Ask A Lawyer: Can She Regain Joint Custody?

Question:

My daughter and her ex share joint custody of their child.  A while ago, my daughter moved to Arizona where just last year she began having some problems and sent her daughter to stay with dad until she was better. During that time, the dad filed abandonment papers and my daughter lost custody. A registered document was mailed to my daughter, but it was sent to her old address so my daughter never received it.

Can she regain joint custody and how much does this process cost? Can this be done free through court documents or a legal library?

 

Answer:

Your question does not advise as to the legal proceedings that originally determined your daughter’s parental rights or in which state those proceedings may have been conducted.  Assuming her and her ex agreed to joint custody in a divorce or paternity judgment, then the joint custody agreement would set forth the terms of the joint custody.  For example, joint custody in Illinois requires the parties agree to cooperate and the failure of one parent to participate in joint custody may be grounds to terminate joint custody.   If your daughter was unavailable to cooperate in parenting decisions, the court could have terminated joint custody and awarded her ex sole custody, since he would have been exercising sole custody under these conditions.  This is not technically "abandonment", but simply non-cooperation in the joint parenting.

If the pleadings and notices were sent to her address of record with the court, she may have no grounds to contest a ruling terminating joint custody.   If her ex knew the address was incorrect, she may have grounds to challenge the ruling.  Your daughter should consult a qualified domestic litigation attorney as soon as possible, as the deadlines for challenging court rulings are limited.  Without reviewing the specific documents in your daughter’s case, it is not possible to evaluate what deadlines apply.  If she can not challenge the ruling, she may be able to seek a new proceeding to reinstate joint custody.

Further, in Illinois joint custody is only the legal decision making aspect of parenting.  The physical custody schedule, or visitation, is a separate issue.  If the main concern is the schedule with the child, a proceeding to review the visitation schedule may be pursued at address the best interests of the child.

Proceeding on a custody or visitation case without a qualified domestic litigation attorney would put your daughter at a significant disadvantage.  If the ex has an attorney pursuing matters on his behalf, his attorney will exploit all the procedural and evidentiary issues available.  Your daughter should consult a qualified domestic litigation firm to review the legal status of her situation and advise as to her options.

 

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. 

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