If you are separated and thinking about leaving the state with your child, think carefully before acting. Leaving without the Court or other party’s permission could result in you losing custody. I saw it happen this past Friday as I watched a pendente lite hearing for custody, visitation and support. Here is what happened:
Mother and Father lived in California and had one Child. A few years ago, Father was transferred to Virginia for work. The family moved and Mother found a job at a day spa in Virginia earning minimum wage. Eventually, Mother and Father separated. Mother claimed that Father was abusive and after separation she didn’t want to stay in Virginia, so she took the Child back with her to California. Mother did not work and had no job in California. Father never agreed for the Child to go to California to live. Father filed a motion seeking custody and child support on a pendente lite basis (pending the litigation).
Denial of Access Resulted in Custody Change
The Judge granted Father’s request for primary physical custody and child support pendente lite. Court found that by taking the Child to California, Mother effectively cutoff any chance for the Father to have access to the Child and in effect denied him access. Mother was granted supervised visitation to take place in Virginia. Mother was ordered to return the child to Virginia within the next two weeks. In ordering supervised visitation, the judge expressed concern that Mother would take attempt to take the child back to California.
Think Carefully Before Acting
In this case should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about taking a child and leaving the state after separation. Courts take denying access of one parent to the child very seriously. In my opinion, that is the correct decision. Divorce is stressful and can be nasty. We often see good people at their absolute worst. Driven by emotion, people can be led to making some pretty awful decisions – decisions that can affect the relationship another parent has with the parties’ child. And who gets hurt? The child.
The solution to this is to not leave the state. If you can’t talk to the other party, hire an attorney to do the talking for you. If you don’t want to hire an attorney, there are other options as well. Mediation, both by private organizations and in several county courts can be another avenue to solving these issues while minimizing the impact on the children. Realize that while the other person may be in your eyes the second coming of Satan, to your child, that person is the only mother or father he or she will have. Absent abuse other other mistreatment, that person should have the opportunity to participate in raising the child.