Were they star-crossed lovers when they first met? Probably.
But things change with time and in the end they brought life to this often heard quote in legal circles: "... in criminal cases you see bad people at their best and in custody cases you see good people at their worst."
That truism applies to the case I'm about to share. Here's this couple's story.
Military Duty Interferes with Child Visitation Schedules
Jane and Christopher had two children, born in 2002 and 2006. Following the birth of the second child, the couple separated and three years later divorced.
At the time, Christopher was a military pilot stationed in Hawaii.
He and his ex-wife signed a marital agreement that provided for joint legal custody. However, due to Christopher's career, a family court commissioner assigned him 8 percent physical custody with the remaining 92 percent allotted to the mother.
The agreement specifically stated, "If [Father] has an opportunity to spend more time with the boys, it is encouraged."
Military Dad Deployed to The Middle East
What happened next is a common occurrence since the start of the wars in the Middle East.
The service deployed Christopher in a medevac unit in Iraq and Afghanistan - and redeployed two more times.
With the new assignment, it became more difficult for the father to enjoy his children during summer vacations.
Three years after signing the marital agreement, the mother received permission from the court to move to California to live with her fiancé.
Then in 2013, the military transferred Christopher to Alabama where he lived with his new wife. To see his sons, he registered the marital agreement with the court in Orange County.
Specifically, Christopher filed a Request for Order to modify the custody agreement to increase visitation and modify support amounts. Then he argued that he wanted to have physical custody of the children.
While the mother agreed to some visitation scheduling miscommunications, the court felt she was not telling the truth, labeling her assertion as "fishy."
The judge stated, "... I don't find [Mother] credible in stating that she would do anything she could for [Father] to see the children. ... And it just seems like what I see is a chronic and consistent pattern of one parent blocking the other continually and incredulously ...."
Father Wins Physical Custody Battle
Then the court awarded physical custody of the 9- and 12-year-old children to the father.
The mother wasn't pleased. She filed a notice of the mandatory 30-day stay for out-of-state move-away orders. The court then stopped the immediate removal of the children from California.
It then became incumbent on the father to make a substantial showing of changed circumstances that affected the children. What appeared to be on his side was a pattern of behavior by the mother to frustrate visitation and communication between the children and their father.
The court needed to consider these factors:
- the detrimental effect on the children after living with the mother
- the children's ages
- community ties
- health and educational needs
- attachment and past, present and the potential future relationship of the children with each parent
- the anticipated impact of the move upon the children's existing social, educational and familial relationships
- each parent's willingness to facilitate frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the other parent
In the end, the appellate court granted Christopher physical custody of the children and required that they relocate to Alabama. Fortunately, while the proceedings were ongoing, the court initiated visits between the father and his kids to reintroduce Christopher into his kids' lives.