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Disclaimer – The following questions were submitted through the forums on Avvo.com, and are generalized advice given based on a limited set of facts. They do not serve as a substitute for the advice of an attorney, nor are any of the parties here personally represented by Ozarks Family Law. Questions submitted and answered DO NOT initiate an attorney-client relationship between the asker and Ozarks Family Law.

Q: Can I lose primary custody of my son after 3 plus years of having custody? I have had primary custody of my son and my ex wife has had custody of our daughter (it is what ex suggested). When we divorced she was in school, she has now finished and been working for over a year. When we separated, my son and I moved in with my sister so I could go back to school and get my masters. Now, after all this time my ex decides to sue me for custody. The paperwork I received stated ridiculous reasons such as “(son’s name) regularly prepares his own breakfast and lunches while at father’s home” and “father refuses to allow mother to get the boy stylish haircuts, which the child wants, and instead arranges for the child to get.” buzzcut ” every few months”. To mee those are really idiotic reasons, and like someone is grabbing at straws. First my son is almost 10, yeah he can fix his own cereal and make a sandwich. Secondly, my son has only ever had 1 buzzcut in his life, I objected to her boyfriend cutting our sons hair like his own hair while on a visitation. Of course I’ll have an attorney for the conference, but are these reasons commonly used?

A: You are right that these reasons seem unusually thin compared to most of the motions to modify custody that I see regularlyRemember – the “best interests of the child” are what the court is going to be looking at. If she’s grasping at straws, then an experienced attorney should have no trouble illuminating that fact for the judge. – Justin Evans, Ozarks Family Law, Springfield Missouri Child Custody Attorney

Q: Can a wife legally give her husband’s actual mail to her lawyer without given the mail to her husband? No copies were made. My wife and I are going through a divorce, I understand her need to open my mail. I also understand her making copies of the mail to give to her lawyer. What I would think would be illegal is to open the mail and give it to her lawyer. The mail is over profit sharing of a company I worked while we were married, so a marital asset, but I never new about it and the first time seeing part of my mail was from my lawyer. Was any laws broke in the handling of my mail?

A: If you presently have an attorney, I would simply have your attorney contact hers to request originals. It sounds as if you have been consenting to her opening mail addressed to you up until this point — I would suggest that each party should not be opening anything that is not addressed to them during the divorce. Discovery is the proper process by which to collect information from the other party, not opening their mail and making copies. If you do not have an attorney, I would suggest that you request the return of your mail immediately (originals) and that going forward your mail should be given to you unopened. Your fixation on whether or not she broke the law in this process might be counterproductive — this is not a case that any Federal Prosecutor is going to be likely to file, even if she was technically in violation of federal law. You have the right to contact a Postal Investigator I suppose, but think about it — do you really want to agitate the other party when a simple corrective action will likely work? Listen to your divorce attorney, think of this in terms of the divorce, and consider whether talking about criminal charges is really productive at this point. – Justin Evans, Ozarks Family Law, Springfield Missouri Divorce Attorney

Q: What can i do to clear up this illegally obtained child support my husband took?
he was collecting child support from the state on our youngest son, who at age 16 was out of the house, working and living in an apt with his gf…i contacted child support enforcement and informed them that he was taking the support illegally and using it to support himself..they said that’s too bad.

A: You need to file a motion to modify child support through either the administrative agency (Family Support Division) or through the courts. In many cases, the administrative modification is less difficult for a layperson to accomplish. The Motion to Modify will likely require the assistance of an attorney. Bottom line? If the child isn’t living with him, and he isn’t giving the money to the child, then the child support isn’t being paid to the proper party. – Justin Evans, Ozarks Family Law, Springfield Missouri Child Custody Lawyer

Q: I wanted to know if I can sue my ex husband for the pain and suffering he has caused our family.
I was divorced nine years ago. We were married for 22 years during that time I was a stay at home mom to our five children I had no work experience nor any schooling I had gotten a job during the divorce but four years later injured my knee and could not return to work now with my age my lack of experience no schooling and my condition of limiting what I can do on the job. I cannot get anyone to hire me. I have lost my home my vehicle and have gone well beyond poverty. Is there anything I can do?

