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Father currently has sole physical custody of our 16 year…

Father currently has sole physical...
Father currently has sole physical custody of our 16 year old son. I have joint legal custody of him. My son and I are currently estranged and in reunification therapy which is going very slowly. Son made an allegation against dad's wife and recounted, saying I pressured him to do it (not true). Father and his wife were to attend family counseling with our son to work through the issue - It has been nearly a year and their family counseling has not occurred. Son has lived with dad's parents who have now sold their home and will be moving away. I suspect that they no longer want my son living with them as father is now trying to gain my approval to send our son to military boarding school several states away. He has offered me in writing by email the deal of him paying for it and also paying for half of our daughter's private school tuition for the next 2 years (I pay solely for it now). He is "pressuring me" to make a decision saying that he will seek court assistance if I do not agree. I do not agree but I don't want to put an excessive amount of energy into this since our son has been hurtful and told lies about me. Please advise if you think Father has a solid case and also about the binding effects of any email agreements we make, plus any other insight you think may be helpful. Thank you.
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Answered in 6 hours by:
3/28/2018
LegalGems
LegalGems, Lawyer
Category: Family Law
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Customer reply replied 28 days ago
Thank you I appreciate it.

I am sorry to hear that reunification therapy is not going well.

Only the court has jurisdiction (exclusive and continuing jurisdiction per the UCCJEA) to make/modify/terminate child custody agreements. The court, when considering the "Best interests of the child" may take into account correspondence to the parents- in the sense that such correspondence may reveal what a parent feels is best for the child (or vice versa) and the court may (but is not required) to take that opinion into account.

Similarly if any correspondence indicates a motive then the court may consider that as well when making a determination as to what situation best serves the child.

Even if the parties "stipulate" to a certain arrangement, the court would still need to review it and determine if the court feels it is in the child's best interests- which is why a "stipulation" is incorporated into a court order only after the court's approval.

When the court order is no longer being complied with generally one parent will petition the court to have it modified so that it reflects the current situation.

If one parent is unwilling/unable to have the child live with them, then generally the court will modify custody so the other parent has physical custody (unless there are exigent circumstances) - the theory being that residence with one bio parent is better than with a third party.

As for boarding school, that is a viable option assuming the court determines it is in the child's best interests. If the child is estranged from the other parent then that makes the analysis more difficult and the court may very well seek to meet with the teen in chambers to determine what the child wishes. Generally the court will consider the wishes of an older child particularly if it seems to be a mature, logical reasoning.

Even when the parents have joint legal custody so that both parents may make a decision as to education etc, when the child's residence changes the court will expect the parties to petition the court to either approve a stipulation or to modify the court order.

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Customer reply replied 28 days ago
I understand and appreciate the info. I sensed needing a lawyer for this and tried to buy time by telling Father I want to discuss inperson. He is eccentric and wont discuss without a 3rd Party present which I agreed to but he found a 3rd party counselor to facilitate which feels wrong to me
. My 2 biggest cocerns are if I agree to military school and my son is unhappy there I want for him to be able to share that with me and to be brought home (with Father or I) if he wishes and 2) that I not have to pay child support for an all-inclusive school, that is father's choice. Would it be better to have a lawyer help me outline terms with father prior to court or to have father file the motion and then get a lawyer to help me navigate it in court?

Actually 3rd party mediators can be a great help and are often used in family law cases. Of course it is entirely voluntarily and one would need to find a mediator that they feel comfortable with.

The stipulation/order can be drafted in such a manner that there are safeguards put in place- for example a joint conference call between the son and parents, or the son meeting with a counselor half way through the term who would then report to the court as to the son's progress/happiness;

Generally it is best to attempt to negotiate prior to court because then the parties are able to pinpoint the issues they have the most disagreement over rather than having the judge have to determine everything (which can be very expensive given the cost of legal fees).

If one party will stipulate to paying all of the child's tuition and the child would not have additional expenses, the court may modify the child support and make a nominal order so that the court retains jurisdiction to modify it should circumstances change (school does not work out so child returns home). Typically when the child attends school out of state there will need to be orders re: who is responsible for arranging/paying for transportation on holidays and the visitation schedules during that time.

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Customer reply replied 28 days ago
This is tremendously helpful. Would it be appropriate for son's reunification therapist to facilitate our discussion? Also, if best to negotiate terms prior to court through a lawyer then what purpose would the mediator serve in addition to this?

If the therapist is willing but if they have an ongoing relationship with the parent and one child, the other parent may object stating they are not a neutral party.

A mediator is a non adversarial, neutral party whereas a lawyer is an advocate.

Often times parents in particular will use a mediator to hash out what their objectives are- with or without an attorney present. The role of the mediator is to "facilitate" communications so the parties can reach a mutually beneficial/agreeable arrangement; the role of the lawyer is more of an advocate for their client;

so any mediated agreement should be reviewed by one's attorney. It's just that often times people are able to come to an agreement first by using a mediator because it is a non-adversarial setting. Then the lawyer can review the agreement to make sure it has the desired objective for the client.

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Customer reply replied 28 days ago
That makes sense. Thank you so much.
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