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Did Legal Job Market Cause This Woman to Lose Child Custody?

By William Peacock, Esq. on October 28, 2013 3:56 PM

We often lament the consequences of the barren job market for recent law graduates, such as defaulted student loans and minimal hope of home ownership, but did the barren job market just cost a woman custody of her child?

Above the Law reported on the story of Michelle V., a Cornell Law School graduate, who took the only job offered, four and a half hours away from her child's father, and subsequently lost custody of the child.

But if one examines the appellate decision, the story wasn't quite that simple.

Written Custody Agreement

In December 2011, the couple, Michelle V. and ex Brandon V., signed a custody agreement, which provided that neither party would relocate without the other party's permission, or permission of the court. One month later, the divorce was finalized, incorporating the existing agreement.

In February 2012, Michelle took the only job offered to her -- a clerkship in New Jersey. Though the court initially allowed her to take the child with her, after a fact-finding hearing in May 2012, the court granted sole custody to the father.

Was New Jersey Really Her Only Option?

Those of us who have been in her recently-graduated shoes know, if you get a job offer, you take the job offer. With fifty-ish percent unemployment at nine months, her offer of a clerkship nine months out was an offer that pretty much no graduate would turn down. It may have been (probably was) her only offer.

Except, the appellate decision notes that the record contained no evidence that she even tried to find a job in Ithaca, New York, where her ex-husband is an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell (making six figures). And job opportunities in his field, apparently, are even more rare than legal gigs.

ATL's Staci Zaretsky notes that the Ithaca market was likely flooded with Cornell grads, and that's probably true. But as with many things in life, sometimes you have to at least go through the motions. Besides, Michelle apparently also left behind a "To Do" list in the former marital home that listed "moving out of NY" on it, along with finding a job. That doesn't exactly tell the court that she made a good faith effort to find a job near her child's father.

Silver Lining

It seems, from the text of the opinion, that the parties did have visitation set up during Michele's clerkship, which ended last month. We wish her luck in finding a job, hopefully one closer to Ithaca.

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