By Kristian Pedersen
My story began like many others. My wife and I were discussing divorce.
After returning from a late-August vacation, I accidentally found a message on my wife’s phone about meeting a man for drinks. When I told her, the divorce conversation accelerated.
I texted her dad about helping me find an apartment in town and we spoke about remaining friendly. I told my wife I’d take our four kids to Cape Cod for Labor Day weekend so she could have time to think.
I told her that if we divorced I’d want to remain in the kids’ lives and that I’d want 50/50 shared physical custody.
Upon returning on Monday night, she threw me and my 17-year-old daughter out of the house (a daughter from a previous relationship). I called the police to tell them what happened and the dispatcher said I made a good choice because my wife likely would have made something up to have me removed anyway.
The next day when I called to ask if I could pick up my belongings, she said she’d call the cops. I once again called the police and had them escort me to my home to pick up some of my stuff.
My wife asked me to take the kids for the coming weekend via text and I told her I couldn’t because I was busy trying to find a place to stay.
She then met with her lawyer and they filed a restraining order the next day. He then proceeded to tell my attorney that he had not yet been retained. (He probably didn’t know that my ex and I texted about her meeting with him.)
The affidavit she wrote was more like a laundry list of a bad marriage.
She claimed I had a gun. (I’ve never owned a gun.) She said I threatened to kill her and the kids (but asked me to take them for the coming weekend).
I assumed the judge would dismiss the affidavit. I followed the father’s survival guide to divorce to a “T” and it was obvious that this was a tactic to gain an advantage in litigation. She even claimed the events took place on a day when I was across the state with our children.
At the RO hearing we made a good case to have it dismissed.
The judge asked my wife’s attorney if I had done anything recently that would warrant an RO, because all of his accusations were from 5-10 years prior. The attorney then accused me of rape and claimed I obtained a gun through my boss at the Air Force base where I work to take care of a coyote problem (even though soldiers can’t bring guns onto a military base and I had an affidavit from my boss denying this claim).
I was certain the judge would dismiss the case, but he ended up gutting the RO, essentially punting the ball. I received shared custody of the kids and I just had to avoid her making up a story to have me arrested.
I was served with divorce papers and she filed for temporary orders. At the temporary orders hearing I wanted 50/50 shared custody, but because of the RO my lawyer said it was a long shot.
I made a good case for shared physical custody. I was a soccer coach, Cub Scout den leader, and assistant Scout Master for the Boy Scouts. The kids always went to church with me and I took them to almost all of their extracurricular activities and nearly half of their doctor appointments.
The judge, who would retire a few months later, seemed like she was falling asleep at the hearing and ended up giving me three weekends a month (Friday-Sunday) and every Wednesday-Thursday. She ordered me to pay $250 per week in child support plus half of all activities, uninured medical expenses and all health insurance.
Just five more nights a month and I would have 50/50. I have a flexible schedule while my wife works nights from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. so I argued that the kids should stay with me on the nights she works.
The financial aspect of this was simple. My wife is college-educated. She works part-time and makes as much as I do. If we agreed to 50/50 custody and she went back to work full-time, she would have to pay me support.
Logistically, we have a best-case scenario for 50/50. I’m renting a house a mile from hers’ and the kids all want to see me more. My lifestyle is more conventional.
And yet, here I am barely getting by. My wife and I could easily provide for ourselves and kids independently and we could schedule parenting time so that we could both have quality time with the kids.
The house was our only asset. She’s buying me out and I’m using that money as a down payment. I told her attorney that I would waive any right to child support if they agreed to 50/50 shared physical custody, but they refused.
Now, on Monday nights I pick up my youngest son for Cub Scouts and take my oldest to Boy Scouts.
The judges never appointed a Guardian ad Litem, so it’s safe to assume they never felt the kids were in any danger. My attorney thinks the judge continued the RO to protect me from my wife.
Currently, I’m settling my case because I can no longer afford an attorney.
What could have been taken care of for a few thousand dollars has cost us each more than $20,000. I’ve agreed to the terms because my wife is working part-time. However, I’m hoping the order will be modified to 50/50 since I have purchased a home nearby and my wife should be going back to work fulltime.
Numerous studies prove shared physical custody is best for children of divorce. I should also have the same right to parent as my wife.
Often, you hear about what fathers will do to avoid paying child support. In my case, my ex chose to hire an attorney and paid tens of thousands of dollars in order to avoid paying me support.
Recently in Massachusetts, a shared parenting bill sponsored by fathers/parental rights organizations found favor in the House and Senate, but the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts lobbied against it and added language that contradicts the bill’s original intent. They watered down what would have been a huge step toward the presumption of 50/50 shared custody.
In 2016, we need to recognize that family dynamics have changed. Laws were made under the old assumption that men would be breadwinners and moms would be caregivers. Times have changed and those stereotypes are discriminatory.
My case was complicated by the use of a fraudulent protective order. If we apply the same civil preponderance used at an RO hearing, there’s more evidence that her attorney instructed her to file the RO fraudulently than there is any evidence of actual fear.
I just want to be a dad. This is America and I thought telling the truth and taking the high road would show that I was a stable, loving father and that my kids would be rewarded with equal time with both parents.
That hasn’t happened yet, but I’m not going to stop fighting. Shared parenting should be presumed even in the face of false allegations.
Support father’s rights.