If things aren’t working out between you and your child’s father and you’ve got a newborn in the house, you’re not alone. But you’re probably feeling pretty alone, and overwhelmed, and, if you’re like every other mom in that dreaded 4th trimester, more than a little hormonal. Besides that, you’re exhausted, and that just doesn’t allow anyone to think very clearly, let alone a new mama.
Babies don’t fix anything; in fact, they often make a bad situation even worse, because you add on to it all the guilt and the responsibility involved with caring for another person. Being a parent is amazing and wonderful and such a gift, but it’s also a burden. It’s difficult, it’s time consuming, and it requires a lot from you. If you don’t have a partner at home who is committed to helping you navigate your new normal, it’s just one more really big stressor.
So, what do you do? You’ve got a new baby at home, but it doesn’t look like things are going to work out.
First thing’s first. Don’t overreact. You need to think calmly and rationally about your situation, and come up with a plan for how to move forward.
What kind of dad is your child’s father? Is he completely uninterested? Is he likely to fight you for custody? Can you just work it out on your own?
Even if he’s a total jerk, you may be able to work it out. There’s no reason to think that, just because things aren’t working out, that you HAVE to go to court or that you are DEFINITELY going to have to litigate custody. That’s not the case. In fact, probably most families end up reaching an agreement regarding custody and visitation. They may or may not ever go to court. It’s not required. Court is for people who can’t reach an agreement. People who do, for the most part, stay out of court.
So, take a deep breath. There’s a chance you won’t have to go to court at all. Maybe your case can be resolved with an agreement. In fact, that’s probably the most likely scenario, because most people don’t want to leave something as serious as the custody of their child in the hands of a judge.
What do I need to know about custody in Virginia?
Good question. The first step should be to learn as much as you can about custody in Virginia. It’ll prepare you for what you’re about to experience, and will help you combat any of that fear you might experience when you start to think about the possibility of a custody case. After all, the more you know, the more critically you can think and strategize about your case.
You should request a copy of our free custody guide first. It’s full of tons of information about how custody cases are decided in Virginia, and is a good place to start. You should also consider attending our divorce seminar if you’re also married to your child’s father. If you’re interested in learning how to represent yourself, or just want to know how custody cases are handled in the juvenile courts, consider attending our intense, all day custody seminar, Custody Bootcamp for Moms.
If you want specific information on a topic, check our free resources page, and make sure to search our library for articles on tons of topics.
What do I need to do to get child support established?
Another good question! It depends on what type of case you have. No matter what, you can always file for child support, custody, visitation, and even spousal support, if you’re married to your child’s father, at the juvenile court level.
If you’re married, though, you should know that the juvenile court won’t handle your divorce – that’s a circuit court matter. The circuit court can also handle child support, custody, visitation, and spousal support as part of a divorce case, too, so, depending on the facts involved with your case, you might choose to handle things differently.
You can also establish child support, child custody, visitation, and whatever other outstanding issues you have pending, by agreement between the parties without ever needing to set foot in the courtroom.
What if he says he’s going to take custody from me?
Take a deep breath. Remember how I recommended those books, seminars, and resources on our site? You should definitely make sure you request, at least, the free custody book.
Chances are slim that he’ll take your child away from you. Typically, in cases where custody is litigated, we see something like shared custody awarded – but that’s not necessarily the case with newborns or very young babies. Shared custody doesn’t necessarily mean 50/50 custody, either; there are all sorts of arrangements that qualify as shared but don’t mean an even split of the child’s time. (Shared custody just means that the non custodial parent has more than 90 days with the child in the course of a year.)
He may say all sorts of things, particularly if the relationship is disintegrating quickly. Don’t take his word for it; take ours. Read the Women’s Custody Survival Guide now. Even if he DOES choose to fight you for custody, chances are that you won’t LOSE custody, unless there’s something else going on. Courts rarely take a child completely away from one parent and put him/her in the care of the child’s other parent. There might be reasons that this could happen, but it’s unlikely. (We’re talking, like, in cases of physical or sexual abuse, if one parent is completely denying visitation to the other parent, or if one parent moves away from the child’s other parent and sharing custody regularly becomes impracticable.)
What if I’m breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is complicated, and creates all sorts of issues. At the end of the day, it’s hard to say exactly how a judge would handle the breastfeeding relationship. Some value it, others don’t.
It’s a good argument to raise, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to keep your child with you exclusively for as long as you choose to nurse. There is (like it or not) also the pumping option, and many judges are aware of this possibility. You wouldn’t be FORCED to pump, but if you don’t have the parenting time that you’d need to nurse, you might find that you either have to pump or your child’s father will supplement with formula.
In the cases where breastfeeding is the most successful, the child’s other parent is permitted frequent contact with the child. Visitation, potentially in the mom’s home, can happen every day or every other day for a period of a couple hours, so that the dad gets to see the child but mom is on hand to breastfeed as needed. Sure, it’s an invasion of your privacy, and probably he’s the last person you want to be around your house when things aren’t going well, but if breastfeeding is that important to you (and your child’s father is insisting on seeing the child), it may be a compromise that keeps everyone’s goals in mind. (And, hey, it’s at least time for you to shower or take a nap, right? Just thinking about it in a “glass half full” kind of way!)
Don’t freak out. If you’re facing a breakup and you’ve got a small baby at home, you’re not alone. This isn’t our first rodeo, either, and we’re familiar with the issues facing moms who’ve got small children and custody cases going on. We’re sympathetic to the issues you’re facing, and we’re moms, too. We get it, and we can help you navigate this tricky territory with as little fuss as possible.
After all, most cases resolve after some negotiation. That’s not to say that it’s a piece of cake, but it’s do-able, and there’s no reason to think that yours won’t resolve relatively easily, too.
For more information, or to talk one on one with an attorney, give our office a call at 757-425-5200 to schedule a consultation. We’re here to help.