In a recent post, I wrote about how my lack of child support made my housing situation precarious and that I didn’t know how long I could continue to pay my rent. I also wrote about my need to claim Franny as a dependent exemption (which had previously gone to my ex) so I could get a break on my taxes.
Some commenters felt that my choice not to rent a cheaper apartment — even if it meant sleeping on the floor in a one-bedroom in a sketchy neighborhood — would make me look irresponsible in family court.
One person commented that my second divorce, and subsequent move, would make me seem unstable. This, combined with my choice to go over my budget on an apartment where my children and I could have our own bedrooms, would show a judge that I was less fit than Prince and would perhaps cause me to lose custody.
While I understand people’s concerns that I should have rented the cheapest place possible regardless of location and number of bedrooms, I still feel that I had very limited options. I live in one of the most expensive cities in the country and I would have to reside in gang cross-fire to find a truly affordable apartment.
But the comments made me wonder: considering that my ex has a lavish lifestyle, and that we live in a city where it isn’t viable for median-income single mothers to support kids without child support, would a judge really find me incompetent?
I wanted to hear from a professional, so I reached out to the attorney with whom I consulted a couple weeks ago. Now a mediator, this attorney used to litigate for one of the most prestigious family law firms where I live.
My questions, and her answers, are below.
Do I Look Selfish Because I Chose To Move My Children To a Three-Bedroom in a Nice Neighborhood Instead of a More Affordable One-Bedroom in a Crappy Neighborhood?
I believe a court would look favorably on your attempts to keep the children in a safe neighborhood. It is hard to find any place in town with three bedrooms for less than you are paying. I think the court would be interested in the children enjoying the same lifestyle level as Dad does even when they are staying with Mom. That is actually the reason for child support.
I think if you ever got in front of Judge Morgan (not his real name) with proper counsel you would get some child support because he would see through Prince’s set-up (hiding family trust income stream). I think you have a right to see his tax returns to see what he is making so you can determine whether it is worth it to pursue child support.
You would not lose custody because you chose a three-bedroom apartment in a safe place or even because you chose an apartment you are struggling to pay for. How you manage your money is not a custody issue. Period.
How Did I Miss This Clause In My Judgement? My Obligation To Release The Dependent Exemption To Him Ended in 2007!
This is great news. If the exemption switch in the judgment ended in 2007, the only person who can take the exemption for Franny is you. Without an order to the contrary or you releasing it to him, only the person who has custody over 50% can claim the exemption. If I had known this before, I would not have even suggested a stipulation. You don’t need one.
Does A Second Divorce and Subsequent Move Make Me Seem Like A Lowlife Flake?
Second marriage and divorce and moving related to that is not considered flaky. It is pretty commonplace in this county. The important issue is how Franny is doing with all this. It sounds like you have provided a stable, loving, stimulating environment for her throughout and that is what the court is looking at when evaluating custody.
Is Requesting Prince’s Tax Returns and Income & Expense Declaration Worth Rattling His Cage?
It sounds to me like your concern is that as Franny reaches teenage years and starts fussing with her mother as many of them do, she may express a desire to spend more time with dad. You think Prince won’t do anything about that as long as you are not demanding anything from him like documents or additional child support. You are not sure about that, so you want to avoid rattling him at all costs. The downside of rattling him is losing time with Franny now and child support in 2015 (note: Prince is ordered to pay $500 a month in child support beginning in 2015. Long story). You would probably not lose the dependent exemption for Franny in such a custody hearing.
What Would Happen If Prince Tried to Get More Custody of Franny?
As a threshold matter the moving party has to show a change of circumstances in order to get a change in custody. I don’t see that he would be successful in getting a switch in custody since Franny has always spent most of her time with you and she is doing well with that. Franny is also young enough that her desires to change custody may not hold much weight. But the court could consider the changes to the two households and Franny getting older to be one if they want to. Also the courts do seem to have a bias for 50% custody.
How Do I Get What I Want Within My Comfort Zone?
If you want to make your position with Franny more secure before you ask Prince for anything, make sure she gets into a school near you. Kids prefer being near their school and school friends. If you take this approach, you may want to wait on requesting his Income and Expense Declaration until next September and in the interim actively advocate for the school near you. Then by all means at least request the I&E in September 2014 because you have nothing to lose.
Information Is Power
Granted, my attorney’s answers might be different coming from another lawyer, in another state, arguing in front of another judge. But I think her opinions are reasonable and could be useful to others in similar scenarios.
lisa thomson says
Great post, Pauline. Just as I thought your choice in an apartment shows your are RESPONSIBLE not irresponsible…their safety first. I’m always shocked at how an ex husband can not give one toot what kind of conditions his children live in while with their mother. It’s like they get off on having the mother poor and themselves providing all the material stuff…it begs the question; How can they be considered good fathers if they don’t care how their kids live? But I guess that’s another post. Great information here for other women as well.
Right, and I don’t understand the gripes about exes taking care of their appearance. Does it really behoove children if mothers walk around in tattered clothing?
Everything makes much more sense now. I couldn’t figure out why the lawyer wanted to send a letter about the exemption when it was already yours to take. Also, in 16 months you should start receiving an additional $500/month makes which should help with the apt. My best unsolicited advise- kids will want to stay with their friends. If they are in a location surrounded by good friends they will not want to leave. My ex moved 8 hours away and dangled a beautiful house and a car in front of my oldest. She wouldn’t take the bait because she would have to leave her school and her friends. Friends are more important in middle school and the first 2 years of high school than stuff.
I think people are always mistaken regarding the purpose for child support. Child support is supposed to equalize the living conditions between the households; it’s designed precisely for a situation like yours. The fact that he pays no support for Franny, and your household incomes are so unequal, is outrageous. Yes, he should be ashamed of himself, but I doubt he’ll ever see it that way. Better to go through the lawyers. And yes, get his tax returns so he can’t get away with hiding assets again.
You’re a great mom- very thoughtful. Good luck with child support issue.
I have been following your blog for a while. I am so sorry for everything Prince has put you, (and your/his children) through. I think a court would see that you are trying to give your children the best living conditions that you can. Much better than having them live in the ghetto. I hope everything will work itself out for you.
Thank you, Colleen!
Lullaby Liz ;c) says
Here’s my two cents:
Don’t ever allow what happens to your reputation or what other might surmise or ‘think’ about your situation – including all lawyers, D.A’s offices nationwide, ETC.
Just ‘act’ as if everything depends on YOU, and ‘pray’ as if everything depends on GOD.
As for hoods? There is NO ‘safe’ place – truly. Of course you would not choose any high-crime place, ever, so…
Consider doing a LOT of research before ever marrying again. We are surely in the dark ages, still. hmmmm (muttering to myself) If 2 people are a genuine pair-bond, I say, “GO FOR THE MARRIAGE!!”. …But, IF, as it is usually the case and it’s just a lot of social-standing and security and ‘belonging to and with’ polite society, along with all of the fun and games IT provides, including all of the lies and secrets IT entails, then I say, “RUN, RUN, RUN!!”.
For ’tis True: Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Take great care, Pauline!!