Real-world answers to your questions
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Frequently Asked Questions (click the magnifying glass for keyword search)
My child and their mother live in a different state than me. Where should I look for a family lawyer?
You will need a lawyer in the state that the child and physical custodian, usually the mother, reside. Don’t waste your time or money talking to lawyers in your state if it is not where the child resides because every state has different custody laws and regulations.
I live in the same state but not the same county/jurisdiction as my child. Do I need to find a lawyer in the county where my child lives?
The short answer is no; you only need a lawyer in the same state. The longer answer is no, but it is preferable to find a local lawyer in the county where your child resides.
Any attorney who has been working in a given location for a while will have a good feeling for the judges and other lawyers in that location. I remember my attorney knew everyone at the local courthouse, even the bailiffs. She was able to tell me in advance what the temperament of various judges was and how they were likely to feel (and therefore rule) on multiple issues, based on her history with them.
She also knew all the other local attorneys and mediators, which helped her predict how they would respond to various interactions and negotiations. For example, she would say something like, “I know your co-parent’s attorney is a good lawyer, and she is surely advising their client that the judge will probably rule for joint-legal custody if this goes to trial; therefore we should …”
Such insight can be invaluable when negotiating a settlement before trial, which is your goal.
Check out our Useful Links page for help finding a agreat family law attorney.
My friend is an injury attorney. He doesn’t practice family law he but he's really smart and said he would help me through my custody battle for free. Can I use my friend instead of hiring someone else?
Using an attorney who doesn’t practice family law is a HUGE mistake in a custody battle (or any legal battle). Even if he’s free, he could end up costing you more in the long term.
Jessica knows this first hand. Her son’s father tried to use a friend, free of charge, and he made mistakes every step of the way. Every courtroom hearing, they were unprepared, and the judge slammed him several times for it.
Their entire legal battle dragged on for much longer than needed, in large part because his free lawyer didn’t set the right expectations for his client, and as a result, they went on fighting for months over issues that he had no chance of winning.
Check out our Useful Links page for help finding a great family law attorney.
I breastfeed my son and plan to do so until he is at least 12 months old. He is 6 months old now, and his father wants to have extended visits, which will interfere with his nursing. Does the court consider breastfeeding a valid reason to delay extended or overnight visits?
No. In our experience, once the child is at least six months old, most courts/judges will not consider breastfeeding to be a reason to withhold visitation. See our recent blog post on Visitation Rights and Expectations for more.
However, since your trial date is not likely to be much before your son’s 12 month birthday, you might want to suggest a compromise to your co-parent that you will allow extended/overnight visits to begin at age 12 months. He should understand that he will have to wait at least that long to force the issue in a trial; therefore, he should be willing to compromise over a few months to avoid the trial.
I want a paternity test to be 100% certain I'm the father, but she says there is no need because she didn't sleep with anyone else. Is it my right to demand a test?
Essentially, yes, it's your right to require a paternity test after the child is born (but not before). The courts want everyone to be 100% certain, and your lawyer should ask the courts to order a test immediately.
See our recent blog post on this subject, Paternity Tests – if not now, when?
Is there a website that has child support calculators for every state in the country? If you know the inputs you should be able to key them in and get a result, right?
You would think there should be a one-stop-shop to calculate child support in every state of the union, but we have yet to find it.
Occasionally we come across a calculator on the web for Maryland or Pennsylvania, and we test it out with the inputs used in our custody litigation. The result is typically pretty far removed from reality. This could be because we don’t have all the inputs, because the calculator is flawed, because laws have changed since we went through it, or a number of other reasons.
Calculating child support is just one of those things you will need your attorney to help with.
What kind of financial documents and how many years of history should I expect to be asked for in my custody litigation when calculating child support payments?
In our experience, you should expect to be asked for at least three years of history. They want to make sure you are not playing any games by moving income back or forward in time, and for many people (salesman, small business owners, etc.), income can vary greatly from year to year.
Tax returns, pay stubs, credit cards, bank statements, investment accounts, your business financial records; it’s all fair game. Even loan applications for your mortgage will be requested, because unlike many other situations, people tend to inflate their earnings rather than hide them when asking to borrow money.
Do fathers-to-be have any legal right to attend prenatal doctor appointments? I’m not comfortable having him in my examination room with me, is it wrong for me to keep him out?
Nope. If mom doesn’t want dad in the examination room, that is her choice. Dads have no legal right to be there. It can be difficult for everyone, especially if your relationship is not in a good place. However, we recommend attempting at least one sonogram appointment together, even if it's uncomfortable for you, because sometimes seeing the sonogram can give dad the kick in the pants that he needs to shift into fatherhood mode. See our recent blog posting on this topic: Doctors Visits During Pregnancy.
