Dear Mr. Dad: My child’s mother and I never married and we split before the baby was born. Nevertheless, she and I used to share parenting equally. We compromised, worked out schedules, and we both spent lots of time with our daughter. But about a year ago, I got married. And immediately, the mother cut me back to seeing my daughter only every other weekend. Two months later, she moved in with a man. Since then, she barely lets me see my daughter at all. My wife and my little girl (who’s now three) have a very strong relationship. The mom and I have been fighting for over a year and I finally got her to agree to go to mediation with me to come up with a parenting plan. What can I reasonably ask for? How can I get anything when she has all the power just for being mom?
A: You put your finger on the problem perfectly–your child’s mother has all the power simply because she’s the mother. Well, nearly all the power.
Every time I address the issue of single fathers in this column, I hear from lawyers insisting that unmarried parents have the same rights as married ones. Well, that may be true on paper, but it’s rarely the way things play out in real life.
That said, courts these days are getting better about paying attention to fathers’ concerns. And since you’ve done everything you can do stay involved with your daughter’s life, a judge will find it very hard to ignore that.
One very important assignment for you: do some research on the mediator. You want someone who’s had a lot of experience handling cases like yours and a record of treating fathers fairly. Some mediators (just like some judges and lawyers) are clinging to Neanderthal attitudes, and feel that mothers should have primary custody and fathers should be limited to every other weekend and a Wednesday evening.
You should also consult with a lawyer. You need to know what your options are if the mediation goes against you or, if it goes in your favor (and by that I mean you get 50-50 custody), what you can do if the mother refuses to comply. Based on her previous behavior, that sounds like a real possibility. The lawyer may also be able to help you research the mediator.
Above all, do not give up. I know it’s incredibly frustrating, but your daughter needs to know that you love her and want to be with her. One important way to show her is to keep your relationship with her mother as peaceful as possible. The better the two adults get along, the better your daughter will do long term.
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