Failing to Assert or Protect Your Rights Could Have Dire Consequences
It has been a rather depressing month here at Modern Law. We have watched loving, committed parents be penalized by the court system for failing to assert or protect their legal rights sooner.
In one case, Father of three children picked up the children’s from (custodial) Mother’s home and told her they were coming to live with him. He filed for a modification and she ultimately decided to agree to her children living with Father as long as she had liberal parenting time. In the next four years, Father systematically cut Mother out of the children’s’ lives. He changed schools, doctors, and removed her contact information from official records. He wouldn’t answer or return phone calls or emails or acknowledge the receipt of gifts. She kept asking, and kept being ignored.
Four years later she had enough and filed for a modification of the parenting plan. Father’s response was that she had abandoned the children and that they, now teenagers, wanted nothing to do with her. Her children were downright hostile to her and stated they had only bad memories of their relationship together. Mother asked the Judge for a court ordered parenting plan that would designate when she had the children. Ultimately, the Judge ordered that Mother have 4 hours per month with her children. The Judge stated that Mother had abandoned the children and caused the issue. If Mother wanted counseling, she and she alone would pay for it.
Mother’s failure to assert her parental rights sooner, caused wrath from her children and the Judge. She is now in the very difficult position of trying to pay for expensive therapy alone and/or rebuilding a relationship with hostile teenagers with four hours of parenting time per month.
In case number two, Mother tells Father she wants to move to New Jersey. Her parents are sick and she wants to go spend some time with them. They have one child together who is 6 and Mother tells Father and she will be back in Arizona soon. Father does not dispute Mother’s relocation. Over the next few years, Mother states many times that she will be moving back to Arizona. Father tries to work with Mother to set up parenting time, but Mother will not allow the child to travel to Arizona to see Father. Father makes many trips to New Jersey to see his son. His “parenting time” consists of long weekends in hotels or at amusement parks. This is not the quality time that he wants with his child. Two years after she left, Father files in court to contest Mother’s move to New Jersey. He explains this was to be a temporary and not permanent move to which he consented. He explains that he misses his son and wants to be involved in his life. He asks that the Judge hold her to her word and prevent her from permanently relocating to New Jersey.
The Judge determines that it is Father’s burden to prove under the relocation statute that it is in the child’s best interest to be moved back to Arizona. Mother presents evidence that the child is doing well in school, has friends and is well adjusted to life in New Jersey. Typically, it is the relocating parent’s heavy burden to prove relocation is in the best interest of the child and how that parent will ensure the relationship with the non-moving parent will be protected. In this case, the Judge treated Father’s Petition as his attempt to relocate the child. His failure to challenge Mother’s relocation immediately put him at an extreme disadvantage in the case. Ultimately, the Judge ruled the child and Mother could remain in New Jersey with Father having limited parenting time in Arizona.
Spousal Maintenance/Child Support
In case number three, Mom and Dad are separated but not divorced for five years. In that time, Father pays no child support to Mother who supports her four children single handedly. When Mother files for divorce five years after separation, she asks that the Judge grant her the discretionary retroactive child support for the previous three years and she asks for spousal maintenance based on an extreme disparity of income. Father makes more than $100k per year and Mother makes $40k. The Judge determines Mother does not need spousal maintenance because she has been supporting herself without the help of Father for the last five years. She is awarded retroactive child support only to the date she filed the petition, because she should have filed for divorce sooner.
In all of these cases, the results of the case were due to the extended period of time that the moving party waited between an enticing incident and filing to assert their rights. In case one, Mother would absolutely have been awarded more parenting time, if not equal parenting time, had she filed for years ago. In case number two, Father would have most likely prevented the relocation of the child to New Jersey had he filed immediately to stop the relocation. In case three, Mother would have likely been awarded spousal maintenance and immediate child support had she filed for divorce or legal separation five years ago.
Many times good parents try to work together outside of the court system and are eventually punished for doing so. Know you rights and protect them as soon as you can. Call us for a consultation and we can explore your legal options.