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This is part 1 of a 2 part blog segment: “Father’s rights” in my “Parent rights” series. The information in this segment also applies to mothers who are in similar situations, however it is written to address fathers because the issues raised are most common to them. Likewise, in my upcoming “Mother’s rights” I address mothers directly on issues most common to them, where the same rights also apply to fathers in similar situations.
Father’s Rights: Part 1- Custody/Visitation
The past few years, the statement: “She won’t let me see my son/daughter.” (“she” referring to the child’s mother) has frequently been used by men when talking about their children.
Usually, when I hear this statement, I ask: “And what have you done to try to change that?” The usual response is silence, accompanied by a blank stare, and occasionally one will somehow indicate that they “couldn’t do anything.” Contrary to this common belief, there is something that can be done.
In general, both parents have the right to frequent and continuing contact with their child. A child’s right to have a relationship with either parent is not based on the gender of the child or parent. One parent’s ill feelings towards the other parent also do not necessarily determine that other parent’s rights. The right to have a relationship with a child is based on what is in the child’s best interest; if a dispute regarding child custody or visitation is placed into the court system, the Judge will consider many factors to determine custody and visitation, but these factors ultimately rely upon what’s in the child’s best interest.
So, if this is the case, why is it that so many mothers are able to keep children from visiting and/or speaking to their father? The answer is quite simple: “because both the mother and father think she has the legal right to do so.” Many fathers believe that there is “nothing they can do.”
Consider this: Mothers carry their child during pregnancy, and in most situations once a child is born, the mother instinctively takes primary responsibility of caring for the child. Moms are usually responsible for cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, arranging for childcare, feeding, and doing the laundry. Mothers are usually more involved with helping the child with homework, overseeing education, enrolling the child in extra-curricular activities, etc. This may even be true in situations when the father and mother are married or living together, not necessarily because the father is incapable of performing these tasks, but because moms usually volunteer to take control when it comes to domestic care of the child; some refer to it as “motherly instinct”. Additionally, in most single parent homes, the mom is the single parent; if a child is born to parents who aren’t in a relationship or if the parents split up, the child usually lives with the mother. So, after considering these things, it’s understandable why a mother will feel that she’s entitled to all rights concerning her child.
Consequently, the mother’s feelings in this regard are irrelevant. Even after considering all of the above, without a court order or some other extreme circumstances (such as abuse, neglect, a father being absent by choice for the majority of the child’s life), a mother still has no legal right to completely cut a father out of their child’s life at her sole discretion.
It is important to understand that absent exigent circumstances, a father who has been actively involved in their child’s life, and/or genuinely desires such involvement will likely be granted visitation with his child, and in some circumstances may even be granted primary or joint custody of the child once a custody case is filed. As time passes, more and more fathers are stepping up to the plate and becoming increasively more active in the lives of their children.
Please Note: I am referring to situations where the father has a genuine interest in being actively involved in their child’s life, has established a relationship with the child, and/or is being denied his rights because the mother has her own agenda, ill feelings towards the father, or is being irrational just because she believes she can because she is “mom”. Situations where one wants to “parent at their convenience” is another topic which will be addressed in another segment of the “Parent Rights” series.
The problem is, in situations where a father is being denied his right to have a relationship with his child, he is either:
- unaware of his rights and feels helpless,
- aware of his rights, but doesn’t know how to enforce them,
- aware of his rights, but doesn’t want to make the effort to enforce them.
In contrast, if the tables were turned, in most situations the mother instinctively will take the necessary steps to become aware of her rights and enforce them. Change does not happen without action. Taking the first step is critical. If you sit back and accept that your child’s mother is “keeping him/her away from you,” it will continue.
If you are being denied your right to have a relationship with your child, it is important that you speak with an Attorney regarding these rights.
If you cannot afford an Attorney, most courthouses have “self-help” centers where you can get the basic forms needed to begin a case (Self-help centers are not authorized to give legal advice). Many cities also have free legal clinics where you may get help.