Swift Justice: Child custody, domestic violence and delinquent child support

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Dear Jackie,

I recently got divorced, and my husband got full custody of our son without seeing a judge. He told me he wouldn't let me see my son unless I signed the divorce papers. I signed them, even though I wasn't ready to. My question is, can I take my divorce case to a judge, even though it's finalized? My son was used by his father to get me to sign the papers! -- Natalie from Hobbs, N.M.

Hi, Natalie,

Did you consult with an attorney before you signed the papers? What do the papers say about visitation rights? The New Mexico statute says that it is presumed that joint custody is in the best interest of the child. To modify an existing custody order (this requires a decree signed by the judge), there needs to be a change in circumstances. My strong suggestion to you is to contact an attorney. If you cannot afford one, contact your local legal aide office or the State Bar of New Mexico, which probably has a pro bono program. You need to get into court to modify the decree if you did not receive joint custody or if there is no visitation provision for you. Delaying this will only make it more difficult, since the court will look at what has taken place since the divorce. These cases are very difficult, and you will have to prove to the judge that you did not want to sign the papers but did anyway, and why. You should never sign legal documents without having an attorney first review them. I hope you can get the help that you need to succeed.

Dear Jackie,

I have a few questions about some domestic violence issues that I went through in 2009. Is there a statute of limitations? Can I pursue legal action since my abuser is now in prison on a different assault that involved kidnapping? -- Trina from Circleville, Ohio

Hi, Trina,

Whether or not the alleged abuser is in prison would not prevent an action against him. What may prevent it is the statute of limitations. In Ohio, the statute of limitations for criminal charges can be as short as six months for minor misdemeanors and up to 20 years for certain felonies. There is no statute of limitations for murder. What will make it more difficult for you is that so much time has elapsed since the alleged incident. Why wasn't it reported at the time? You can report it to the police, but since the potential defendant is in prison, it is not likely that they will want to pursue a prosecution if it is a misdemeanor. If you are talking about a civil action, that too has a statute of limitations of two years for an assault or battery. In either case, please understand that any type of domestic violence should not be tolerated or go unreported. There are two organizations that may be able to discuss your situation with you: The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) at http://www.ncadv.org, and The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and http://www.ndvh.org.

Dear Jackie,

My son was laid off two years ago, and although he sent in child support payments from unemployment, he still owes a lot. Now that his line of work has opened up, he cannot find a job because everywhere he applies tells him he is a credit risk due to outstanding child support. Legal aid in Florida will not address this. Please give us some direction so that he can get back to work and pay off his back child support. -- Rita from Plantation, Fla.

Hi, Rita,

No doubt, this is a tough situation. Total delinquent child support payments in the U.S. are in the billions of dollars. This means that your son's situation is not unique. He should contact the child support agency in your community and set up a minimal payment plan while he is currently unemployed. He should ask what he can do to get the negative credit rating off his record so that he can get a job. The district attorney's family support office in your community is another good place to start. When applying for a job, he should be up-front with the prospective employer about his support situation and tell them that he is dealing with it, if in fact he is. He should stress that by getting the job, he will be better able to be a responsible parent and support his child. Honesty is the best policy and hopefully it will make a difference. Good luck.

(Jackie Glass is a lawyer and former district court judge from Las Vegas, Nev., who is the new host of CBS's daytime legal affairs program, "Swift Justice With Jackie Glass." Visit http://www.SwiftJustice.com for more information, local show times and to submit your legal questions to Jackie.)

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