A: The divorce was the proper place to litigate the issues of your marriage — how your husband treated you and your children may have been relevant to outcomes such as maintenance (or alimony) and child support. If your children are all past the age of child support, then you likely don’t have a cause of action in that regard either. If you have minor children with your ex then you may be able to file to modify the support he pays based on your financial circumstances and their needs. The fact that your ex was once married to you does not make him legally or financially accountable for everything that happens to you post-divorce, particularly when a post-marriage injury impacted your employment prospects. – Justin Evans, Ozarks Family Law, Springfield MO Divorce Lawyer

Q: Can my daughter refuse to come with my on my visitation time? My ex wife has been over the years refusing me my visitation time with my daughter to when it best suits her. or not at all because she is mad at me. there is a history of drinking with my ex wife and she does not hold a job and has not for more that a total time of 6 months in her life. she has been arrested for drunk and disorderly by her current husband calling the cops. now someone other than myself or my wife has called dfs on her. my daughter is in counseling for harming herself and depression. she also says its because of her mom that she has to go to counseling. but since dfs was called my ex wife texted me about how dare I call dfs and said that my daughter believes it was me as well. and now my daughter does not want to speak to me. now my concern is that I wont get to see my daughter this upcoming weekend for my visitation time. I know there is a history of my ex wife bashing me to my daughter as well. what do I do? I am finding a lawyer tomorrow to try and amend the custody and gain full custody. but until then what do I do. please I want to be able to see my daughter and so do my wife and two other children.

A: You are taking the proper steps in that you are retaining a lawyer to file a Motion to Modify. In the event that your wife interferes with your custody schedule, your attorney will have options such as a Motion for Family Access or even moving for temporary custody if the situation calls for it. All family cases are very fact specific, and your attorney will go over your present situation with you to present you with your options. In short, you won’t necessarily be prevented from seeing your daughter just because a DFS case has been filed or a Motion to Modify is moving through the court. There are interim options available to you. – Justin Evans, Ozarks Family Law, Springfield MO Child Custody Attorney

Q: What can I do about billing problems and filing of divorce errors with a non-responsive attorney?
My divorce “trial” was 7/8/16. My lawyer had to revise the decree because she failed to mention name change and quit claim deed. That was last week. It still has not been filed and I found she failed to put an order of protection so I can get the rest of my things and it may have to be held up again. She has not answered my emails. Her paralegal answers the questions and then says she will check w/attorney. I reviewed the billing as she says I owe her $$. I had my accountant audit the bill and found I had over $6000 in my retainer bank still.There were several billing/payment errors, but was told bill would not be reviewed and to send $2500 more. Since Nov when it was first filed, I was billed about 13 hrs and payed her $9000! I asked for copy of the client agreement and so far have not received it. Ex was very uncooperative, abusive,stalked me & pushed for trial and My lawyer said the judge said even tho bad behavior she wouldn’t get fees out of him so I have to go after him for the money, and have to pay her extra charges. Not billed for that yet. Does this sound right? I really need help with this. I am very frustrated. The whole (divorce) process was a circus!

A: The first step that I would take is to schedule an in-person meeting with your attorney to discuss the billing issues that you have identified and the remaining legal tasks to be complete on your divorce. There may be an error on the part of your attorney, or in your reading of your invoices, or both. If you cannot find a resolution with that approach, then I agree with the above attorney that you should contact your local bar association and initiate a fee dispute resolution process. – Justin Evans, Ozarks Family Law, Springfield Missouri Divorce Attorney

