Custody To Mothers: Get Both Sides Of The Story
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico
Someone recently told me of an acquaintance who had complained that courts always award custody to mothers, even neglectful mothers. As proof, the acquaintance said he knew of a case in which there were three young children whose mother had married and divorced twice in the three years following her divorce from the children's father. She had changed the children's schools two or three times. Worse still, their teachers had reported that the youngsters came to school in ill-fitting clothing, and that one of them desperately needed glasses which the mother neglected to buy. When the children's father learned of their plight and asked the court to change custody, his request was denied.
When I heard the description of the case, I too felt that a miscarriage of justice had occurred.
When I got to work the next day, I looked at the court file. It turned out that the person who had described this custody dispute left out a few facts. Here's the rest of the story.
In January, 1990, the parents of the three children submitted an agreed-to divorce decree that provided the mother with primary physical custody while giving the father "reasonable visitation". Father was to pay child support of 10% of his net monthly income for all three. The judge had written on the decree that it did NOT approve the inadequate child support provision. Guideline support would have been $450 monthly. Father was planning to pay about $150/monthly or $50 month/per child.
Almost three years later, the mother finally filed a motion to increase child support. When he learned that the mother wanted more money, the father asked for a change of custody.
The father had moved to another state shortly after the divorce, and in the three years following the divorce he rarely saw the children. They had never been to his new home in the other state. Did he begin to send more than 10% of his net pay after he moved? Not a chance! Even though his income had increased substantially by 1993, and his guideline support should have been more than $700 monthly, not the $150 he kept paying.
Some other facts that were missing from the description: The three children are all "special needs" kids. One has severe attention-deficit-disorder which makes him hyper-active and difficult at home and at school. One has a heart valve problem. All three have asthma. Medical insurance alone costs $275/month, and there are uninsured medical expenses of almost $150/monthly. This was not a case of a neglectful mother. This was a case of an overwhelmed mother!
This was also a case of a father who provided inadequate financial support and virtually no time or energy towards raising the children. When he found out the children had unmet needs, he didn't rush to their rescue by sending more money. Indeed, until the mother asked for more child support, the children's ill-fitting clothing, or unbought glasses and other problems didn't seem to bother this dad at all.
One lesson this case teaches is that a parent who is concerned that the children are not being adequately cared for by the other parent should speak-up about these worries before an increase in child support is requested, not after. Another lesson this case teaches is that one should always question the accuracy of descriptions from both sides in divorce cases. They have a way of leaving out important detail.
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