I am the staunchest supporter of single moms. The difficulty of the task that so many of them do so well can never be applauded enough. Far too many women are left with the responsibilities of raising children on their own, receiving minimal support from men. It is something that should not happen, but unfortunately for a number of reasons does. However, while I commend the women who have to take on more responsibility than they should, I want to focus today on the family court system and how unfair it can be towards some men.
I do not have children, but the last several years I have been witnessing some really good men put through the ringer by a court system that sometimes seems bent on punishing all men for the egregious transgressions of others. Most recently a good friend has been put in the awkward situation of defending his role of fatherhood for a child he has been actively engaged since his son’s birth nearly 10 years ago.
He and his child’s mother were a couple. They broke up shortly before the pregnancy was realized. While not always easy the two co-parented capably if not admirably. Communication was never either’s strong suit, but somehow it worked, with a really bright, well adjusted boy the result of their uneasy union. Circumstances changed for the mother, losing her job. At some point she decided moving back home, 800 miles from the father and the only place her son had ever lived, was “her” best alternative.
Needless to say, my friend was not on board with her unilateral decision, and offered to help in any way possible, including helping her with employment and finding a new place. Now it can fairly be asked why wasn’t such offer made earlier, but the communication between the two was so poor unrelated to their sons activities that he did not realize the state of her circumstances.
My friend tried to get an emergency injunction to prevent her moving. The child’s mother ignored the court order and still left and missed the subsequent court date. In an emergency motion, a civil judge who did not handle family court matters reached the woman and her attorney via phone. After acknowledging her willful decision to ignore the court order, the judge could have forced her to bring the child back. At the time she had not secured a new job or her own place, staying with family. Instead she was effectively able to maintain that since formal paternity had never been established by a court she was legally able to remove the child without the alleged father’s permission, though a court date needed to be set to move forward.
Paternity had never been legally established because it was never previously in question. The father had been a part of his child’s life since birth. He picked him up from school 2-3 tines a week and had him minimally every other weekend. Prior to her leaving the child had in fact been living with the father and his wife full time for two months. Yet, her statement, questioning paternity, unsupported by any evidence was enough to allow her to keep the child from his father and the only hometown, schools and friends he had ever known.
Fast forward 10 months, five figures later and many trips spent traveling to see his son, my friend finally received a judgment regarding his case. The mother would have to return. He would have to pay her travel, moving expenses and first 3-6 moths rent along with a set amount for child support. He would then have his son under the new order every other weekend and 2 weeks in the summer. This was all significantly less time than he usually spent with his son when no courts were involved.
The guardian ad litem, appointed by the court to look into the best interests of the child, stated clearly that the child should be returned. If the mother was willing to come back it was recommended that they split physical custody, and that the father have final say on all custodial decisions. The court effectively ignored most of the guardian’s recommendations. In fact the decision only said the mother must return, but did not explicitly state that the child must be returned permanently. It did not explicitly state that the mother return permanently. It also did not state any date she or the child would be required to have to return.
The judge’s decision was unfair and incomplete. My friend was forced to appeal the decision, because its acceptance theoretically left him open to the possibility of repeating this scenario months later with her possibly leaving again. The best interests of the child were clearly ignored for some type of protection of the mother. I understand historically courts have had to protect mothers, but I find that too often the protections for the mothers are made irrespective of the supporting facts when good fathers are on the other end.
My friend has no idea how much longer this appeal process will take or its eventual outcome. He just wants to see his son regularly. His heart breaks every time he speaks to his son and he asks him when he will finally be able to come back home. This type of injustice is not uncommon. I have several other friends going through it as well, and all seem to be on the failing side of the family court system.
I have another friend who is also a really good guy who has always been involved in his children’s lives. He has always paid support, but like many men gave voluntarily without much documentation over the early years, because the nature of the relationship made it easier to give and communicate that way. This is why I propose to every man, not in a committed relationship with their child’s mother; initiate court proceedings voluntarily and right away. Establish paternity. Get custody, visitation and support established by the court. Do not wait until emotions are more involved. Do not wait until you are on the defensive.
My friend paid support from the beginning but the court sided with the child’s mother when he did not have consistent receipts of money that was always given in cash, because of course she asked for that. He was penalized for back support and dragged into court each time he secured a new job, for additional support. However, when his contracts ended she aggressively tried to maintain the same support even when she was aware he took on a new job at a much lower salary. This is not the best interest of the child. This is punitive measures toward men.
The courts need to stop punishing all men for the misdeeds of others. There are some really good men out there, doing the right thing, being treated very unfairly by the courts. The need to protect women in the system must remain intact, but more cases need to be based on the individual facts and circumstances and the actual best interests of the child, and not just a blanket policy against men who have actually shown a propensity to do the right thing.
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