I separated from my wife nearly five years ago and she has kept me from seeing my children ever since.
Recently, I found out she moved across the country to live with a friend and it sounds like a living situation that is not healthy for my children and I think they would be better off living with me.
What do I need to do to start the divorce process and try to win back custody?
I do not practice law in your state. Therefore, I cannot inform you as to the specific laws of your state and can only provide you with general tips on your situation.
Each state has different laws that govern how long a person has to live there before he can file for divorce there. In Wisconsin, where I practice law, a person has to be living in the state for six months before that person can file for divorce in Wisconsin. It does not matter where the other party is living.
So you should meet with a domestic litigation attorney in your state to determine whether you are eligible to file for divorce there.
Additionally, there are federal laws that govern whether a state has the ability to make decisions related to children. Typically, once a child has resided in a given state continuously for six months, that state has jurisdiction. The federal laws governing state jurisdiction over custody need to be addressed in conjunction with the state laws governing where a divorce can be filed. An attorney can help you sort this out so that you make sure you are filing for divorce in the proper state.
Whenever a lawsuit is filed, the suit needs to be personally served on the other party. A divorce is a lawsuit, so your ex will likely need to be served with the paperwork. To serve her, you will need to know where she lives.
If you do not know where she lives, or you only know the state and general area where she lives, then you may need the assistance of a private investigator, process server or person with expertise in skip tracing to try and locate your ex so that she can be served.
There may be ways to serve by publication and a domestic litigation attorney in the state where you file can advise you of your options.
Once she is served with the divorce paperwork you will need to follow the divorce process as outlined by the state in which you filed. The path you take through the divorce process will depend on what custody/placement arrangement you are seeking with your children and what types of agreements you and your ex might be able to reach.
If you have been uninvolved in your children’s lives for the better part of the last year and a half, the level of contact that the court orders you to have with your children may be relatively minimal, but even minimal contact is better than no contact.
Your situation could be extremely complex, so it’s important that you consult with a domestic litigation attorney right away to discuss your options.