Q. I have been living in Rhode Island for the last eighteen months. I moved back home with my parents at the beginning of the pandemic because our then infant was premature and my husband is a first responder. I learned a few months after I left that he began having an affair. About six months ago, he moved his girlfriend in and filed for divorce.
I’m having trouble navigating two states at once. I understand since I’ve lived outside Massachusetts with our daughter for more than six months, Rhode Island is now where custody and child support gets figured out. He wants to have everything done in the Massachusetts case. In my answer I objected to everything except property division. I am thinking of filing a separate custody action in Rhode Island and asking for child support. He hasn’t paid anything since I left and is telling me he can have me forced back to Massachusetts with our daughter even though I now have nowhere to live.
He also wants me to agree to accept $200 per week child support and let him keep the house and I can keep our daughter. I know we have at least $500,000 in equity in the house but I also know he will have trouble refinancing and buying me out. I can’t believe he is essentially asking me to buy our daughter. This feels like blackmail. What should I do?
- Although this seems complicated, aside from his willingness to sell his child, it is actually fairly straight forward. You should hire an attorney in Rhode Island and file a complaint for custody and child support. Massachusetts does not have jurisdiction to make decisions regarding your daughter and even if the two of you agree to deal with the issue in Massachusetts, there is case law which prohibits the court from acting without jurisdiction. So, file that part in Rhode Island and ask Massachusetts to dismiss custody and support.
Once you have a custody and child support order in Rhode Island and know what the logistics and numbers look like, you can agree to include them in a written separation agreement in Massachusetts but make clear that part of the agreement follows Rhode Island law and that jurisdiction on those issues remains in Rhode Island. It is good to have your Rhode Island orders registered in Massachusetts anyway in case you ever need to enforce any part of it.
As for the house, do not even discuss a monetary exchange for custody of your child. If need be, hire someone to appraise the home so that you know the true value. If he cannot afford to buy you out at fair market value, he has two options – sell it because only then will you both realize the actual value for the home or he can ask his girlfriend to buy your equity. If he has given her the rights to live there, seems only fair that she pay for those rights.