I know I don’t have a say about who can go around the stepdaughter, but I want her to be safe as well. I don’t trust this guy (I have known who he is for many years). I told my ex that I do not feel comfortable with a person like this around my son. It has nothing to do with heartbreak or my being spiteful — we still get along very well; I’m just extremely concerned with this guy around my son because of the bad person that he is. My ex is clouded because she says that he’s cuddly and so on, but she’s not looking at the bigger picture. I would like advice on what my options would be at this point if she doesn’t respect that I don’t want a drug dealer around the kids? — Worried Dad
For your question, I turned to our resident family law guy, Guy Friday, and this is what he says:
First of all, depending on what state you’re in, you may not have any rights PERIOD at the moment despite being the known biological father of the child, even if the mother isn’t disputing it. In many states a child who is not the product of a marriage requires the filing of a paternity action so that the court can legally adjudicate you as the father of the child. Granted, if no one is claiming you’re not, the process is pretty quick, but it still means they set mandatory child support and visitation (though those could be “held open”, meaning no court action is taken and it’s on you two to figure out what’s fair.)
Second, assuming my first point has been resolved and you’re legally the father with all the rights and obligations that go with it, you have a few options, though all of them are likely to damage the “getting along” you have with your ex. One option, if you think your son is in immediate danger, is to call Child Protective Services. They can investigate, and certainly the presence of controlled substances in the house or evidence of neglect would warrant removal of the child, be that placement with you, a relative, or a foster parent while the situation is sorted out. Another option is to bring a petition to the court seeking to modify placement, with the argument being that the child is in a dangerous situation in that home and that increased time with you is in the “best interests” of the child. This will likely require the appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem — a lawyer whose job it is to argue for what is BEST for the child rather than what each of you WANTS — and you or she might end up hiring a lawyer to help represent your side. Needless to say, it can get pricey, and many states still defer to the mother when the child is very young. Finally, I suppose you could wait it out and see if the relationship falls apart anyway, which many do when you’re dealing with those kinds of problems; it’s possible that your ex is aware of the risks and is taking steps to mitigate harm to the children that you just don’t see because you’re not around.
My advice to any potential client who walked in to my office in this situation would be the following: Do nothing now beyond documenting the date and time of any issues or concerns you have. Keep doing so until there is a tipping point, an incident that a reasonable neutral person would say constitutes a major concern for the child’s health. At that point, file the petition with the court. If it escalates, then and only then call Child Protective Services. But it is better to walk in to court being able to say “I tried to fix the problem before coming before you” and be able to show that than making it seem like you ran to court at the first disturbance.
Good luck, WD, and thanks for your insight and advice, Guy Friday.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.