It Was All Good… (Child Support is Not a Choice)
Thomas and Teresa were inseparable. They met when they were nineteen and twenty years old. After six months of dating, they had fallen in love with each other and were expecting their first child. When the couple broke the news to their families, it did not go over well. Teresa’s parents were furious with her. Her parents conveyed the usual concerns that she was too young to be a mother, she hadn’t known Thomas long enough to entrust her life and a child’s life to him and that neither Thomas nor Teresa were in a position to raise a child. Thomas’ parents were not too thrilled about Teresa to begin with and were very skeptical about the couple having a baby.
Despite their parents’ urging them away from being young parents, Thomas and Teresa decided to go through with the pregnancy. Six months into the pregnancy, Teresa begin to have doubts about her and Thomas’ relationship and each time she mentioned her doubts, Thomas would disregard her concerns and dismiss them as pregnancy hormones. After a while, Teresa began dismissing all the red flags she experienced with Thomas and continued to live in oblivion.
When the baby was born, Teresa went to the hospital by herself. Thomas did not make it until well after the baby was born so Teresa called her mother to be there for her. Two weeks after the baby was born, Teresa was having a difficult time juggling being a new mom that she began neglecting Thomas all together. Teresa soon moved in with her parents because she felt Thomas was not very helpful with the baby, he was not very attentive to their relationship and he was verbally abusive toward Teresa.
For the first year of the child’s life Thomas and Teresa’s living arrangement worked for them. Teresa would keep the child during the week and Thomas would get the child on the weekends. Thomas and Teresa’s relationship began to dwindle each passing month. Their arguments began to escalate to the point that Teresa was afraid to be alone with Thomas. She did not think that Thomas would hurt the baby, but she wasn’t so sure about herself.
Once Teresa stopped interacting with Thomas on a romantic level, Thomas began to get jealous and began sending her less and less money for child support. Thomas also began threatening to take custody of the child and not let Teresa see the child. Teresa’s parents had encouraged Teresa to place Thomas on child support when the baby was born and to put a custody arrangement in place so this type of situation would not happen. Teresa protested the child support and child custody because at that time, she believed Thomas would always do the right thing. Additionally, Thomas always stated to Teresa that he did not want the Court system to tell him how to take care of his child.
After the child turned two, things began to change for both Thomas and Teresa. Thomas began dating another woman and Teresa became vindictive. Thomas was inconsistent with providing child support and getting the child on weekends. Teresa would prevent Thomas from seeing the child unless he was alone or if he gave her more money. The two could not properly co-parent because they were too invested in their emotional hurt from their toxic relationship.
Thomas and Teresa’s story happens more often than most people would like to admit. Getting a child support and child custody order in place early on prevents inconsistency from happening in a co-parent situation when the relationship goes bad. Child support is a requirement, not a choice and can be equally beneficial to the payor and the payee. Child support allows the payor to keep a record of the financial contributions provided to prevent manipulation and false information being presented to the court. Child support also allows the payee to know how much to expect every month and to have it on time.
Child custody is a well thought out plan to go by in the event of disagreement. Parents can always alter the custody arrangements as long as both parents agree (and it doesn’t always have to be in writing). The custody order presented to the court is the fallback plan that is used to create consistency for a child, prevent miscommunication between parents, and provide clear guidelines for co-parenting.
The court system does not enjoy making decisions for families, especially when the parents are fighting with each other to the point they cannot agree on how to parent their children. In fact, most judges will prefer the parents to agree on an arrangement and present it to the court for final approval. If you or someone you know is in a similar situation as Thomas and Teresa, talk to a lawyer today to discuss your options. If you are in a co-parenting situation or will be in a co-parenting situation, do think about having a custody and support plan in place while both parents are in a good place and can agree. Do not wait until the relationship sours to begin putting these plans in place.
This example is of course a worst-case scenario of what could happen to a family who has not taken all the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their children in the event of tragedy and are not protected by a legal marriage. While Sam and Sarah did not have to be married to prevent the tragic dilemma Sam faced upon Sarah’s death, marriage would have given Sam all the rights to Sarah’s estate and would have allowed him to make decision for all four children and keep them together. Marriage under the law is a legal relationship that creates rights upon the two individuals who enter into it. Absent a legal marriage, Sam and Sarah would have had to take extraordinary legal precautions to ensure that in the event of a tragedy, the family would still be protected.
If you or someone you know is currently in a situation like Sam and Sarah’s, please speak with a lawyer about all the legal ramifications of not getting married. Be proactive so that tragedy does not disrupt the family life any more than necessary.