I Gave Sole Physical and Legal Custody to the Dad and Step Mom Is Taking Over

Updated on March 11, 2019
A.B. asks from Great Lakes, IL
21 answers

Two years ago I gave up sole physical and legal custody to my kids father because I wanted to join the military and I needed time to get myself together and he was going on shore duty. The military thing didn’t work out and I’ve been living place to place and trying to stay close to my kids. What caused the divorce in the first place was his new wife and since I’ve given him custody I feel she is overstepping her boundaries. Recently I moved to Wisconsin to be closer to where they live in Illinois and I’ve noticed she has taken in the full fledged role of a mother to the point where they’re calling her mom which I told them not to do. She attends parent/teacher conferences, talks to their teachers without him present, signs them up for activities and sports, which get in the way when I ask to see them, and he allows her to do all this. I gave custody to him not her and now I want custody back.

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answers from Anchorage on

I get she will never replace you but she is very much a real mother to them as well, she is doing all the day to day caregiving etc so I don't think she is over stepping at all, especially if dad is on board. If you want custody back you will have to hire a lawyer and fight for it.

I agree with everything Diane D. said.

4 moms found this helpful

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answers from Boston on

Sounds like you made a very difficult decision that was in the best interest of your children at the time the decision was made. I applaud you for that - my step-daughter's biological mother made the same difficult decision many years ago and allowed her daughter to move in with her dad and I, where she could benefit from the stability and resources that we could provide and that she could not. It's truly a sacrifice for a biological parent to do that I sincerely commend you for that.

That said, while your feelings are understandable, it might help you to reframe the situation in a more positive light. Your ex is probably able to provide a good home life for your children BECAUSE of his wife. It sounds like she has stepped into the role that you stepped back from. Much like my step-daughter's dad (we got divorced after she finished high school so he's now my ex), your ex might not really be able to step into that primary parent role. When my SD lived with us, I handled things for her just like I did the rest of my kids - signing up for activities, taking care of school stuff, attending parent-teacher conferences, taking her to the doctor and dentist, knowing who her friends and their families were, etc. My husband wasn't home to do those things during the day and I worked from home or took time off from work to take care of those things. It would have been hurtful and neglectful to NOT treat her like she was my daughter.

Your role in your children's lives is important. If I were you, I would do what we had hoped that my SD's mother would do. We had hoped that she would get an apartment near us (and by near us, I mean the same town or a neighboring town - not sure how close you are to your kids but in separate states seems too far unless you all live in communities on the state borders). This would also make it easier for you to modify custody in court, as jurisdiction wouldn't be an issue. We hoped that she would get a job where she could support herself and work predictable hours. We hoped that once she had a place to live and a steady income and steady schedule, that we could establish a schedule for SD to spend time at her place (overnights if she had a bedroom, or just regular dinners there etc. if she didn't). And we hoped that at some point, things would be settled enough that we could go to court and make the new arrangements permanent and binding. We pictured her mom being as much a part of her life as we were - going to school events, knowing her friends, helping her pick activities and classes and shop for a prom dress and get her hair done, etc. Unfortunately, none of that happened in our case but it could happen in yours.

Work on getting everything in place that you need to be able to share custody of your kids or at least have substantive parenting time. Talk to your ex about your desire to see them more, and don't be hostile about the fact that his wife is stepping up and parenting your kids. I get that that probably feels like a punch in the gut (there is a lot of guilt and shame for mothers who aren't in the primary caregiver role) but it sounds like she's good to your kids and that's better than the alternative by far. When you're ready, consult with an attorney about modifying custody and hopefully if everyone has the kids' best interests in mind, you can put together a plan that benefits everyone.

This must be very difficult - I wish you the best of luck!

16 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I don't think she's overstepping. You decided to give custody to your children't father while you figured out life. This was a wonderful thing because it gave you space to figure things out without putting the children in a stressful situation. Hats off to you for doing that.

