I am in active duty with the Navy, and retiring in November. The problem is that my daughter hates me because I haven’t been able to see her regularly for the past 9 years. This was mostly due to my health problems that have been steadily getting worse since 1999, but also because her mother is very controlling and has taken advantage of my health situation to keep my daughter away from me. There is no court paperwork on anything, and I really feel this current situation is not in the best interest of my daughter. I have been paying what the mother has requested, and I have just not been able to see my daughter as much as I would like. It also doesn’t help that the mother would not let her come to me out of fear that I would keep her.
I have been very preoccupied while trying to heal from my wounds. Last night, I was talking to my little girl and her mother on the phone when I heard my daughter say that I am not her dad. She was obviously upset very upset and she’s only 11. I just want what is right for my little girl. I know my fate is probably sealed because I have not actively sought to get our separation/divorce in proper order, but I have been dealing with this stuff for a long time. Somehow, officially divorcing seems like it would not be a step to bring my daughter closer, but I’m beginning to think that it will. Where do I start?
While a court proceeding can promptly resolve the legal issues, the relationship issues with your daughter will require the cooperation of her mother which the court can not assure. Your question indicates that there have not been any court proceedings to date, such that it is assumed that you and your wife are married but informally separated. As active duty military, you need to consider the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act in pursuing a divorce. As you may be aware, if you and your wife are married for 20 years while you are in the military, your wife will be eligible for lifetime military health care benefits and certain other benefits, such that you may wish to wait until the 20 years has accrued to obtain the divorce to avoid the issue of the cost of her post-divorce health insurance and other financial issues. As your military retirement is subject to division in a divorce, you should also have the affect of divorce on your retirement benefits reviewed to determine your post-divorce finances, as it is a somewhat complicated formula depending upon any Veterans Administration benefits and other factors.
As to custody and visitation with your daughter, your post-retirement residence and home environment, as well as your wife’s interference in your relationship with your daughter, would bear on how the issues will be addressed by a court. The court may require counseling with your daughter or additional time with your daughter in an effort to address the relationship issues. You would need to review these issues with an experienced domestic litigation attorney, such as the Cordell & Cordell offices in your state.
Richard Coffee is a Litigation Manager in the Belleville Illinois office of Cordell & Cordell. He is an experienced divorce attorney whose practice is devoted to domestic litigation. He is licensed in the State of Illinois and is admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Courts for Northern, Central and Southern Illinois.
Mr. Coffee has extensive domestic litigation trial experience representing clients in courts throughout Illinois on all aspects of domestic litigation, including the representation of clients who are current or retired military personnel with issues under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, clients involved in state court jurisdictional disputes due to the relocation of one or both parties from or to Illinois, and clients with government or private pension benefit valuation and division issues.