Q: What’s the “average” wait time from divorce trial to judgement? It’s been over two months. How can the judge remember evidence? We went to trial over 2 months ago and originally was told would hear back within 30 days. Is there a ceiling when must give judgement? There was an awful lot of evidence and one sentence things were said- how can the judge remember all aspects of the case to give fair judgement? My husband said some horrible things and basically admitted to accounts of forgery, dissipation of assets, foreclosed on house, etc… The bank was there and proved dissipation of $75,000.00 and his parents were there and admitted to hiding that marital money. The only liquid money is my retirement as my spouse spent his. I’m worried about the judgement! Is it a bad sign for me that it’s taking so long? Does the judge replay the tapes or does he just take written notes? What does he do on the computer while hearing the case? Also, how does the judge know exactly what the disputes are or the exact amounts that we are seeking? Is there a list submitted to the judge ahead of time?

A: While your nerves are understandably rattled over this, I would suggest that you get ahold of your attorney (I’m assuming you had one simply based on the dissipation issue that you mention). Call your attorney, and ask what the normal time frame is for the judge that you’re in front of. Springfield Family Court Commissioners are very accessible and very good to work with — I suspect that if there is a backlog of cases before yours, your attorney will already know about or be able to get you a better idea on a timeframe for the judgment. – Justin Evans, Ozarks Family Law, Springfield MO Divorce Lawyer

Q: Do I have to legally return to my mother? I am 17. Legally according to divorce I live with my mom. I visited my dad and want to stay. My parents started the custody paper work but now my mom is trying to force me to go home.

A: You are very close to emancipation, and practically speaking, many law enforcement agencies will not get involved in a custody dispute (particularly at your age). That said, the divorce decree is a court order. You should schedule a consultation with a family attorney in the county that the decree was signed in to gauge what your options are. – Justin Evans, Ozarks Family Law, Springfield MO Divorce Lawyer

Q: How can i keep my girlfriends dad from taking my child. my girlfreind of a year has a son, she signed over her rights to her dad. Know we are having a child, now that the due date gets closer he wants to get rights of my daughter. their saying that dfs will see that she dosnt have rights for her first born, come in and take her.. having her end up either in foster care or her grandpa’s.. please any information on the subject will help, as this is my first born.

A: My interpretation of your question is that the grandfather is threatening to involve DFS to evaluate whether your home is a safe place for your child. While your girlfriend may have had difficulties in the past, that has no bearing on your present relationship with your daughter. What matters is that you remain a fit parent with a safe home for the child. Your daughter can’t simply be taken to foster care because her mother was previously unfit to care for another child. The previous incident was then, this is now. Be honest with yourself and evaluate what the circumstances were when your girlfriend lost custody of her son, and evaluate what your circumstances with your daughter are now. In the event that the grandfather were to file for a guardianship or seek a placement of the child by contacting DFS, you should contact a family law attorney immediately to evaluate your options. – Justin Evans, Ozarks Family Law, Springfield Missouri Child Custody Attorney

Q: Will the Family Support Division go after father for state aid in the form of food stamps provided to mother? Mother and Father are divorced. Mother files a motion to modify. Mom and dad have come to an agreement where mom gets to claim tax exemption on the kids and dad no longer has to pay CS. Dad’s house is the mailing address for the kids, and Mom and Dad each get the kids seven overnights every two weeks. So they are literally, 50/50 on physical custody. Mom gets food stamps/SNAP. Can Family Support Division go after dad for reimbursement for state aid given to mom if they go through with this agreement and dad is not paying anything in Child support? Does dad have to involve the state in his motion to modify? Dad is receiving no government assistance.

A: The state has a right to intervene in any case in which the taxpayer is providing benefits to your children that should be provided by a capable parent. Both parents have a duty to support the children according to the children’s needs and the parents’ means. That said, the decision may be based on the amount and type of the benefits (comparing the cost of TANF to food stamps, for example). This isn’t an area in which a layperson should attempt to proceed alone. Contact a family law attorney in your area to assist you.


