When we go through a divorce that is rough, we often want to just put everything in the rearview mirror and move forward with our lives. We want to wash that bad taste out of our mouth as quickly as we can. However, if you’re dealing with custody or child support, sometimes that’s easier said than done.
In this month’s case study, Family Matters Law Group wants to share a story of a special woman who was dragged back into a bad situation with her ex-husband. We stood up and fought zealously for her and her family, and we will do the same for you.
A woman came to our office having been served with a contempt order and a request to modify custody from her ex-husband. Her ex-husband was a very forceful, loud, aggressive man, and it had been her pattern to go along with his wishes for many years, just to avoid conflict. When I saw her, she had been divorced from her husband for eight years.
She had one child at the time of her divorce, a beautiful 2-year-old daughter. For the eight years after the divorce, the child’s father had minimal contact with the child. My client estimated the father had only seen the child perhaps six times in eight years. In that time, my client found some happiness by remarrying. Her child thrived and had an excellent relationship with her stepfather.
It was not unusual for the stepfather to take a very active role in the child’s life. He could be seen at extracurricular events and would often have lunch with the child at school. One day, the woman’s ex-husband showed up at the child’s school unannounced and saw the stepfather there. He learned that the stepfather had a regular presence at the school, and this enraged the father. He made a huge scene at the school, embarrassing the child and her stepfather.
After this unseemly incident, the father began to demand more frequent visitation times outside of the agreed visitation schedule. The child reported to her mother that she was shocked by his behavior and was afraid to be around him, especially after the scene he caused at her school. Mom had never forced her child to spend time with the ex-husband, especially when it became apparent he wasn’t going to make any effort to have a relationship with her. So, you can imagine the shock and horror that the child felt, feeling forced to spend time with an angry, aggressive parent she barely knew.
The father’s response was to file a contempt order and a request to modify custody.
There are two key issues in this case. First and foremost for me was the welfare of the child. She had been embarrassed and humiliated at her school. She was being manipulated by a father she barely knew and was scared of. We needed to take immediate action for her and her mother.
This case also raises issues about what kinds of demands a non-custodial father can make. How much influence should he have over the custody agreement when he has not made a good faith effort to be a part of his daughter’s life? What level of responsibility should a non-custodial parent show? I firmly believe that just because you don’t have physical custody or see your child daily, that is not an excuse to be an absentee parent or dictate to your ex what should happen with your child.
This father filed a baseless lawsuit just to get back at his ex-wife. Not only is this offensive, it completely fails to take into account the needs of the child.
I immediately filed a counterclaim for modification of visitation based on his total absence from the child’s life. I also sought a contempt order for back child support (he was in arrears $10,000) and attorney fees for the baseless lawsuit that he filed against my client.
The court sided with my client and awarded her sole legal custody, meaning she was the final decision maker on all decisions related to the child. The father’s parenting time was reduced and he was ordered to have supervised visits only for six months. After that six month period, he was forbidden to have overnight visits, and all weekend visits were limited to 8 hours. He was ordered to pay his back child support as a lump sum payment, and he is currently being monitored to ensure compliance with future child support payments.
This case tugged at my heartstrings. I wanted very badly to be a voice for this woman who had made a good faith effort to move forward and have a nice family. For many years, she felt obligated to be compliant with the wishes of the biological father. Unfortunately, this belief paralyzed her when he filed a lawsuit against her.
For the sake of her child and her family, I recognized the need to serve as a strong voice and fight hard against her ex. That’s what an attorney does: they fight for you when you are not in a position to fight for yourself. I wanted to help my client regain a sense of strength and confidence, and I wanted her to know someone had her back!
If you are faced with an ex who is demanding or is aggressively pursuing changes to an existing court order, you don’t have to face it alone. Family Matters Law Group has been helping clients all over Henry, Clayton, Fayette and the metro Atlanta area for many years. Setting up a consultation is as easy as filling out our convenient online form. As your attorney, I promise to be on your side and fight hard for you and your family!