The Top 5 Questions for Post-Decree Cases
1. When can my child choose which parent to live with?
Short answer: Never.
There is no magic age at which a child can elect which parent he wishes to live with. However, the child’s wishes and concerns are a factor that the Court must consider, and these wishes and concerns are given more weight as the child matures and grows older. As a practical matter, teenagers have a lot of input and grade school children much less. Even with teenagers, the standard is the best interest of the child, so the Court must make a comprehensive analysis of all of the statutory factors.
2. Do I have to make my child go to visitation?
Short answer: Probably.
Visitation orders, now called parenting time orders, are court orders, not court suggestions. Absent real risk to the child, a parent risks contempt of court for not facilitating or denying court ordered parenting time. Such denials can eventually become a reason for a change of custody.
There are several avenues open for a child who does not want to visit, depending upon the reason. The most common is that the child has a soccer game or other important activity. It is the duty of the visiting parent to take the child to his/her regularly scheduled activities.
For more serious cases, court ordered counseling, the appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem, or schedule changes may be ordered.
3. Why does my ex-wife get more time per year with our child than I do? Why should I agree to less than a 50/50 time division?
Short answer: Because your child is a living, breathing human being with important needs of her own and cannot be divided down to the penny like a bank account.
Fathers seem to mis-focus on getting an exact time split, while Mothers seem to mis-focus on marital fault. The prevailing view by most courts is that a child is better served by waking up in the same house most school days. This means that creative ways of “finding” time for integration into the other household are necessary.
I have never had a court count the hours per year and divide them equally. I have had many clients who wanted to do that.
4. Why does he ever get to see our child after all he's done to me?
Short answer: Because your child doesn’t care about your gripes about your husband. A child doesn’t need to know about extra-marital affairs and money disputes unless she is over-involved in the parents’ marriage. Denying contact as revenge for marital misconduct is the beginning of parental alienation. You will save your child’s emotional future by encouraging a warm and open relationship with the father, regardless of your personal feelings.
5. Why are the courts so bad at resolving disputes between parents?
Short answer: Because many parents force Courts to make decisions about non-legal issues.
My busiest time is during holidays when I answer endless questions about scheduling, clothing exchanges, appropriate gifts, and what the child should eat for Thanksgiving dinner. Other than technical questions about scheduling, there are usually no right or wrong answers to these types of questions.
Most legal questions in Family Relations Law have clear guidelines. The more detailed answers you expect from a Court, the more disappointed you are likely to be.