Their step mother made the choice to be a supportive person in their lives. She could have decided that this wasn't her circus and they weren't her monkeys which could have created a lot of tension for the kids. Instead she opened her life to them and did the things that she and your ex felt were important for the kids by getting them into activities and sports. Hats off to her for doing that.

Now that things have calmed down in your life you need to coparent with your ex and his wife to make sure you are all putting the children first. Get their schedules (maybe a google calendar where all 3 of you have access to see what's going on) and get involved in what they are doing. Go to their sports games and practices. Figure out a visitation schedule that works for everyone involved.

I understand that you are upset to see that she's filling as the mother figure for your kids but honestly the reaction of 'I WANT CUSTODY BACK' isn't going to be what's best for the kids at this moment. I'm not saying that you shouldn't have custody but you need to put the kids first and figure out what's in their best interest just as you've always done. Maybe joint custody is the answer depending on the school system and everyone's schedule.

The final thing I'll say is not to tell the kids what to call her. Calling her mom isn't taking away from you. They probably feel less pressure when they are with their friends calling her mom. Its easier than saying 'my step mom'. They know who their mom is. Calling her mom isn't taking away from you in any way. Don't put that burden on the kids.

12 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

The concept of full custody is not a legal requirement that someone be a single parent!

You gave your children's father full custody and he is sharing his parenting work with his *wife* - that happens. They as a parenting couple are under no legal obligation to check in with you.

I think you need to "see the forest through the trees" here, look at the big picture here. Your children are living with a woman who is spending her time and energy and attention on them, on their teacher conferences, on making sure they get involved in activities and sports. And your children are calling her mom - which, as one poster notes below, might be much less awkward around their school friends than saying "my father's new wife" or whatever else.

Rather than (selfishly) focusing on not wanting your children to have fun in activities and sports because it takes away time from you, or trying to insist that your children not express their affection for a woman who is caring for them, you should focus on trying to *collaborate* with her and with your ex. If you cannot discuss things with them in a friendly way, you can also consider petitioning with a lawyer for shared custody - that might be the best solution for you in this situation.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Abilene on

I am a stepmom. She was 9 when we gained her custody. I too hoped her mother would be involved in her life. I went as far as to pay for her way to come visit her daughter because I wanted her at her daughter’s first dance recital. She was adamant about her daughter not calling me mom and of course I was fine with that. I thought it was ridiculous that she made such a big deal of it, but respected her wishes.

I will tell you I loved her as my own. Not because of any other reason but she was a human being who deserved respect, stability, joy, peace and love. I spent many conversations reassuring her her mother loved her even though she would go months without contact. She only came around about once a year when she had a short desire to be her mom. And let me tell you, that totally screwed her daughter up and she’s still affected by it. Please don’t do that to your kids.

I can’t imagine the difficult decision you made to give your ex sole custody. I have to believe you did that in your children’s best interest. Please continue to make decisions in their best interest. Their step mom isn’t the bad guy. She’s doing her best to take care of the children in her care knowing full well that if she screws up, her intentions will be put under a microscope.

When you demand your children don’t call her mom, you’re making it tough on THEM. Maybe they want to fit in and not stand out by calling her by her first name.

Be happy they have a person who genuinely loves them taking care of their daily needs. They could have someone who cares less about their needs. You are blessed to not have that to worry about.

Put all your energy into making yourself the best person they can count on. They will be adults a lot longer than children. The choices made now will set the tone for your relationship later. Choose wisely.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Sorry. YOU GAVE UP CUSTODY of your children. That means that this woman has stepped in, loves your kids, goes to conferences, signs them up for activities, and you don't get to complain.
You haven't even LIVED closed to them, yet when you want to see them you are expecting them to change their lives in order to see them.
Sorry mom. No sympathy here. You want to have more of a say, then move to ILLINOIS, get a job, go to court.
You don't get to blame the woman who is the mother to your children because now you've changed your mind and want to be their 'mom' again.
Can you imagine if you were the kids? Your birth mom goes to court and gives up physical and legal custody to you, your father finds a woman to step in and love you, and then your mom comes back to say "never mind! I changed my mind! My life didn't go the way I planned and now I have time for you"

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I have a brother who is a step dad and 2 close friends who are step moms.

