Ardra Bey, Esq. offers advice for returning servicemen attempting to gain custody of children.
As we approach the end of the United States’ wartime deployment and increased military withdrawals, current and retiring servicemen are facing growing legal issues. This article addresses two serious issues facing them and offer general advice on how you should navigate them.
HOW TO OBTAIN PRIMARY CUSTODY OF A CHILD
Child support and/or custody are hot button issues and often invoke strong feelings from all parties involved. The issues are even more heated when they involve unmarried parents and the requirements of each parent have not been formalized by a court. If you are a member of the military and you find yourself in that situation, stop and hire a lawyer immediately. Unless you want to find your paycheck garnished each month and with little or no rights to your child, hire a lawyer. While you are in the process of hiring that lawyer, here are a few tips to help place you in a position to obtain primary or full custody of your child, should you so desire.
Judges will review a variety of factors when considering child custody but there are three basic ones that you should prepare for: 1) Stable home life, 2) Financial resources and 3) Emotional attachment of parent-child.
Stable Home: The most difficult factor for a serviceman to prove is that he has a stable home in which to raise a child. The nature of military life is unpredictable and unless you plan to quit your job, then you simply need to be prepared to address this issue when it is raised. Whatever your current position, try to get set stable hours. Once you know your daily schedule you are able to plan the child’s day around it or hire childcare provider to assist you. If you are unable to work a traditional 5 day a week/40 hours a week schedule then I strongly recommend you hire a childcare provider to assist you with all child related issues. If you are fortunate, this will be a family member (mom, aunt, sister, etc) but if not, then interview and hire a professional. This is the person you will present to the court when you are arguing that you can provide a stable home life for your child. The childcare provider will consistently pick your child up from school, prepare meals, provide transportation to afterschool sports and provide all the love and attention your child needs while you are working.
Financial resources: If your child does not live with you and you are not ordered to pay child support, then set up a bank account in the name of the child and mother. Each month deposit money into that account for the mother to use for your child. Do not make any withdrawals, only deposits. Once you go to court you will be able to show that you have always been concerned about the wellbeing of your child and without a court’s order you have made sure he/she was taken care of financially. However, let me caution you that the person with the superior income will not necessarily “win” this factor. After all, a portion of the superior income can and frequently will be paid to the other parent to supplement her income. Therefore, be prepared to prove in court that you can provide financially for your child but don’t sacrifice other factors thinking your finances will save you.
Emotional attachment of parent-child: This factor is the most subjective. How does one prove to a stranger that he has a sufficient enough bond with his child to trump the requests of the other parent. The best evidence is to provide tangible proof that you are involved in your child’s life. If you live near your child then attend parent-teacher conferences, go to doctor’s appointments and be active at your child’s school/daycare. All of the teachers, doctors and professionals you interact with at those functions will testify and submit letters that you are an informed and involved parent. If you do not live near your child or you are deployed, then write letters to your child, send videos and request pictures. Keep copies of those communications and make sure you communicate at least once a week. These items will provide evidence that you have done everything you can to be part of your child’s life when you were separated from him/her. Additionally, if you have a family member who can visit your child then have him/her to see the child as frequently as possible. His/her bond with the child can be imputed to you and will help ease the transition once you are able to meet with your child.
Again, when it comes to child custody matters, your first step is to hire a lawyer. That being said, while you are undergoing that process consider the above measures to protect your interests and ease the child custody emotional roller-coaster.
Disclaimer: The advice contained in this article is intended for educational purposes only. Please consult an attorney for legal advice.