I spoke with a young man today; we’ll call him “Herman.” Herman is happily married with two pre-school age children from this marriage. He also has a 14 year old son from a prior relationship. We’ll call the son “Anthony,” and his mother “Tina.”
Tina and Herman were never married; I’m not even sure they ever lived together. They were young, dating, got pregnant, had a baby, and decided that the baby would spend time with both of them. By the time Anthony started kindergarten, Tina and Herman were done with each other. They went to the child support enforcement bureau and got an order for $100 per week to be automatically deducted from Herman’s bank account and deposited into Tina’s. And life went on.
There were no court orders about custody or visitation or anything else. It was just two kids and a baby figuring it out as they went. Tina doesn’t live in a great school district. Herman does, so Anthony moved in with Herman & his wife and kids. Since there were no court orders; nothing needed to be modified.
Where are we now?
Custody: technically, Tina and Herman have “joint custody” of Anthony. This means that neither one of them has final say on where Anthony lives or goes to school. They are both his active and involved parents and both have joint authority over him. They must keep each other informed of his whereabouts and developments.
Primary Residence: Right now, Anthony’s primary residence is with his father. There is no court order instructing him to stay with either parent, so primary custody is with whichever parent happens to put him to bed each night.
Visitation: If he sleeps every night at dad’s house, and goes to school in dad’s neighborhood, then any time he spends with his mother will be considered “visitation.” Even of he spends a week at Tina’s house; because he has established Herman’s house as his current primary residence.
Child Support: That’s the money that goes out of Herman’s bank account and into Tina’s bank account every week. Just because Anthony has switched his primary residence, the child support does not automatically end. It can end either by order of the Court, or by filing with the support enforcement bureau. If Herman wants to stop paying child support to Tina, he is going to have to go get it changed by a government agency with proper authority.
As long as Anthony, Tina, and Herman (plus Herman’s wife and kids) are happy; they really have no reason to involve the courts. If approached, most jurisdictions would look to find out the truth of how the parties currently live and then make orders reflecting the status quo. No court intends to rip apart a situation which works well for the minor child.
Would life have been easier if a court had entered orders about custody and visitation when the child support was ordered? Maybe; but such orders would probably have lacked the real-world fluidity of Anthony’s needs
What We Love: By working together for Anthony’s best interest, Tina and Herman have avoided court for most of his life. Whatever money they do not spend on lawyers can be used for Anthony’s benefit.