't chance it by asking us putzes for advice. Stop screwing around on AskMe and get a lawyer.
posted by mds35 at 6:31 PM on June 21, 2007

Remember, you don't have to listen to someone saying vile things to you. You don't have to give a shit or a second's thought to their opinion. Hang up the phone or walk away the second he starts. He has no right to judge you, but you seem to think he does. Take the kid, take her stuff and leave. Tell him to call your lawyer and repeat whet he just said.

And document EVERYTHING. Every insult, every thrown item, every statement or action that could be construed as a threat, every inappropriate comment he makes in front of the kid. He clearly needs to learn to think before he acts.
posted by fshgrl at 8:20 PM on June 21, 2007

Hey, I was kinda on the other side of all this several years back, and I still echo the advice above--get a lawyer (really, best case, it'll cost $1000), don't say anything else to him without the lawyer's advice (again, really, say "I need to speak to my attorney about that"), and de-escalate if possible. I'm 10 years into the process, and things are good, really good, but only, only, because I followed that advice, and got everything formalized, 10 years ago. Shoot me an email if you like--I'm pretty much past the bitterness, and can (try to) give you impassioned advice.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:23 PM on June 21, 2007

You slept with someone three months after he dumped you for the second time, and that makes you a bad mother? That's completely ridiculous. Don't talk to or IM him until you've spoken to a lawyer. He's the one escalating- just stay calm, and wait until you've discussed all this with someone who knows exactly what you need to do. You don't have to make a decision just because he's telling you to- it's in your daughter's best interest if you just put all ex-boyfriend issues aside until you've spoken to a professional.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:37 PM on June 21, 2007

I agree with the general sentiment that you've done nothing so wrong that you deserve what you're getting. But you can not in any way trust that the karma of the world will be on your side. Do not assume that a judge will make it all go away. Lawyer up fast and hard. (I've got a friend who did less than you, whose ex is far worse than you depict, and despite lawyers, has yet to have her case resolved).
posted by kch at 9:35 PM on June 21, 2007

I agree, sound and fury, signifying jack. It's a pity you have to deal with it. Maybe get a lawyer, but don't take it personally, the man sounds (temporarily one hopes) deranged.
posted by londongeezer at 9:50 PM on June 21, 2007

You, a single person, went on a date with another single person. While your child was under the care of a responsible caretaker. Your date is none of your ex's business. What happened on that date is no one's business.

He's behaving like a child. You be the adult. Maintain dignity, and absolutely refuse to let his tantruming push your buttons. "That topic is not up for discussion. Our previous agreement is unchanged. But if you know of a new legal issue that warrants changing our agreement, you are welcome to have your lawyer call my lawyer."

Do get a lawyer ASAP so you can get a formal custody agreement entered. In the meantime, keep repeating to yourself: "Just because he wants something, doesn't mean I owe it to him. I am not obliged to respond to any of his requests. I do not have to pick from any of the options he proposes. I make decisions on my own terms, only when I'm 100% ready, and only after I've gotten expert advice."

For your daughter's sake, please let your lawyer request more realistic child support. At minimum* he should be paying half of all his child's expenses, not just school, and should be contributing to a college fund for her.

* Don't ever let anyone make you feel like that'd be profiteering off your child, or that by doing his duty as a parent he earns influence over your lives. Because that's her needs, not yours, that he's been failing to meet. And by leaving it up to you to meet his parental responsibilities in addition to your own, he's robbing your daughter of the time, enthusiasm, and attention you would otherwise be able to give her if you weren't being stretch so darned thin by that extra financial burden. Your child deserves to have at least one parent who can fully be there for her. Child support is the very least, literally, he can do to provide for his daughter's well being.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:02 PM on June 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

you've nothing to be afraid of, a lawyer will help you solve this crap easily, I'm sure you can find pro bono assistance thru women's organizations and such.

your life belongs to you and you're free to choose the people you spend your time with. the fact that your daughter has an asshole for a father is thankfully compensated by the fact that she has a caring mother who thinks things thru, she'll be fine.

he's also a cheapo, at that (360 bucks a month for child support? some people shell out more for a fucking parking spot: his child, his shared responsibility. that's what courts are for).

good luck, but you don't even need that -- the law is more than enough. he wants to go deadbeat on the payments? it has serious consequences in many States.
posted by matteo at 4:51 AM on June 22, 2007

(and yes, of course a restraining order on him, however extreme an act, is pretty easy to obtain in your position. break the glass in case of emergency)
posted by matteo at 4:53 AM on June 22, 2007

Sorry to hear about your experience - I know it's unbelievably sad and terrifying and angering when things with someone you cared for deeply get, as you put it, ugly.

I think I'm taking the necessary steps but does anyone know of anything else I can be doing?

One thing to float with your attorney, and then your ex, in that order, is the idea of mediation.

Obviously, I echo everyone else in suggesting that your plan of retaining competent counsel is a good one. MrMoonPie and kch gave you what are probably the two most important points - 1) de-escalate as much as you can and 2) don't expect things will go your way.

From what I can tell, you have no formal custody arrangement, which means you and your ex are going to have to agree to one or have a court impose one. Agreement is going to be much easier for all involved if you can do it.

Here's how I've seen it done. Each of you get your own attorney. Then together, you hire a third lawyer with experience in mediating family law issues. This is a joint representation, and you'll have to sign conflict waivers, and it's this person's job to help you guys get to the crux of things - how are the pair of you going to best take care of your little girl? If your ex is any kind of a father, that is a wonderfully focusing question, and will hopefully break through the self-righteous indignation.

The mediator then does a few sessions with you to work out the details: physical custody, decision-making, visitation, child support, and help you anticipate potential changes - future marriages, what happens if one of you wants to move, what happens if a job or monetary situation changes, enforcement options if somebody doesn't live up to their end, etc. When all the issues have been settled, the mediator drafts a custody/support agreement. Each of you has your own attorney review it, and they negotiate out changes. When everyone can live with it, you sign it. Your attorneys will tell you how to (or whether to) enter it before the court.

This is probably going to be more expensive in the short-run than getting an attorney and going on the offensive. But if you can do it, it's going to make your life much better. And it maybe cheaper than constantly drudging back to court cause nobody's happy.

The thing to keep in mind is that the real issues here are emotional, not legal. That makes them harder to deal with. To wit, chances are you're going to have to take a few on the chin and keep your cool while he yells and vents and says nasty stuff calculated to hurt as much as it can. But if you weather that and can get him to sit at the table and talk, then that's an enormous hurdle.

The most salient thing I saw in your post was a subtext that it doesn't have to be this way. Your joint custody was amicable. You were in love. And you recognize that he's not fully over it, no matter what he says, and that the best friend thing is a hot-button issue.

Best of luck no matter what course you pursue.
posted by averyoldworld at 10:22 AM on June 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

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