Lawyers are expensive, and scary, but we really protect our client’s rights. Most lawyers take their job, and their responsibilities, very seriously. It can be extremely challenging at times, particularly in child custody cases.
For example, this case I had last week involved a mother with a few entitlement issues. She thinks she’s Hollywood royalty because grandpa made a couple of movies and married a movie star. In reality, she’s just an average person, and has no desire to be self-sufficient. She pawned off her first child to the baby-daddy’s parents. So now we’re fighting over a second child with a different father.
My client is father number two. Together they have a child; a beautiful, happy, smart little boy. At 4, he’s already showing his abilities. Dad has custody about 50 percent of the time, and is under court order to pay $800 a month in child support, when he comes in to see me.
His ex has filed a “Move-Away” request. She wants full legal and full physical custody so she can go to some unnamed place, for an undetermined time. Dad is panicked. Her declaration says she is just a “simple homemaker” who can’t live on what little money he gives her. She says he never shows up for visitation, is unreliable, and that she should have sole power of their child. She doesn’t really mention the new husband, or the fact that she lives in Topanga with her mother rent free. And conveniently forgets to tell the judge about how she manages to maintain a horse that she rides three days a week.
Dad hires me to fight the move. We engage in a furious campaign to gather information about dad, about his relationship to his son, and the history of the case to give to the judge. Turns out that dad is a great guy, we have eight declarations from medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and daycare providers about what an amazing father he is.
As we enter court, I handed her a stack of declarations, and a response to her move-away request. The color fades from her face, and her new husband has a worried look on his face. He knew that she lied in her declarations, and now we were going to prove it.
The court in Santa Monica has this great outside area, and the commissioner in Department E likes to send people outside to “see if they can work things out.” He calls our case, and as usual, sends us to the courtyard. I try to negotiate with her and get nowhere fast.
I suggest that we just let the judge make a ruling, perhaps send the case to an evaluator to determine who is the better parent. Twenty minutes later, she’s taking the move-away off the table and just wants to change the custody arrangement a “teeny-tiny bit.”
I force the issue with the judge, and under oath she begins her testimony with, “I just want to say that I absolutely agree with all of these declaration, that he’s a great dad (funny how that changed from her initial declaration).” After about 15 minutes of my arguing about visitation, she testifies that she’d be happy to give dad, every weekend starting from Friday at 6 p.m. to Monday at 7:30 a.m. Yup, all four of them a month!
We start talking about the child support, and I ask the court to impute income to her, because I see no reason why she can’t work, and she starts squawking about being a stay at home mom, which is a great thing for the child, but there’s no reason why dad should have to bear the burden of her choice, so I say, she can earn a living and be self-sufficient, which was a hot button. “I am self-sufficient! I do the books for the construction company my husband and I own.” Aha! That takes how many hours a week? Twenty hours, at $10 an hour, that’s your weekly income.
Dad’s child support went from $800 to $219, and he gets all the weekends to enjoy his son. It took a solid strategy, hard work on his part and mine to execute it, and a willingness on his part to fight for his relationship with his son.
She started out as a stay at home mom, and with some tough questioning, she became chief financial officer of her husband’s construction company. Hiding her income and playing the coy role of a defenseless victim of life worked for a while, but we were able to make the court see what was really going on, and we won as a consequence.
Not a bad day.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.