You and your spouse have just gone through the argument that was “the match in the powder barrel.” He or she decides to leave and take the kids, and starts packing some bags. Or, even worse, you come home from work the next day and realize your spouse has left and taken the kids.
Can your spouse legally leave with the kids? How can you stop them? What can you do from a legal perspective? What should you do if your spouse leaves and take the kids without your permission and/or without your knowledge?
Know Your Rights as a Parent
It is important to note from the outset that, although your spouse has the ability to leave, from a legal perspective, there will be significant legal ramifications for doing so. While this has happened for years, without an agreement or court order in place, neither husband nor wife has any more right to the children. As a married couple, you share custody of the children. That does not change simply because your spouse has decided to leave you.
What Should You Do If Your Spouse Leaves with the Children?
What can you from a legal perspective and what should you do from a legal perspective are often very different questions with very different answers. You could try to follow your spouse and snatch the kids away, but this is going to have a very negative affect on their well-being, seeing the horrible discord between their parents. You could call the police, but the likely response from them is generally going to be that this is a domestic dispute, not a crime, and there is nothing they can do.
As a general rule, you shouldn’t do either of these things, unless of course your spouse really is committing a crime or your children are in danger.
It is going to be very difficult (these are your kids we’re talking about), but you should be patient and carefully do the following things to protect your custody rights.
Immediately contact a child custody attorney.
As a parent, you have specific rights, which you need to protect as soon as possible if your spouse leaves with the children. If you simply allow this to happen without any recourse, and without taking any action you may actually lose some of these rights when the divorce and custody case go in front of a judge.
To protect your rights, contact a child custody lawyer specializing in divorce and custody cases ASAP.
Get an agreement in place.
Your attorney should contact your spouse or your spouse’s attorney to try and get a custody agreement in place. If you just show up and take the children, at their school, daycare or spouse’s new place, it could turn into a legal mess for you, so be patient and have faith in your attorney.
At the very least, if your attorney reaches out to your spouse or the other attorney, the contact is documented so the courts will know you simply did not allow this to happen and that you are very interested in remaining in your children’s lives.
Be consistent with your custody schedule.
The time you spend with your children will be heavily scrutinized during the divorce process. If you plan to fight for custody, make sure you are still involved in all parenting decisions for your children.
You also need to make sure when the children are with you, you are there for them. Do not just pick them up and put them under the care of sitter, family member, or friend. Be there as a parent and spend quality time with them. This will matter when the case goes in front of a judge.
Finally, do not do not miss any scheduled visits. If you have agreed to a schedule, stick to it so missed times cannot be used against you during the custody hearing.
Remember that You Have Custody Rights Before, During and After Divorce
As a parent, you have certain rights during your marriage, separation and divorce. Unless there is a reason that prevents you from being involved in their life, such as physical abuse, mental abuse, or a substance problem affecting the children, your spouse cannot prevent you from exercising these rights.
You have the right to a continued relationship with your children.
Your spouse cannot keep you from your children. Period. If your spouse is not allowing you to visit or call the children, or is denying your custodial time pursuant to an agreement or court order, this needs to be addressed immediately. You also have every right to attend events and extracurricular activities, such as sports games, plays, graduations, etc.
Likewise, if your spouse is preventing you from being involved in extracurricular activities, you should let your attorney know ASAP and handle it through the legal process.
You have the right to shared custody, absent an agreement or court order stating otherwise.
Unless you have agreed, or the court has ordered, that you cannot have custody, you are entitled to share custody with your spouse during your separation and divorce. Your spouse cannot force you to give up your joint custody, unless you willingly do so.
You have the right to make parenting decisions.
As their parent, you have every right to remain active in all important parenting decisions. This means you should remain active with school decisions, religion decisions, health care decisions, and the like. If you and your spouse have disagreements, you will need to sit down, talk, and come to an agreement. This has the added benefit of showing the court that the two of you are capable of working together and doing what is best for the children.
You have the right to provide financial support for your children.
You not only have the right, but the obligation, to provide financial support for your children. Even if there is not a child support order in place, you should voluntary provide support or consider agreeing with your spouse on a support arrangement that makes sense for your kids.
You have the right to prevent adoption.
When your spouse remarries, if your spouse remarries, he or she may want the new spouse to adopt the children. You have every right to prevent this from happening. No judge would allow this to happen if you are meeting your parental obligations and consistently sticking to your custody and child support arrangement.
Contact a Wayside Legal Child Custody Attorney
If you are facing a child custody dispute, or your spouse has moved with the children be sure to consult with an experienced custody lawyer immediately. The lawyers at Wayside Legal have years of experience in handling contested custody cases. Contact us at (301) 603-3480 or schedule an appointment online.