Scales of Justice and Inside a Courthouse


Justin M. Crozier May 26, 2017

Custody is confusing, to say the least.  If you’ve ever had to conduct a frantic Google search along the lines of “what are my parental rights when (insert horrible event) happens?”, then you already know that these situations frequently occur when you’re in a less-than-ideal mental state.  The stress, anxiety, and fear of the unknown makes things even more confusing, and infinitely more frustrating. 

Let’s hope that it never happens – but if it did – what would you do when faced with one of those horrible, unexpected events?  Contacting an attorney is a great first step, because knowing your options is crucial, and time is of the essence.

Custody agreements are not often easy, so the sooner you come to terms with that fact, the better.  Custody cases can become tedious, draining, and hard-fought endeavors – it’s just the nature of the beast.  Throughout the course of your experience you will likely be angry, or sad, or hurt; you will likely think that the system has failed, that your attorney has failed, and that you are the victim of a terrible injustice.  Setting realistic expectations right away can help alleviate some of those feelings of powerlessness, and your attorney should assist you in identifying those expectations before you feel like giving up. 

So here are some random bits of information, basic stuff – what nearly everyone can expect on a very generic level.  Every case is different, so there are no absolute standards for exactly how your case will proceed, but know this:

·         Your patience will be tested…greatly.  Regardless of whether your case is contested or uncontested, you will be waiting much longer than you feel you should.  This doesn’t mean that your attorney is doing a bad job, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a good case.  It means that the court system is overloaded, there are many difficult steps in the process, and it will never be as fast as you want…ever.

·         As a father, if you were never legally married to your child’s mother and have not filed a paternity action, you have no legal rights regarding your child(ren).  By filing a paternity action, you can establish paternity, custody, visitation, and support – in other words, your parental rights are legally established. 

·         If you are filing for divorce (dissolution of marriage), it’s far better for everyone if both parties can agree on a parenting plan, which establishes custody, visitation, support, and other matters related to the care and well-being of the child(ren).  If you’re looking for the fastest resolution and least degree of intrusion, this is the road to take.

·         To help achieve mutual agreement regarding a custody, in either paternity actions or divorces, the use of a mediator is highly recommended.  A mediator is simply a “neutral” attorney who does not represent either side, and who will sit with both parties in an attempt to facilitate a fair agreement by offering an unbiased opinion.

·         If you are filing for divorce and you anticipate that your case will be contested, prepare to be frustrated by constant demands on your time and resources, and of course that very long wait that was previously mentioned.  With any luck, you’ll reach a settlement before your case heads to trial.  If not, you’ll be paying an attorney a hefty chunk of money to argue your position, and there’s no guarantee that either party will get what they want.

·         If you’re attempting to modify the terms of your original paternity action or divorce judgement in regards to custody, make sure that jurisdictional requirements have been met. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a Uniform Act that was adopted in an attempt to avoid jurisdictional conflicts between states in child custody cases.  To summarize:  if your original custody agreement was ordered in one state, jurisdiction remains in that state until:

      1) both parties leave that state, or

      2) the court of the state with jurisdiction determines that it should no longer have jurisdiction, because there is no longer a significant connection to the state, and that jurisdiction should be transferred to another state.

So…if your original custody determination was made in Missouri and you move to California, yet the other parent still resides in Missouri with your child(ren), you must return to Missouri to initiate any modifications.

·         DO NOT violate court orders!  Even if you feel that the order is unfair, even if you feel as though you have been misunderstood and misrepresented, violating the court’s orders will only hurt your case, always.

·         You might not get to say everything that you want to say.  Your attorney will likely tell you which arguments are appropriate and which are not.  Your attorney isn’t trying to suppress your voice – he or she is simply trying to tell you, based on his/her experience, what works and doesn’t work.  If your attorney recommends a particular course of action, even if it’s not exactly what you want, at least try to listen.

Knowing these unfortunate truths, why should you do it – why should you subject yourself to such a potentially unpleasant thing?  Because you love your kids, and because they deserve to spend time with you.  Because you have no choice, if you want to do what’s best and allow your children to enjoy their childhood to the fullest, with both parents taking an active and meaningful role.  If uncontested isn’t an option, you’ll fight a contested battle.  Thanks for reading!

Good luck out there.