Father’s Rights Under “Duress”

Danny Carr, Counselor and Attorney at Law, punched the button on his phone this morning to listen to messages left last night on his voice-mail.

“I need to hire you for a custody case.  This is Ken Woodard. Call me at 301-555-5555.”

Carr hit redial, and when someone answered, he said,  “Mr. Woodard, this is Danny Carr, returning your call.”

“I was forced to give up custody and visitation by my wife’s attorney by duress,” said Woodard.

“Did he hold a gun to your head? “

“No, but he told me I would lose if I didn’t agree.”

“That’s not duress.”

“OK, well then I found out I still have to pay child support.”

“Right.  Parents are obligated to support their children.”

“But if I don’t have custody or visitation, haven’t my parental rights been terminated?”

“No.  You are still the children’s father.”

“My wife accused me of neglecting and abusing the kids.  Can I file a petition to terminate my parental rights on the basis of her saying I’m an unfit parent?”

“No.  You can’t file a complaint against yourself to terminate your own parental rights.”

“That doesn’t sound right.”

“I have to go now, Mr. Woodard.  Good luck with your case.”

“The kids need haircuts!” were the first words Michael said when he walked into the library conference room for the mediation with his lawyer.

“I’d get them one if you would pay some child support!” shot back Sandy, his estranged wife, who was already seated in the conference room with her lawyer.

Before the exchange could heat up any more, retired Judge O’Malley, dressed nattily in a tweed sport coat, looked up from his papers at the head of the conference table and peered over his reading glasses.

“Let me give both of you a tip,” he said in his slow, quiet voice that demanded attention.  “The court doesn’t like hysterical, angry witnesses.  If it’s a close call, and one party is hysterical and emotional and the other one is calm and rational, the judge is usually going to go with the one that’s calm.”

This morning on the way to the bus, my 12 year old son was telling me about an app on his iPhone that allowed him to listen to NFL games.

“When I was your age, we didn’t have the Internet,” I told him.   “We had something else.  It was called outdoors.”

“What kind of game was that?” he asked me.

“We went out the door in the morning and played marbles until it was dinner time,” I said.  “I bet you’ve never even heard of marbles.”

I was all set to teach my son the grand game of marbles when I got home from work today.  Then I thought I’d better Google it.  And guess what?  I found out you can play a virtual game of marbles on the Internet.

Technology is a tool that can enhance or frustrate co-parenting by separated or divorced parents, depending on how you use it.  Emails, web calendars and texts can be very helpful to keep your kids schoolwork, extra-curricular activities and lives organized.  But technology can also be misused as well.

A University of Missouri study found that some parents selectively pretended they never received texts or emails they wished to ignore.  Others terminated web calendar access for the other parent until they had scheduled the children’s activities on it.  These parents were using technology as a weapon to gain control or annoy the other parent.

found that ex-spouses who endured bitter breakups often used communications technology as a weapon. Some spouses would selectively ignore texts and emails — pretending they never received them — while others cut their exes off from web calendars until they had already scheduled their children’s activities.

“Parents who use technology effectively can make co-parenting easier, which places less stress on the children,” said Professor Lawrence Ganong, who headed up the study.  “Parents who use communication technology to manipulate or withhold information from the other parent can cause pain to the child.”

Father’s Rights Case in Kentucky

In a child custody battle in Kentucky, Bill Verst is seeking custody of his six year old daughter, Madisyn “Maddy” Verst, from her mother Lindsay Jackson.

He says he should have primary custody because the mother dressed in inappropriate outfits, namely a Dolly Parton outfit and a police officer outfit, for an episode of Toddlers & Tiaras.  Maddy was on the cover of People Magazine with the headline, “Gone Too Far?”.

The court-appointed psychologist agrees recommends residential custody with the father as a result of the child’s participation in beauty pageants.  The next hearing is August 31.

The mother told reporters, “If Maddy needs to live with her dad because she does pageants with me, then that opens the door for any parent to challenge anybody on activity that a kid does, period.”

“We could really open up Pandora’s Box to set a precedent all over the world. What if years ago Gabby Douglas’ father said, ‘She’s not going to be a gymnast. She’s not going to move away from home and practice gymnastics because I won’t allow it,’ and he and Gabby’s mother got into a fight? We wouldn’t have gold medal winners, we wouldn’t have Miss America, we wouldn’t have Miss USA,” Jackson said.

Children are the highest stakes in a custody battle.  People fighting over the children will frequently engage in hostile, angry and vengeful behavior against each other.  Emotion overwhelms judgment.

When I mediate child custody cases, I ask each party to bring pictures of their children to the mediation session.  Then we tape them to the wall or prop them up against some books in the middle of the conference table.

Whenever a party veers off on a tangent or a rant about something, I let them calm down, then I point to the pictures and say, “Remember why we’re here.  It’s all about your children.  Let’s figure out what’s best for them.”

