My divorce decree says I can visit my son only when my ex-wife says it is OK since she has full custody. This decision was made while I was unemployed, broke, and in a dark place. Can I re-open that visitation/custody case now that I can prove I have a steady job with stable living conditions and have turned my life around?
You should discuss your situation with a domestic litigation attorney right away. Each state has different provisions which control requests to modify placement, custody and support. I do not practice in Missouri so I cannot answer specific questions on Missouri law. However, Cordell & Cordell has many attorneys licensed and located in Missouri who would be happy to help.
Most states have statutes which detail when a party can request a modification of custody and placement. The Court wants the child to have consistency. The statutes have requirements which must be met in order for the Court to consider a modification. This is to prevent the parties from constantly coming back to court for modifications. The party requesting a modification typically has to show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances warranting the modification. There may be a time lapse requirement as well. For example, in my jurisdiction, Wisconsin, there is a two year “truce” period that follows the original placement order where the parties cannot obtain a modification unless the party can show the modification is necessary because the current custodial arrangements are physically or emotionally harmful to the best interest of the child. Your attorney will be able to discuss the requirements for modification in Missouri and whether or not you meet those requirements.
Even if you do not meet the requirements to modify right now, there are many things you could be doing to present the best case for a future modification. Does the Order say anything about telephone contact? If it is not prohibited, you should be calling your son as often as possible to re-establish your relationship. Because the present placement orders should be followed to a T, you should be requesting visitation from your ex-wife every minute you can. Keep a journal and start taking handwritten notes of when you requested placement, whether you were able to see your son, and what you and your son did during your placement time. You should also keep track of the times you call your son. In addition to visiting, you should ask your ex-wife if she will involve you in decisions regarding his education, medical treatment and religion (document her response). She doesn’t have to say yes, but if she does, make sure you take advantage of the opportunities.
Erica Christian is an Associate Attorney in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Wisconsin. She is a member of the Wisconsin Bar Association, the Family Law Section and the Children’s Law Section.