This week’s Ask Carolyn deals with phased-in custody of young children and child abuse. There are comments on the murder of baby Toni Gwynn. To write me, see contact information at the end of the column.
I am both a new dad and newly separated. My little baby girl is only nine months old. It tears my heart out that I’m not with her every day, but it is impossible for me to live with her mother. I would like 50-50 custody.
I don’t have much experience with young children, and if I can be frank, babies scare me just a bit. I would like a visitation plan that phases into a 50-50 schedule when my daughter starts to attend kindergarten. My estranged wife is saying that this is not possible, and she says her attorney says that we have to base custody on current circumstances. That means more than one trial.
My estranged does not think I closely supervise the infant enough. I just want what is best for my daughter. What do you think?
Carolyn Answers …
First, I applaud you for several things. You are exercising common sense in assessing the best interests of your minor daughter. It is commendable that you are listening to the concerns of the other parent. It is also considerate of you to consider the age of your minor daughter. Children at different ages need different things from parents and need different levels of supervision. I would suggest that you take a parenting class on infants and toddlers and, as your custody progresses through the various ages of your child, that you continue to take parenting classes dealing with your child’s development and needs as your child ages.
That being said, I have good news for you. There is a new case, Bartlett vs. Bartlett, that is most helpful in your situation. That case allowed a phase-in of visitation. Personally, this makes sense to me and seems to save on court time and trials. Who wants to pay for a custody trial now and one in five years? We all know now that everyone will age. That is a known fact today. In other words, it is a known present circumstance that if all goes well a child will age. This is a predictable desired result.
In Bartlett, the father sought a custody determination in Wilmington. The mother and father were evaluated by a psychologist in a child custody evaluation. Dr. Jerry Sloan, in his evaluation, suggested more time with defendant mother now, but by 2020 the parents should be exchanging custody on a week-on week-off schedule. The mother appealed, but she lost.
The phase-in of custody was allowed. The court cited the relative inexperience of the father in managing young children and some incidents of lack of close supervision. But the court also found mother to be a “fairly anxious … very overprotective parent.” The mother had also restricted access to the father and minor children. That is not good.
I would suggest that you work toward a phase-in of a custody schedule between now and the time that your daughter reaches kindergarten. Good luck and let me know if you have any more questions.
I am concerned about my toddler grandson. His mother (my daughter) is living with a man who is a registered sex offender. My daughter took out domestic violence charges against this man and then dropped the charges. My toddler grandson has had some unexplained bruises. I fear that my daughter is using some kind of mind-altering drug. I heard about the toddler Toni Gwynn who was smothered by her father. I am worried about my grandson. This man around my grandson is not even the child’s father. What can I do?
Carolyn Answers …
I believe that your child could be in danger. I don’t like the suggestion you make of domestic violence and drugs. You need to take action. The first path of least resistance would be simply offer to keep your grandson. Your daughter might be relieved. If that does not work, I would try to check on your grandson a couple of times a day. Could you offer to provide day care? Where is the father?
I would consider a petition as a third party for custody. You will need more evidence, so maybe a private investigator can help. You will have to prove unfitness and you will have to prove that the mother has abrogated her constitutional rights to be the exclusive natural parent. However, you may have a case, or at least a situation worth watching. Once your case is filed, you can also ask for a drug test of the mother. Document any bruises that you see with a photograph.
You mentioned the Toni Gwynn murder. This 17-month-old little girl died July 10, 2013. She was suffocated with a blanket that was found Oct. 12, 2017 in a pond in Rockingham County. The mother, Heather Gwynn, has been incarcerated since the death and as part of some deal helped the Sheriff’s Department find the blanket hidden in the pond by the child’s father, Antonio Gwynn. Antonio Gwynn has pled guilty to second-degree murder.
Things happen with young children. Dealing with young children requires patience. Drug-enraged or domestic violence oriented people seem to get carried away too many times with very young children. Social services was involved with the Gwynn family. Apparently, the Gwynns and three children had been living in Rockingham County a mere 30 days because social services in Burlington was involved. The Gwynns just moved a county over to apparently avoid social services.
As a grandmother, I urge you to look into the situation and keep track of what is going on with this grandchild. The tragic death of 17-month-old Toni Gwynn resulted from her father stuffing a blanket in her mouth and leaving her in a car seat in the closet. She suffocated. Her obituary read, “a beautiful angel was bestowed upon Antonio and Heather Gwynn in the form of baby Toni Maurie Gwynn.” I do not want any other child in North Carolina, including your grandson, to wind up dead. Child abuse results in child death. The parents of Toni Gwynn were only age 22.
In the Gwynn matter, Antonio Gwynn’s father revealed the location of his son when the parents of the deceased little girl went on the lam. The grandparents participated in the funeral of Toni. The step grandmother, Susan Paul, stated, “Antonio and Heather kept the kids away and alienated from the rest of the family. They didn’t want anyone to see the true situation going on and how they lived.” Grandparents, stay involved.
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Note that answers are intended to provide general legal information and are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by Ask Carolyn.