Many men feel worried and concerned when entering into their divorce proceedings or breaking up with their child’s mother because they are afraid that they won’t be able to see or retain custody of their children. In most cases, fathers are able to assert their rights and continue to bond and develop close relationships with their children even after a divorce or breakup. Read on for some tips on making sure you are able to continue fathering your infant, teenager, or any child in between.
Make Sure You Are Legally Named as the Father
If you are married to your child’s mother and getting a divorce, you will most likely already be the father of record. The exception might be if you were not married at the time that the child was born. If this is the case, check into whether your name is on his or her birth certificate (or on the adoption certificate if that is how you became a father).
If you are or were not married, you might need to establish paternity. Depending on your state, you will have a form to fill out. It might be called the Acknowledgement of Paternity or something similar. If your child’s mother is disputing that you are the father, you might need to have a paternity test done. Once you are named as the father and you are on your child’s birth or adoption certificate, you’ll be able to motion for custody or visitation with your child.
Work With Your Child’s Mother
The easiest way to ensure that you are able to maintain a relationship with your child is to work with your child’s other parent. Even if the two of you are going through a bitter breakup, it is possible that your ex is interested in preserving the relationship shared by you and your child. In this case, you will need to work out a custody agreement that is fair for everyone and based on the best interest of your child. Keep in mind that it might not be exactly 50/50 custody; there are many factors that might make it beneficial for your child to spend more time at one parent’s home than at the other. But if you share joint custody, then you both will have plenty of time to spend with your child.
If your child’s other parent is not interested in making it easy for you to assert your rights as your child’s father, you will need to go further to ensure that you are able to carry on your relationship with your son or daughter.
Get Legal Representation or Advice
You can hire a private attorney to represent you as you try to get custody of your child. This is a good option if you have a lot of money to spend and very little time to devote to the cause. If your budget might be an issue, however, you can try mediation or a legal resource group such as National Family Solutions. A legal resource group will have various resources ready to help you. For example, if you need a parenting evaluator, a therapist for your child, or a guardian ad litem (GAL), this will be the place you will go to find the experts you need. In addition, there will be attorneys available to help you as you navigate the court system.
In a case where your child’s mother is trying to keep your child from you, it is important to document everything. Write down when you were supposed to be with your child, why the visit didn’t work out, or what your ex said to you to discourage you from spending time with your child. Keep this information on a calendar or some other document. You should also save texts and emails. It is best, in a case like this, to keep all of your communication in writing rather verbal; what you say verbally can quickly turn into a “he said/she said” situation.
Keep Up With Your Obligations
Maybe you are unhappy with the amount of child support you are to pay or you don’t like seeing your child only every other weekend. While you are working with the court to make changes, it is important that you maintain your commitment to honoring your obligation. Do not skip child support payments and do not skip visitation or try to keep your child longer. Neither of these actions will look good when you meet with a judge and try to modify your agreements.
More importantly, skipping out on child support or visitation will hurt your child. His or her mother might not be able to pay for activities or new shoes if you aren’t keeping up with child support. Also, your child will be disappointed and angry if you don’t go for your allowed visitation or if you attempt to create drama by keeping your child longer than you are supposed to.
If you are allowed only supervised visitation due to an issue with previous abuse, a substance addiction, or untreated mental illness, do what you need to do to meet whatever requirements were set by a judge to allow you unsupervised visitation or joint custody. This won’t be possible in all cases; contact your legal resource group for advice on this topic.
Have a Plan in Place
It will be difficult to get joint or sole custody of your child if you do not have a plan for how you will support him or her or where they will sleep in your home. Look at your present life and determine how you will make custody work. Who will watch your child while you are at work? Do you have a bedroom for your child? Think about those logistics so you have an answer if a judge asks.
Contact National Family Solutions to find out if we are a good match for meeting your legal needs during this time. We want you to be able to claim your rights to your child and we will help you if we can.