Q: Will my son be taken from me if the father tries to talk to judges and say I’m a bad mom. I have a three year old son his father was abusive to me I left and been battling him three years he gets him every other weekend and when he does I always get treating text or calls saying he is taking my son I’m a bad mother and all of this, but I’m the one who is here daily I’m the one who sat with our child when he was having problems breathing we stayed over night my husband Damian’s step dad sat up there his real dad never once called text or even came up to see him. – Columbia Missouri, 7/28/2016

A: When you say that you have been battling your ex-husband for three years, I’m going to assume that this means you have a child custody case proceeding (a Motion to Modify) presently. If that is the case, then his present behavior will be considered evidence at any hearing for the custodial arrangement of the children — the “best interests of the child” are certainly affected by such parenting behaviors.


Q: How can I get custody of my 2 boys since their father passed away in January of this year?
My 2 boys live with their grandma since their dad passed away in January of this year. She sent me paperwork to sign over my rights to her so she could be their legal guardian. I refuse to sign the rights over of my kids. I want them to come live with me. The house they are living in now is unsafe and very cluttered. Their grandma has a gambling problem and leave my 2 kids at home by themselves so she can go spend money she received from her son passing away and is buying things for her house. How can I get custody of my 2 boys?

A: If there is not a present guardianship in place, and your parental rights have never been terminated, then you have the right to custody of your children. It sounds as if the grandmother has already engaged the legal system and intends to file for a guardianship — you should retain legal counsel promptly to help you review your options. While it sounds as if you have the right to custody of the children (based on the facts that you’ve given) any attempt to exercise those rights without engaging either the courts or Missouri Social Services – Children’s Services could cause problems for you. Go through the proper channels, exercise your rights, and do not sign any paperwork until you have consulted with a family lawyer that you trust.


Q: What can i do about my ex not paying his child support my ex lost his job were the child support was getting took out of his check weekly. but now he is running his own business he has pictures of him working landscaping jobs with his company name and number. when i ask him about paying child support he always says he doesn’t have it yet there are pictures showing him having alcohol and gold jewelry on his face book page. I don’t know what i can do about this.

A: Contact Child Support Enforcement to see what can be done on the administrative side. The closest office to you is in Springfield MO, at 417-895-6338. It is sometimes more difficult to garnish income from someone who is self-employed or working for cash, but an attorney can help you if child support enforcement isn’t able to be of assistance. Exhaust your administrative options first, as your tax dollars fund a state agency designed to help you collect support orders!

Q: In Missouri can father get custody/child support if he is not on the birth certificate?
son born to unwed parents. Father pays child support. 2 years ago, mother dropped child off with father; child has lived with father since then. Mother visits occasionally, takes child for week-ends, to the movies or park, etc. When the visit is done, returns him to the father and tells the child good bye. Lately Mom is less reliable – wants week ends free, stopped mid-week visits, doesn’t go to school events, doctor visits, doesn’t want the child on holidays, does not provide food, clothing, school supplies, etc. Father continues to pay child support. To be clear, Mom loves the child but does not want the day to day responsibility for his care and won’t sign over custody, won’t give medical authority, won’t stop child support, She feels like controlling these aspects ensures her place in the child’s life. In Missouri, can this (not on the birth certificate) father get custody of the child? Discontinue child support? Could the Mom be required to pay child support? Is there a way this can end happily and protect the relationship between this child and both his mom and dad?

A: Father needs to contact an attorney promptly to file a Paternity case. Essentially, a paternity case will establish his paternity, the custody arrangement for the child, and the support arrangement for the child. If Mom is becoming less predictable, then this is the proper way to solidify what each of the respective parties responsibilities are. Predictability often leads to better relationships between all of the parties, as everyone knows what is expected of them. Dad deserves to have the rights of a parent, as it sounds like he is holding up his end of the parental obligations. Yes, Mom could be required to pay child support. The support calculus is a little beyond the scope of an answer here — suffice it to say that the child support belongs to the child, is based on the parents’ means, and is also based in part on the respective custodial/financial obligations of the parties. Get an attorney on this, and get it into court. The majority of cases settle amicably enough.