Lessons in Family Law: Don’t Act Unilaterally When You Share Custody

By Jim Warren

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I’ve learned many lessons as an attorney practicing family law in the greater Charlotte area for more than 30 years. The area of the law devoted to families—, pre-and post-nuptial agreements, divorce and separation, matters of child custody and support, and domestic violence—can be fraught with emotion, and we see people go through hard times as a result of their own mistakes.

To this last point—making things harder on yourself—here are some words to the wise: don’t act unilaterally on big issues when you have joint custody. I’ve seen many things happen to disrupt otherwise peaceful, amicable co-parenting arrangements, especially when one parent makes a decision—without consulting the other parent—on matters related to the child’s well-being.

One of the biggest contributing factors to a child’s well-being is their schooling. If a child is in a safe, nurturing environment and performing well, family court judges don’t take too kindly to one parent upsetting this kind of situation. I’ve seen them go as far as banning that parent from participating in decisions regarding education and even awarding sole custody outright to the other parent. These decisions can’t be taken lightly, and judges take their duties to look out for the safety and well-being of children quite seriously.

Likewise, decisions about where a child will reside can’t be taken with haste and without consultation of the other parent. I’ve seen more than one parent think they could move a child away from the other parent, without consultation or agreement with the other parent, even to an area not so far away but inconvenient to the other parent. These kinds of moves are often coupled with school changes as well, and they leave judges in the unenviable position to consider reversing the move or stopping it.

More often than not, the moving parent is forced to leave the child with the other parent. As one judge said, “This is the United States of America. You can move anywhere you want, any time you want, and you don’t have to ask anyone for permission, including mine. However, if you want to move away with your child, you have to have my permission, and ma’am, you don’t have it.”

The bottom line here is that if you’re in a joint custody situation, you should always consult with your ex-spouse on important decisions. Many judges make that a mandate in the custody order, that both parents be consulted when making decisions that affect the health and welfare of the child. If you make a decision that’s seemingly arbitrary or doesn’t go well, look out. That decision could backfire spectacularly with the court.

If you are dealing with any ongoing or new issues in a shared custody situations and need to take action against your ex-spouse and protect your children, we are here to help. Call Warren Family Law today to get started.