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by Abigail Van Buren

Mom Has Plenty of Troops in Support of Custody Battle

DEAR ABBY: Since you didn't give marching orders to "In Shock and Heartbroken," whose surgeon-husband suddenly cleaned out the house and had his lawyer offer her $20,000 in exchange for custody of their children, may I offer some advice?

"In Shock," you deserve more than that jerk showed you. What kind of example is he setting for his children? More important, what kind of example will YOU set for them? I urge you to find the most aggressive, pit-bull lawyer in your area and tell him how you were cheated out of your marriage, belongings, means of support and children.

Many divorce lawyers will work for a percentage of the settlement rather than an up-front fee, especially in a case like yours. Your lawyer will file a motion to freeze hubby's accounts and hire a "forensic accountant" to track down what your husband must surely be hiding from you -- and possibly the IRS as well. This was obviously planned for a long time, and it will take professionals to unravel the deception.

Hold him responsible. Stay and fight the good fight, and you'll never have to look back and say, "I wish I had," while your children grow up to be as selfish and manipulative as he is. I wish you love, luck, peace and victory in court! -- STEAMING IN BOSTON

DEAR STEAMING: In fairness to me, the woman did not ask what steps she should take to proceed. She asked only if I thought she was right to stay and fight for her children.

An attorney who will take the matter on a contingency basis should be easy enough to find. Once she whispers the magic words, "surgeon" and "prominent family," the lawyer will know there is plenty of money and publicity to be had. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I read the letter about the surgeon who left his wife penniless and offered her $20,000 for custody of their children. I'm a family law attorney. You stated, "You have my respect for deciding to fight for your children against such odds, and I hope you prevail." While this is a sympathetic statement, I do not believe the woman is against such odds.

Depending on what state they live in and how long they've been married, she's probably entitled to at least one-half the community assets plus maintenance/alimony and child support, based on the parties' incomes. I would advise her to go to an attorney and file for temporary orders. Depending on the circumstances, the surgeon will be the one paying the attorney fees, plus maintenance and child support, until the court makes a final disposition of the property and a ruling on the parenting plan.

As he is a surgeon, I imagine he works long hours; and I imagine also that the wife has been the primary caretaker of the children. The odds are against him financially, and in her favor as the custodial or residential parent. -- JAN YVONNE RINKER, GIG HARBOR, WASH.

DEAR JAN: Since more people are ignorant about divorce law than are knowledgeable about it, I'm sure your letter will be an eye-opener for many.

Several readers asked me to tell "In Shock and Heartbroken" that they doubted her husband's sincerity in seeking custody of their children -- that he was either demanding them so he wouldn't have to pay child support, or using them as a bargaining chip. To quote "Dorothy in Maine":

"I wonder what he'd do if you said, 'Go ahead and take the kids.' His prospective new wife wouldn't be thrilled with that, I'll bet! Makes you want to spit, doesn't it? Hire a woman divorce lawyer ASAP. You'll prevail in the end."

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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