My thought is, if the wife wasn't doing these things, who do you think would be doing it? (signing them up for activities, meeting with teachers, etc.)?

My brother did it all, because his wife has a career also and it would have been their nanny doing these things. My husband had some flexibility in his schedule. He didn't do it to piss of the bio dad.

This is the same for my friends.

If you would rather your ex do the parenting - then you need to talk to him. It may not be possible. If you have the availability and would rather take it on, then work with them.

Don't immediately assume she's being horrible. That doesn't help anyone.

That attitude usually hurts the kids.

* As for signing kids up for sports and activities, as long as they want to be in them - that's not a big deal. Who cares who actually signs them up? Talking to the teachers - should be dad, or both - whoever is doing the homework with the children. Honestly, if my husband went in to talk to the teachers, he wouldn't be up to date on my kids' work as much as I would be. I am the one who does more with my kids on a day to day basis. If she's helping with your kiddos' schoolwork - then maybe it makes sense she is there - and maybe your ex couldn't be there.

It would be great if you could get to a place where you just felt better about the parenting arrangement. Really, sometimes it takes a village to raise a child. Joint custody sounds like a good goal.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

A., sweetie, you did the right thing for your children by giving up legal custody. That means you no longer have a say in their life. Their dad is allowed to move on with his life and that means he can get married and his wife can what needs to be done for the kids.

Stop with the jealousy. You are jealous because you made a choice and put your children first. Good for you. Now stop and allow your ex-husband to continue to raise his children. Let this woman who has stepped in and up when you weren't able to, do her job and let her have her place in their lives.

You are allowing jealousy to motivate you. You gave your children up. YOU GAVE THEM UP. That's not an easy decision. Now your ex-husband has moved on. He has a woman who is treating his children like her own and PARENTING them. BEING THERE for them. WHY would you want to disrupt that?

Please. Take a step back and stop. This isn't about YOU. It's about the children., If they are NOT being abused? Leave them alone. They are getting LOVE and attention. that's NOT a bad thing.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

One of the posters below (JB) pointed out extremely well how this could work in your benefit. If I read this right, she went through all of this as a step-parent. To add to this, it seems to me the biggest gift you could give to yourself, and your children is to make yourself geographically available to them. When I was divorced and hence remarried my ex-husband decided to move annoyingly far away. Far away enough to travel in state to pick the kids up for weekends, but not close enough for activities all the time or visits or after school basketball games. Had he decided to stay close by their little lives would not have been so changed. Instead, like many suffering children in divorce situations-they are like ping pong balls going back and forth and not anywhere long enough to get the rules straight. Please read JB's note. It is inspirational. And if there is any way to move near them please do so. I totally understand your anger as a jilted woman, and understand how painful it feels to be in your shoes but you still have time to change this. Good luck!

