If my ex-husband is taking me for custody, what do I do?

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If my ex-husband is taking me for custody, what do I do?

He has had children and youth at my home which was unfounded and has a recent criminal record with rug charges and DUI. He has been harassing me and also got a letter today that he is in contempt of court if he doesn’t complete parenting classes from 4 years ago. I have had my son for 7 years, have him in intensive therapy for behavioral problems(dad does not participate in therapy) and have protection plans set up at school (he gets good grades). My ex bad mouths me to my son. He thinks cause I have medical issues so I can’t take care of my son.

Asked on December 17, 2012 under Family Law, Pennsylvania

Answers:

B.H.F., Member, Texas State Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

It sounds like your ex- is a trying to use child custody issues to harrass you... and it seems to be working, at least a bit.  So first thing first-- breath... if you've had your son for seven years, a judge is not going to just rip custody away unless you've really done something to neglect or harm the child.  Instead, from what you have described, you have gotten him adequate care, which is reflected in his good grades. 

Next step is to make sure that you respond to any motions or hearings.  You mention a letter, but you don't state whether or not he has actually filed for custody.  If he has, then make sure you file a response to avoid a default judgment being entered against you.  If he has requested a hearing on the issue of custody, make sure that you show up, again, to make sure that a default judgement does not get entered against you.  Many parents lose custody simply because they don't understand the need to file an answer, a response, or an appearance. 

Even if your are not set for a final hearing yet, start putting your case together now for why you are the better parent.  Keep copies of all records (school, medical, counseling, etc....) regarding your child to show the efforts that you have made to be involved with and responsive to your child's needs.  Take pictures of events.  There are many decent, inexpensive cameras on the market today that can help you record your joy of being a parent.  It seems cheezy-- but some judges do like to see a parent who has a picture of their child recieving a perfect attendance or "A-B" Honor roll certificate.  Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.  Keep in touch with anyone who interacts with your son on a regular basis. (Teachers, counselors, daycare workers....)  You may want to subpoena these people at a later date to come and testify that you are an involved parent and that your son appears to thrive under your care.  You also mention that your ex- has had drug and DUI charges.  If these have been filed, then there will be some public record of the charges.  Go to the clerk of the court where his charges are pending and request certified copies of his public, criminal records.

If he does file a motion for custody against you, you may also want to consider a counter-petition to limit his access to your son.  You would have several basis including his drug and alcohol history, his refusal to comply with a parenting program, and the fact that he bad-mouths you (thereby contributing to the issues your son is experiencing).  You can ask for fewer visits or that he only be allowed supervised visits.  If his harrassment has been directed to you, you may also want to ask the court for a restraining order to prevent him from harrassing activities or communications.

If you don't have a family law attorney to help you, it would be wise to find one.  You are not required to have an attorney, but it really does help to have one help you get your evidence before the judge and to subpoena and serve witnesses.  Many attorneys will accept payment plans now, which makes it easier to hire an attorney.  Pennsylvania also has several legal aid and non-profit organizations that can help.  Regardless of which route you go, just stay focused on what is best for you and your son.   


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