By Jennifer M. Paine
Attorney, Cordell & Cordell, P.C., Detroit office
Demanding Relatives and Child Custody
If you feel like your life is a scene from Everybody Loves Raymond, you are not alone. When a family dissolves, strained emotions are inevitable. So too are crazy outbursts we would not usually make – such as the demand to your attorney to “spend whatever it takes” just to get back your tools or the “With Sympathy For Your Loss” funeral card your spiteful mother sends to your ex-wife as a dig when your divorce is final.
These things happen, and most divorce statutes are built to accommodate them. Custody statutes require the court to consider “the totality of the circumstances,” as opposed to an isolated night of yelling in front of your children. Child support and alimony are based on income and earning capacities, as opposed to who is the “smarter” or “crazier” spouse.
But beware overbearing relatives.
Take the case of Ms. Ward in Ward v Ward, 2006 Ohio 851; 2006 Ohio App LEXIS 738 (2006), as an example. Ms. Ward had an overbearing mother, the Marie Barone type. She was present at custody exchanges, she dictated how Ms. Ward cared for her child, she even established herself as the child’s first-preferred caregiver, preferred even over Ms. Ward and Mr. Ward. Mr. Ward received primary physical custody, partly because his mother-in-law was too controlling and would continue to isolate him from his child. On appeal, Ms. Ward argued, inter alia, that he mother was not so controlling. However, two psychologists testified otherwise, and Ms. Ward readily admitted that “in the hierarchy of caregiving, her mother came first, then her, then Mr. Ward.” The appellate court affirmed the divorce court’s award of primary physical custody to Mr. Ward, finding its conclusions that Ms. Ward’s mother was overbearing and would continue to isolate him and the child were not against the weight of the evidence.
If you are concerned about your family members’ impact on your custody rights, be sure to confront them early and often. Remind them that their behaviors could impact your court’s custody decision. Tell them you appreciate their concerns, but as the parent you have the right – the constitutional right – before them to decide how to raise your child. Note their involvement with your child in a parenting time journal to refresh your memory and undercut your opponent’s allegations that they are always around or dictate your time. Plan play dates and special occasions for their visits, but spend more time with your child doing one-on-one activities. Be sure to discuss your concerns with your attorney to plan the best strategy.
Most of all, remember that when your custody rights are at stake is not the time to cave in to your own Mother Marie’s demands.
Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.