This usually focuses everyone’s attention back on solving problems rather than fighting about them.

Guest Article by Myburgh Law P.C.

During an uncontested New York divorce, many couples feel the understandable desire to speed things along as quickly as possible. It’s common to fall into the trap of thinking that, because the dissolution of the marriage is quick and uncontested, they will not need the services of a lawyer. While it is true that an uncontested marital dissolution will enable both parties to go their separate ways much more quickly, there are both long term and short term reasons why hiring a qualified New York attorney is important even in an uncontested divorce.

As part of the process, both parties will have to come to a marital settlement agreement, also known as a stipulation of settlement. If there are children involved, a parenting plan has to be agreed upon as well. Thus, a mutual agreement must be reached on terms such as child custody, where the child will reside, child support, spousal support, division of debt and division of assets. Marital settlement agreements and parenting plans can quickly become confusing to someone who does not have training in family law. A lawyer with experience in family law will ensure that their client understands the terms they are agreeing to and will work to make sure that their client’s wishes are fairly represented in the final agreement.

While some people may feel that they are able to represent their own needs in an uncontested situation, it is easy to underestimate the emotional toll that the dissolution of the marriage can have. Increased levels of stress and frustration often occur during the negotiation process. While these reactions are to be expected, they sometimes prevent individuals from making decisions which are best for the long term. A momentary rash desire to just have the process be over can result in life-long consequences when it comes to assets such as retirement savings, pensions, investments, houses, and 401ks. An attorney can look after these interests for their client without the added emotional turmoil often felt by the client.

Additionally, not all uncontested divorces remain that way through the entire legal process. Unfortunately, some parties will begin negotiations and realize that they simply did not agree on as much as they previously believed they did. Child custody arrangements are often a major point of contention between the parties, as is debt division. If the negotiations do take a turn towards contested territory, it’s good to have an attorney present to help one navigate through the much trickier legal issues surrounding this type of marital dissolution.

However, the proceedings may go just as smoothly as expected. Yet if one partner has a lawyer present, the one without legal representation may feel exposed or resentful without proper counsel. In such situations, both parties having an attorney to represent them promotes an atmosphere of equality and cooperation that is necessary for a successful negotiation.

Ultimately, a divorce is a life-altering event whether it is contested or uncontested. While the dissolving of a marriage will rarely be entirely pleasant, having the proper representation can be the deciding factor in how smoothly the process will go. Having a comparatively quick, hassle-free dissolution of marriage is very possible, and choosing to use the services of an attorney familiar with all aspects of family law is the best way to reach that goal.

University of Missouri Professor Marilyn Coleman and Dr. Mindy Markham interviewed 20 women who shared physical custody of children with ex-partners.  Half of the women reported amicable relationships with their ex’s.  The other half reported combative relationships in the beginning that improved over time.

“To me, it’s almost as if the parents in the bad-to-better relationships matured,” Coleman said. “Mostly, it’s because the parents began focusing on their children. The parents saw how upset their arguments made their kids, so they decided to put their differences aside and focus on what was best for the children.”

“The goal for divorced parents should be to maintain the best co-parenting relationships possible by moving past prior relationship issues and focusing on children’s well-being,” Coleman said.

Shared Physical Custody Usually Works

Although the sample was small, the result reflects my own experience as a divorce lawyer.  Once the stress and fighting between spouses is resolved by agreement or trial, the parties can then calm down and focus on their children.

One Mom’s Emotions Almost Canceled Out Father’s Rights

In England, a family judge found that a mother would be unable to cope with the father seeing their two daughters, ages nine and six after she broke down in court and said the thought of it made her feel exhausted.  A psychologist supported her view but the court appointed child advocate disagreed.  The judge banned the father from having any direct contact with his children, except for cards, letters and gifts once a month.

The father’s lawyers appealed the judge’s decision, saying it had been based on a momentary display of emotion from the mother in the witness box.

Father’s Rights and the Best Interest of the Child

The Court overturned the family judge’s order, acknowledging that it was “a very big ask” for the mother to accept that her children’s best interests lay in having two parents, not just one.  “Where, however, it is plainly in the best interests of a child to spend time with the other parent then, tough or not, part of the responsibility of the parent with care must be the duty and responsibility to deliver what the child needs, hard though that may be.”

The court urged all separated parents to see the bigger picture and consider the harm that legal disputes cause children.  It said mothers and fathers had a responsibility and a duty to help children maintain contact with the other parent. Mothers rights and fathers rights are equally important.

Source: Article by Tim Ross, Political Correspondent, The Telegraph

Funds have been found for the custody mediation program sponsored by the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Maryland, halted earlier this year for budget reasons.  It will be restored in September on an interim basis.  The court may order parties to mediate in cases involving contested residential custody of children.

Plans call for a single three-hour session in the courthouse. Unlike the previous program, mediators will be selected from the community, not court employees.

A work group is being formed to consider options and models used by other courts for custody mediation and to make recommendations.