How long should I expect my custody litigation/battle to take from start to finish? The current situation is not fair, but the courts seem to take forever.
In our experience, you should expect a year from start to finish. Everything moves at a snail’s pace, partly by design, to encourage you to settle before a trial. Some custody battles can take longer if either party wants to drag it out or if your jurisdiction is especially understaffed.
The good news is that sometimes if your lawyer takes appropriate steps, you can get some relief while you are waiting for your trial. For example, if you are clearly owed child support or if you are being denied visitation time, the court may intervene on a temporary basis while you wait for your trial date. Read more in our recent blog posting, Custody Litigation Timeline.
I’m considering abortion or adoption. Do I need to get the father’s permission if I decide to give up the baby?
Regarding abortion, the answer is no. Abortion is the woman’s decision to make. If the mother wants to terminate the pregnancy against the father’s wishes, his best bet is to strike a private agreement with her because it is unlikely the courts would / could force her to keep the pregnancy, at least under current federal abortion laws (Roe vs. Wade).
Regarding adoption, the answer is yes. If the mother wants to give the child up for adoption, the father would almost certainly have the right of first refusal.
My child’s other parent is a real jerk. Can I make hidden audio or video recording of them to show the court what I’m dealing with?
It depends on which state you are in. If you are in a state that requires consent from all parties before one can record the conversation, then under no circumstances should you record without their knowledge. Not only will your “evidence” be thrown out of your custody case, but you are asking for a big lawsuit against you if you violate your state’s laws.
However, some circumstances can get tricky. For example, even in states with two-party consent laws, you are probably safe to make a recording of someone who is walking down a public street screaming at you. That’s different than if you are on a phone call, and there is an expectation of privacy. This is the sort of thing you need to discuss further with your attorney.
As of this writing, and depending on which Google search result you read, 11 to 15 states require two-party consent (four states have merky laws). Check with your attorney for the latest information, and see our recent blog post on Evidence in a Custody Case and our Useful Links page for more information, which has a link to this website which is helpful.
Is it better to have a detailed parenting plan or a vague/flexible plan?
Well, for most people, especially for anyone involved in anything close to a “high-conflict” situation, a detailed plan is better. For example, “parents agree to share all national holidays equally on an alternating basis” works fine for two people who can work together amicably. But for many of you, vague language like that will lead to way too many arguments. Much better to write a detailed plan that spells out every little thing, such as “Father gets MLK weekend in odd years from 5 pm Friday till 5 pm Monday and if this weekend falls on mother’s regular weekend, then mother’s regular weekend will be moved to the following weekend.”
Remember, nothing stops two parents who get along well from setting the parenting agreement aside and just doing whatever works for them and their kids. Indeed, this is how Jessica and her son’s father have been operating for years. But, you cannot be sure you will end up like Jessica, so until then, you want to write a detailed plan that you can look to when disagreements arise.
The experts recommend an extremely detailed plan for anyone stuck with a high-conflict co-parent, so there is almost nothing left to dispute or debate once the agreement is signed. Of course, you will have arguments anyway, but at least with a detailed plan, you can pull it out and show the authorities or your parenting coordinator “that you are just following the plan.”
For more information on parenting plans, see our recent blog post here: https://www.babyoutofwedlock.com/post/what-is-a-parenting-plan
What is the difference between Co-Parenting and Parallel Parenting, and which is best?
The best thing for the child is a healthy co-parenting relationship, in which there is mutual respect for each parent’s role in the child’s life. We strive for healthy co-parenting in our book, and it’s what people in the legal system will say you must do (judges, mediators, lawyers, etc.).
The problem in the real world is that some high-conflict individuals or couples are so dysfunctional that they cannot operate as effective co-parents. When these people are involved, it is usually better to strive for parallel parenting rather than co-parenting for the child’s sake.
Parallel parenting is when you disengage as much as possible from the high-conflict parent. You limit communications to a bare minimum, so you are not sucked into endless confrontations. You operate your life as if it is just you and your child while trying to be as healthy a parent as you can be. This is a sad state to be in, but it is better than a dysfunctional co-parenting situation where the child witnesses constant arguments and bad behavior.
Be aware that some in the legal system (mediators, judges) may consider parallel parenting a dirty word. You may even be accused of parallel parenting rather than co-parenting. Some courts may not understand, but the experts like Brook Olsen at www.HighConflict.net agree that parallel parenting is the only solution for these sad situations. If you are going this way, make sure to document the high conflict behavior. The easiest way to do that is with a parenting app like Our Family Wizard.
More about parallel parenting in our recent blog post here: