Custody and Child Support

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Navigating an abusive divorce is difficult - there are many factors at play, fast decisions to make, and each move matters. The safety and security of your family is paramount in any dangerous situation. Here is insight and guidance on how to protect your family’s physical, emotional, legal, and financial safety during the divorce and their security after.

Take the children with you if you decide to leave your home or you could lose custody of them to your husband. The court may consider your leaving them behind to be abandonment, a sign that you are an unfit mother willing to leave them in danger. Or it may assume that you are lying about the domestic abuse. Your children are not safe in your husband’s care, so you shouldn’t ever leave them with him. Period.

Your husband may try to intimidate you to leave without the children once he knows you have filed for divorce. Do not allow him to force you to leave the house without them under any circumstances. Call the police if you must.

If you are concerned about your husband disappearing with the children, you must act first, and quickly take them to a safe place or shelter. Do not tip him off that you have plans to leave. If he has shown himself capable of abusing you, then he is capable of almost anything.

If your husband gets violent, call the police and have them take the pictures of your bruises. You can use photographs and medical reports as legal evidence in court during your divorce and a custody battle.

Documentation will help you during the divorce, as you may have trouble reconstructing episodes from memory due to prolonged high levels of stress. Keeping a journal that you can produce in court may help you win sole custody of your children, whom you need to protect. Write down whatever details you can recall about incidents in the past that would affect custody or that could be used to support your settlement. Start keeping detailed records of incidents or visitations from now on. Record when your husband is late or he cancels or fails to show up for a scheduled visit with your children. This behavior could have an impact on custody. Procrastinating in making such records may result in faulty records or missing details, which will undermine your case.

Hide important documentation in a secure location, as your husband may have no problem destroying evidence. Do not assume that he doesn’t snoop when you are not there; the odds are very high that he does. Do not let your husband know that you are documenting what is going on. You will need to continue keeping records even after the divorce decree is signed, as some men will sue for custody after the divorce is final.

If you have a common-law marriage, you will go through the same divorce procedure as if you were officially married. If you haven’t met your state’s requirements for a common-law marriage, you can just separate, as a legal dissolution of marriage is not necessary. A family court will handle the custody and child support issues and the division of assets will probably occur in small claims court. Your lawyer can guide you through this process.

If the court appoints a legal guardian or guardian ad litem to represent your children throughout the custody aspect of your divorce case, it is in your best interest to be friendly and cooperate with this individual. A guardian ad litem is usually, though not always, a lawyer who represents the children’s point of view regarding custody and visitation to the court. Such people are often paid by the state but are sometimes paid by the parents. In my state of Tennessee, trained volunteers who work as court-appointed special advocates (CASA) represent the children’s interests.

You can expect your children’s guardian ad litem to contact you to set up a home visit to talk with you about your relationship with each of the children and to get your point of view regarding custody. He or she will also speak privately with each of your children and with your ex-husband. The guardian may make a recommendation to the judge about custody. Since this person is very influential, you want the guardian ad litem to be on your side.

Make sure that you and the children are calm and neatly groomed and that the house is as clean and inviting as possible when the guardian ad litem comes to visit. If there are allegations of child abuse, a state caseworker may be assigned to investigate. Notify your lawyer as soon as you are aware of any investigation, and share copies of any documents with him.

If your ex-husband was abusive to your children during the marriage, you may be able to limit their contact with him to supervised visits or eliminate contact entirely if you can prove to a judge that this is in their best interest. Request the court to do a psychological evaluation of him for anger management issues or other psychological problems because you have concerns about leaving your children alone with him.

Other reasons that warrant restricted visitation include the threat of parental kidnapping, a history of drug or alcohol abuse, suicide threats, or criminal convictions. If your ex-husband has a substance abuse problem, see if the court is willing to order weekly testing. If he has been abusive to you, it is possible that he will begin to be abusive to your children if you are no longer there to be his punching bag. Look at their faces when they come home to see what kind of time they had with their father. Ask them a lot of questions about meals, their treatment, and whether they were left unsupervised or in someone else’s care during visits with their father. And be on the lookout for bruises.

Document when your ex-husband does not show up for planned visitation so that you can have his right of visitation revoked after a reasonable period—let’s say after three months. Your children do not need him to subject them to any more disappointment and unpredictability. Meanwhile, be sure to spend plenty of one-on-one time with each of your children, engaging in enjoyable activities. Ask them about their feelings. Their world has just changed forever, and they need to know that you will always be there for them.

The guidelines of individual states determine the level of child support. Your lawyer will be able to give you an idea of what you can expect to receive after you provide the necessary financial information to him or her. See the Breaking Bonds Blog “What to Bring for the Lawyer” for more details.

Insist that your ex-spouse’s wages be garnished for child support and alimony or you may never see it. He probably will not make all payments on time or even at all unless he is compelled to do so. He may selfishly try to punish you by withholding money needed to support the family. Many states automatically require wage garnishment for child support, but this can be bypassed with a legal agreement if you give your consent. Do not agree to this under any circumstances, or you may end up not receiving support for years, if ever.

Child support payments are not taxable, so you do not have to report them on your tax return. You can claim a child as a dependent if you have legal custody. You may also be eligible to claim a child tax credit if you claim your child as a dependent. Your husband may petition the court for a modification of child support payments due to changed financial circumstances for either one of you, a child has reached the age of emancipation, or he has an additional child for whom he is legally responsible and actually supports who was not included in the original support order.

For your safety and your children’s, take action now. Your family deserves to be happy. We are with you.

Breaking Bonds is dedicated to your specific needs as an abused woman, and we offer free holistic support as well as practical guidance to help you through this difficult time. Download the free 11 STEP PREP Guide here to get started, and check out our complete survival guide Breaking Bonds: How to Divorce an Abuser and Heal, now available in paperback and digital editions. We are with you.

Rosemary Lombardy is the founder of Breaking Bonds, a blog and resource hub for abused women. She is a financial advisor with over thirty-five years of experience. Although her professional expertise is in financial matters, her perspective on marital abuse, divorce, and recovery is heartfelt and personal. She draws on decades of experience from her own and other marriages, complemented by thorough research.

Her new book, Breaking Bonds: How to Divorce an Abuser and Heal - A Survival Guide, is available now for purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kindle, and eBook.

C.C. Webster