View Full Version : Custody Battles

08-16-2006, 07:48 AM
Hi everyone...i've recently started a screenplay that involves a custody battle. My Main Character (the father works odd hours and is never home) his ex-wife and her new hubby have custody of the child...

Anyway, my MC wants custody of his daughter but can't b/c of his odd schedule. He works at a train yard.

The situation though is the court awarded sole custody to the mother b/c the father is hardly home b/c he works at a train yard like twelve to fourteen hours at a time and has, sometimes eight hours off. With him hardly ever home the Judge won't let him have custody. BUT the MC wants his daughter back...

What i'm getting at is, can this be possible? If the MC gets another job?

Thanks for any help..

08-16-2006, 03:53 PM
It's been a while, but here's what I'm remembering. In our state (Michigan), and our situation, my wife had sole physical custody of her daughter, but shared legal custody. In other words, the child lived with us, but the biological father had as much legal right as my wife, anything from the right to take her to a doctor appointment to the right to refuse us permission to change her name.

He could have challenged the physical custody bit at any time, had he bothered to do so. The court has paperwork for requesting a reevaluation of both child support and custody.

I'm guessing that if MC got another job, he would be able to go in and request a reevaluation of the custody issues.

At the very least, he could go in and request visitation.

All of this is what I learned in our own legal mess a few years ago. Others may have more info.

Mayor of Moronia
08-16-2006, 04:02 PM
Your story isnt plausible in the real world. What's likely is joint custody where the mother has residential custody and the father gets liberal visitation and full parental rights. Have the father wrongly accused of sexually abusing a kid or convicted of molesting his 17 year old girlfriend (the mom in the story)when he was 18. That is, he's now a registered sex offender in most states. Dad can then go after mom for medical neglecting the kid by hauling her to the pediatrician all the time. But work schedules aint gonna cut it, unless dad tries to visit Missy in the middle of the night.

Mayor of Moronia
08-16-2006, 04:08 PM

Your situation is typical these days. I discuss this a lot with a friend at the Attorney General's Office. The Court makes them track down missing fathers before parental rights are terminated. If the father is non-offending it's tough to get rid of him.

08-16-2006, 05:54 PM
Thanks...that's what I was wondering... I'll have to go back and make the MC's wife very vindictive or something... but again, thanks for the comments.

Mayor of Moronia
08-16-2006, 06:15 PM

You can have a lot of fun with it. Custody battles are entire worlds unto themselves. In a crazy kind of way the battle is how mom and dad stay connected. And there is often unfinished business between them.

08-16-2006, 07:14 PM
Keep in mind the following example is from a television show, so take any comments with a grain of salt.

There were a couple episodes of ER dealing with custody battles. One included the father, the ex-wife and her new husband. Ex-wife and husband had custody of the child (what specifics, I don't know) and the father worked long, terrible hours as a resident at the hospital. Anyway, the mother was killed, and the new husband and the father battled over custody rights.

The husband's case was because the father's hours were so bad, he would never be around the child. The judge ended up giving the father custody in the event that he got a new job with better hours.

I believe ER is set in ... Chicago? So, if the writers used actual laws/cases, then you may want to try digging up some research there. Admitedly, though, the situations are pretty different considering the mother is dead in one of them. The whole point was that they wanted the child placed with a biological parent; in your case that won't really be a decisive matter, and courts almost always side with the mother of the child unless she's dangerous in some way.

08-17-2006, 02:09 AM
Child custody laws vary from state to state, so your best bet is to find a divorce lawyer in the state where the story is set and find out what the norm is there.

As a general rule, and in the absence of a showing of parental unfitness, the default situation is joint legal custody (both have rights to make decisions and spend time with the child) with one party being the primary caretaker and the other having visitation rights. Visitation has nothing to do with work hours; the court would allow him to visit whenever he had time to do so (although it might be structured more specifically than that).

It's really an extraordinary situation before a biological parent will be prevented from having at least visitation, which, just giving a default option here, is generally along the lines of alternate weekends plus one or two evenings during the week, plus some vacation time in the summer and at holidays.

Also, it is still a fact in this society that, in a contested situation, and notwithstanding the law that is supposed to be neutral, the courts are more inclined to grant the primary caretaker role to the mother than to the father. That's not the same as denying visitation, which, again, seldom happens in the absence of extraordinary facts.

Also, it's not at all clear why the father would want to seek the status of primary caretaker here, since he would have visitation rights, and the facts are such that he wouldn't be providing the care himself anyway, because he wouldn't be home. Why would a court award him the role of primary caretaker, when the child would actually be with a babysitter/nanny, instead of leaving her with a mother who is acting as primary caretaker (since, under your facts, the hours he worked were the deciding factor, so the mother must work fewer hours and can spend more time with the child)? If he wants more visitation, he can ask for that, or if the mother is suddenly working even longer hours than he is, he could ask for a change. Beyond that, it seems like a no-brainer that the parent who's at home more often is the one who will be the primary caretaker, and the one with an impossible schedule is the one who has visitation.

JD, not giving legal advice, just general information

08-17-2006, 10:32 PM
I agree with everyone else that there is no way to make this work with a simple career change. Furthermore, the wife in the story has what the courts tend to deem as the "best interest of the child." She is married again and providing the child with a stable home and two parents in the home.

Many years ago when my oldest daughter was young, her biological father attempted to change custody on the sole basis of my blindness as he considered it as a way to make me appear unfit. What he did was forget to look at his own lifestyle and ended up shooting himself in the foot. At the time, our daughter lived in a stable home with two loving parents. I could not work outside the home but I did work from home. Her dad (stepdad but the only one she knows) works during the week and is off on weekends unless some major catastrophe occurs. Better still, he usually has enough hours in Monday through Thursday that he has half the day to the entire day of Friday off too.

My ex-husband came into court with nothing but my blindness to use as a fire to my unworthiness of remaining her caregiver. However, he came into court still married although separated from his second wife - who was pregnant at the time but not from him and he came with his girlfriend who was married and pregnant. His girlfriend was carrying his child but she was married to what was once his best friend. Needless to say, in addition to losing the case, he lost all ability to make any important decisions regarding our child's future including medical decisions, school choices, and everything else that affected her. This came about because he demanded that she be put on the stand in front of everyone and grilled whereas I refused to allow it. It blew my ex's case right out of the water.

The only way to make your story work is to change the MC's life in such a way as to make his home be the "best interest of the child." This could include a change in career, settling down with a nice woman that loves children, and writing in some major flaw with the ex-wife and stepfather. You would have to twist your story inside out to make it happen but without making that all powerful change to show "best interest of the child" I can't see it happening.

Hope this helps,

PS: I could probably write an award-winning novel based on my custody mess back then but it hurts too bad even to this day to think about it let alone write it down.

Mayor of Moronia
08-17-2006, 10:52 PM
Here's a story idea if someone wants it.

An obsessed stalker makes repeated child abuse complaints to CPS to learn the whereabouts of the mother....and they accommodate him (they often do this...especially when paternity isnt confirmed). Mad-man and the system victimizing the mother. Some guys will actually accuse themselves of abuse to gain information about the mother, because if youre named in the report you get a copy of the report.

Mayor of Moronia
08-17-2006, 10:55 PM
I recall a case where the father kidnapped the child from the mother, hid the child with his sister, then told police the mother murdered the child.