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Child Custody Issues - Be Diligent

I made a very big mistake last summer regarding child custody last summer and I hope that sharing it here will save others the pain that my family went through.

My husband and I separated and we knew we were getting a divorce, but because things were so amicable we decided to wait until our finances were more in order before filing for divorce. We verbally agreed that we would share child custody and everything was going really well.  We talked every day, the kids went back and forth between our houses with ease, and we even did lots of things together as a family.

When I decided to travel from Hawaii to Michigan to attend my sister's wedding, I decided to leave my daughters with my ex. The cost of tickets and lodging is extremely expensive, it's a long trip, and since I was in the wedding along with the rest of my family, I wasn't sure who would watch my children while the wedding was taking place. My ex happily agreed to keep them with him while I was gone for a week.  

And then he took them out of state.  I didn't know it, but he had a serious girlfriend back in Michigan and he wanted to move to be closer to her.  He didn't want to talk to me about it, because he knew that I would not have agreed to him taking our children 5,000 miles away to live.  So, he just left! 

I found out about this move while I was still in Michigan, but because we didn't have a child custody order, the police could not return the children to me. You see, in Michigan, unless there is an order by the court, both parents have equal rights to the children. Without a court order, I was unable to take my own children back to their home!

Because I had not paid close enough attention to the possible child custody issues that I might be facing by not having anything in writing, I ended up having to hire attorney's in both states. Even worse, I had to fly back to Hawaii alone with out my kids.  Even worse than that, was the damage that was done to my children because of my foolishness and my husband's selfishness.  

In the end, it worked out. Once my husband found his mind again and realized that he could be in serious trouble with the State of Hawaii for taking my children out of their home state, he returned them.  Sadly, it damaged our friendship and ruined trust that will take years to repair. It also affected my children, who both now have separation anxiety. Last, it cost nearly $20,000 and a lot of pain and agony to get them back. 

The reason I tell this story is because it's important to make sure that child custody issues are sorted out as soon as you separate, even if you think that you are getting a long and everything is fine.  I learned that there can not be a child custody order unless one party has filed for divorce, but both parties can certainly come to some kind of parenting agreement even if they are not ready to pull the trigger on divorce proceedings.  If you are separated or thinking about getting a divorce, make sure that you child custody issues are written out, signed, and notarized.  Take the time to talk to an attorney, and make sure that both parties agree not to leave the state with the children.  You may think that things are going well and that you and your ex are on the same page, but as I learned, things can change in an instant! 

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