Last month, recording artist Ashlee Simpson filed for divorce from Fall Out Boy band member Pete Wentz. The parties have a 2 year old son, Bronx.
According to People.com, in Simpson’s Petition for Dissolution of Marriage she requested sole custody of their son with visitation rights to Wentz. On Tuesday, Wentz filed his Response requesting joint custody of their son. While there is speculation that this may mean Simpson and Wentz are headed for a custody battle, my experience as a San Diego divorce attorney tells me that isn’t necessarily the case.
One of the first steps in the divorce process is to file the Petition or, depending on what side of the case you are on, the Response. When there are children involved, the Petition and Response are how the parties first tell the court what type of custody and visitation order they would like. The options include: legal custody to the Petitioner or Respondent or joint legal custody, physical custody to the Petitioner or Respondent or joint physical custody, and child visitation to the Petitioner or Respondent. Because the Petition and Response are forms, once a party determines which option is best, they simply check the appropriate box. (Of course, this is just what is being requested, and not necessarily what the court will ultimately order.)
As a San Diego family law attorney, there have been occasions where, under certain circumstances, I have recommended that a client request sole custody in their Petition or Response, even though we anticipated entering into a joint custody agreement down the road. And, it may be that Simpson and her attorney decided on this same course of action.
Ultimately, the fact that Simpson checked the box on her Petition requesting that she have sole custody of the parties’ son won’t prevent her from seeking an order for joint custody or agreeing to joint custody down the road, if that is what she decides to do.