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

This is very hard for you. But think of it a different way...if I were you I would be happy that my children's stepmom loves them, has stepped up in the role of mom, goes to teacher conferences, gets them into sports, and basically cares. She cares. She loves them. This is GOOD! I know that this is hard for you as a mom, but instead of thinking of her as in competition with you, you should instead think of her as a part of a team with you. She is important to your kids. Your kids have needed someone there for them all this time. While you were joining the military and trying to get it to work out there were two adults there giving your kids a stable day to day life. Your best bet is to get a stable job nearby, have a stable place of residence like buying your own home, and take the long view. You show them that you aren't going anywhere. You show them that you are calm and reasonable. You show them that you can be a team with them. Be kind. Be easy for them to talk to. I'd make it my first goal to get to see the kids every other weekend. This is where you start. You plan to be in that spot till your kids are age 20 or more, working, having a steady job, saving for your retirement, helping pay for sports camps and braces, saving for their college, etc. You show them through your actions that you are now stable. After time (a couple years I'm thinking) then you lobby to try to get half time custody if things are going well. If the kids want it. If the kids are happy. If the kids are comfortable. Remember, always put the kids first. Never say something negative to them about their dad or stepmom. That puts them in an uncomfortable position. PS - no matter what you will always be SO important to your children. Just live nearby and start being in their lives.You might have to start small and work up. Be patient. Most importantly, try not to be jealous and just be there and be available and focus on your kids when you do have them. Focus on having quality time. Good luck.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Sorry but if he has custody he also has a choice of who to share daily child care with. She is sharing responsibility much like any partners do. Would you really want things for your children left undone, not signed up for activities, if your ex does not have time. I hear that you are still angry with her not that she does not treat your children well. This is all the reality of the situation. So, given the situation what can you do? The only remedy is to move close to them so you can be a regular part of their lives. So you can go to all of their games, etc. a good family law attorney is needed to get regular visitation and parenting time reinstated. Your goal here must be to get involved with your kids on a regular basis and work towards sharing parenting time. You will not get them away from that woman, what you can do is be an important part of their lives.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I'm not convinced this is a real post...but let me ask a few questions...Are YOU going to the parent teacher conferences? Are you regularly contacting their teachers? How often are you seeing them and spending time with them? Are you sending money and/or offering to do the sign-ups for said sports? Even if you are willing to do the manual work of signing them up on line for some team, why would you? You don't know their schedules or how they will get to and fro? I'm having a difficult time understanding what exactly you are upset about. You gave up your parental rights. This woman has stepped in as their mother.

Did you not realize at the time you "gave him custody" that he was married and would require the help of his spouse to raise the children? Raising children is difficult work and it's a heck of a lot easier when you have a loving person to help.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

I have a lot of trouble reconciling your decision to use the military to help you get yourself together and giving up custody of your child to do that. The military is hard. It’s not a surprise that this didn’t pan out. Meanwhile, your child needed a “mother in actual deed” and this woman stepped into the role. While you are doing your own thing, you have tried to call the shots because you are jealous of this woman.

Like the other moms have pointed out, if you want shared custody, you’re going to have to make some real changes in your circumstances. The court decides AFTER you prove that it’s a good idea for this child. And uprooting her, trying to poison her against her step-mother and trying to enforce boundaries when you are the one who walked away shows that you care about yourself more than your daughter. Children need security and you trying to take away her security is not in her best interest.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

What a tough situation for you. It sounds like the children are lucky to have someone who performs all the Mom duties they need. I'm sure that is a bitter pill to swallow. The reality is that you are not in the picture for your children. That can't be easy. Rather than wallow in your grief, please make something out of it. Focus on you. Make yourself the best you can be. Work hard. And then work harder. Bury yourself in work. (Don't bury yourself in addiction whether drugs/alcohol/men.) Set some goals and achieve them. (Think school, career, home ownership.) Seek guidance if you don't know how to do this. Use your time wisely. Save money. Create your own stability. Be your children's best absent role model ever. Show them how one makes lemonade out of lemons. And never lose touch with them. Write them daily emails. Ask them how their days are. Share minimally your problems as your contact is about them not you. Love them every minute of every day and let them know that. Love yourself. When you're ready, they will be ready. Good luck! You can do it.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Unless your parental rights were terminated, you can petition the court for shared custody. However, you'll have to show that it's in the best interest of the children. This means at the very least, you have a stable home, an income, and consistent relationship with your children.

Difficulties for you to obtain shared custody is your frequent moves, your sporadic visits with them. You cannot get shared custody when you criticize their stepmother for doing what a mother, even a stepmother, should do. Shared custody after this long of separation would require you to cooperate with their current living arrangement.

To be frank, it's unlikely the court would give you shared custody because your children are being well cared for by their father and stepmother. They are living in a stable home.

