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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Location, Location, Location!

So, this installment has to do with an issue I have encountered frequently of late and am extremely passionate about: Relocation of a parent and the impact that has on custody and visitation.

By way of introduction to custody cases in general, I will set forth the roads open for pursuing custody and visitation rights. There are two ways in which to establish custodial/visitation and child support rights in any case. The first is to file for a divorce in Supreme Court and allow that Court to handle all of the issues surrounding the children of the marriage. The second way is to file a petition in family court for support and/or custody and visitation. The family court route is a better option for folks who have immediate issues or hotly contested custody issues that must be resolved quickly. Family Courts in New York have something called "standards and goals" which in plain english means that when a custody case has been ongoing for six months, the case is pushed by the court to either be settled or go to hearing (trial). This means a faster resolution of the case than is typical of Supreme Court litigation, which can potentially go on for years. Family court is also the ONLY option for less traditional families (i.e., moms and dads that never got married).

In cases where one spouse has threatened to leave with the kids at some point, there is usually much discussion over how far that spouse will be permitted to move from the other since moving will impact the non-custodial parent's visitation rights considerably. Often times, a "radius clause" is put into the settlement agreement, or is imposed on one party following a hearing for custody and visitation. This "radius clause" says that Jane must stay within, let's say for example, a thirty five mile radius of the current residence of Bob, or the residence the parties shared prior to separating. If Jane then violates the order, Bob now has sufficient grounds to file a violation petition.

In other instances, the custodial parent files what is known as a relocation petition which is essentially asking the court's permission to move out of state. Factors considered by the court include what kind of support system the custodial parent has, whether or not they can afford child care if no family members live nearby, and whether a better, more lucrative employment opportunity has been offered (or is available) in another state. If the court grants such a petition, the non-custodial parent's visitation is relegated to school vacation weeks and summers. In my opinion, this is a very sad situation wherein children are prevented from having the essential frequent contact with both parents that every child requires and deserves.

The problem occurs when the custodial parent does not ask the court's permission to leave the jurisdiction, but simply packs up the kids without warning and leaves the state, or sometimes, the country. This is a scary prospect and in cases where parents leave the country there is federal legislation prohibiting such "parental kidknapping" and providing penalties for doing so. But when a party leaves the state with the kids and the non-custodial parent has no money for private investigators and the like, the chances that an arrest warrant (if issued) will be executed in a diligent fashion are slim to none. These parents are basically out of luck and may never see their children until they reach adulthood.

Unfortunately, most of the parties who have custody are still women. I hate to betray my gender, however, I see it this way: Women are the first to point fingers at "deadbeat dads" and dads who don't have enough involvement in their children's lives; but it also seems to me that women feel a god-given right to just pick up and leave with children that it took two people to create. I understand the whole "I'm the one that carried them for nine months" argument, but perhaps our society as a whole needs to look at how the family court system glaringly favors women. Family Court slams the gavel and tells men to get more involved and with the same gavel allows women to use motherhood as an excuse for controlling how often, when and where men will be permitted to see the children they helped create. Equality means just that: EQUALITY I would love to see the day when men can file for custody and not have to prove that the mother is on drugs, beating the children or mentally insane to establish that they may in fact be the more stable parent. Something to chew on.

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