Your Ex Moves
Got The Kids. Do You Fight, Mediate Or Let Her Go?
this: You're a divorced father. The breakup of your
marriage was hard, but you got through it and now you've achieved
a sort of balance in your life. Your children stay at your house a
couple of nights during the week and two weekends a month. It's not
perfect, but it's better than a lot of guys you know and you're still
involved big-time in the lives of your kids, which is what you want.
Then your ex-wife rocks your world. She tells you she's moving and
taking the kids with her. Not just to a condo across town, but to
another city (or even state) where she's been offered this great new
job and where she can get a fresh new start.
This all-too-common scenario is what the legal profession refers to
as a "move-away case." It's when the custodial parent, who
is almost invariably the mother, decides to take the children and
leave the non-custodial parent (that's you, Dad). Three out of four
mothers with custody move within four years of separation or divorce.
Some go for employment, some so their parents or other relatives can
help out with the kids, some just to punish their ex husbands. These
cases are among the most bitter and contentious in family law, partly
because the stakes are so high.
In a single stroke, you're airbrushed out of the family picture. From
coaching your kids' soccer teams, helping with their homework and
tucking them into bed at night, you suddenly become a visitor in your
children's lives--and they in yours--with contact limited to long
distance phone calls and e-mails and awkward reunions in the summer
or on designated weekends.
should you do--
fight, mediate, let her
go? Here are some tips
compiled from interviews with fathers who have been there:
--Try to work it out.
If you and your ex- are
talk to her about how important it is for your children to have frequent
contact with both parents, and how moving is going to disrupt this.
If you're not talking, suggest a mediator or therapist to get the
conversation going again.
--Don't force the issue.
Especially if you think
you can eventually
reach agreement. Though it's hard to live with ambiguity, being a
hard-ass will only stiffen her resistance. It's in your best interests
at this stage to be flexible, to be (ah, here's something she'll like)
a good listener. Why does she want to leave? New job? Be closer to
her family? She need more money? There may be ways for her to get
what she wants without a move.
--Play for time.
The older your children,
the stronger your case.
The longer your kids are established in their current routine -- going
to school, making friends, being co-parented by the two of you --
the less they will relish the prospects of a move. If they dig in
their heels, their mother --not to mention a judge -- may be less
inclined to change the status quo.
--Talk to an attorney.
Specifically, a family
law attorney with
experience in custody cases in your area. (See "How to Pick a
Kick-Ass Attorney" on this site.) Your position is stronger if
you have joint
physical custody, but there are no guarantees. Know that it will be
an uphill battle no matter what. About five percent of custody cases
go to trial. If you do decide to fight for what you truly believe
are in your children's best interests, put a temporary restraining
order on her before she moves. Challenging her after she leaves may
be a case of shutting the barn door, so to speak, after the horse
has bolted. Even if you decide that the financial and emotional costs
of a prolonged custody fight are too high, you should still consult
a lawyer to protect your visitation and other rights.
Generally, the courts have not been kind to non-custodial parents
in move-away cases. In the 1990s, high courts in at least 20 states
upheld the right of custodial parents to relocate. Moving is seen,
in America, as a fact of life. The thinking goes that women must be
allowed the freedom to move, and if they are the custodial parent,
they are entitled to take the children with them. Sadly, gender still
matters. All things being equal (which, admittedly, they seldom are),
a father with sons has a better chance of winning custody -- and thus,
stopping the move --than a father with daughters. Judges are particularly
loath to separate young girls from their mothers.
A final resort is to think about following your ex-wife to wherever
she goes (we're not talking about stalking here, just moving where
she does so you can be closer to your kids). Granted, this is wildly
unrealistic for most men, but it does have the advantage of keeping
you in contact with the daily lives of your children. And that, in
the end, may make it worthwhile.
Kevin Nelson lives in the Bay Area and is writing serial novel for dadmag.com called Playground Pop
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