Your life is not stable. You move often, do not visit regularly, do not live close enough to know your children and their needs now. Demanding that their stepmother stop parenting them means you will definitely not win in court. I suggest you talk with an attorney before you tell their father you are going to file for custody. Your post seems to say you're going to upset your children's life, not because you're the better parent, but because you want to be recognized as their only mom. Think about what is best for the children. I suggest you make a list of what the court will say about your children's emotional and physical needs. Then make a list of how you can provide for your children's needs. Changing custody arrangements will be painful for your children.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Aguadilla on

You need to chill and understand that ex husbands move on and he obviously married a wonderful woman who stepped up to take the place you left vacant willingly. You kids are lucky to have a stepmom that actually sees them as her own and you should be greatful. You made your decision and it seems you still don't have your life back together 100% so think again if you want to claim your kids back just out of spite and jealousy. Your kids happiness and wellbeing should be priority, not your ego. That said, it is good that you live close by and are at least as physically present as possible in their lives. At least they know that they can reach you easily if they feel the need to.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

This must be hard for you if you feel step-mom is responsible for the end of your marriage. Can you try to consider the possibility that your marriage ending was not her “fault”, but more your ex-husband’s, or maybe it just wasn’t a good marriage. Maybe he is not a good guy, and ultimately will probably cheat on her too, in which case you are much better off without him, right? Or maybe he was just immature when you and he married, and now he has matured and found a partner who is a better fit for him?

You also have the opportunity to find someone who is a better fit for you, but first you should focus on you. Do you have a good job or are you in school? Are you still living place to place or are you settled now? Have you made friendships where you are living now? Are you paying child support? It will be best for your children if everyone who loves them is happy and in a good place.

As others have said, your children will benefit from having all of you get along and put their needs first. Don’t get mad at the kids for calling her “mom”, just make sure you are also an awesome mom for them. Try to work around their schedules as best you can, be kind and appreciative with dad and step-mom, and make sure you are a kind and stable presence in your children’s lives. Let dad and step-mom know you appreciate them stepping up when you needed them to, but you also would like to be included in school events/conferences/etc. If they are resistant to this, and you have achieved some stability in your life, then seek legal advice to re-establish some parental rights.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

You gave up custody. She is stepping up to do the things that you didn’t want to do.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

What is best for your children? A loving step-mother who is involved and diligent who loves your kids and takes good care of them OR one who ignores them, doesn't allow them to have extra activities, refuses to see how they might need help in the classroom, and your kids feel uncomfortable with as a "mom" figure?

If you can work with her as a team and both put your children first then step back in and start helping your husband and his new wife raise happy health children. If your anger is going to taint a happy home life then stay away and allow the children to be in a loving home.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Louisville on

She is mom. She’s there in the night when they throw up, she’s there when they get their feeling hurt. I’m kind of curious what you thought would happen if they were already married... did you expect her to totally ignore the two small people in the house? If you want custody you are going to have to get a lawyer but I’m will to put money on the judge not siding with you.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

The stepmother aka StepNanny, have no legal rights over your children. This is parental alienation. The kids calling her mom is a symptom and her signing documentation for them. She and your ex are railroading you seeing your kids.

There have been a significant change in circumstances. You need to request increased parenting time and your legal custody back. ASAP!

Being military you understand your ex is clearly delegating all his parenting duties and responsibilities to his subordinate...his wife.
His wife is an eager accomplice to stupid to realize she is just being used.

She is a 3rd party. Your ex is incapable of caring for the kids alone...like so many men just dumps the kids off on a StepNanny to deal with. Meanwhile these cruel evil people deny kids time love and attention from their mother. It is selfish.

Just because men use stepmothers as nanny’s, maids, chauffeurs isn’t right...you are the mother. It’s not a healthy situation them not letting you see your kids.

Just think this StepNanny won’t want her own children enduring what she is putting your children through. The hypocrisy of the stepmother..

Go get your kids back!

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