My former girlfriend has full custody of our son, and doesn’t want to give me visitation rights. We’ve always tried to handle everything without lawyers. What can I do? I’m paying child support. I should get to see my son.
This is not an uncommon situation, according to Johns, Flaherty & Collins lawyer Peder Arneson, whose practice includes family law.
“The first thing to do is to learn whether you have been adjudicated as the legal father. This could have occurred as the result of a document that the mother signed in the hospital or through a formal paternity action,” Arneson said.
Once legal paternity has been established, parents are often given joint legal custody and time with the child. If the parents cannot agree on visitation, it often goes to court. People often confuse legal custody and rights of physical placement. Custody is the right to make major decisions about the child, such as elective surgery. Physical placement refers to where a child lives, visitation, and day-to-day decision-making regarding the child..
“What is usually most important to both parents is placement," she said. Placement issues can be difficult, depending upon the history of the couple. “Sometimes the relationship between the parents is very limited,” Arneson said. “They may have only dated for a short while and have broken up. They may not really know each other, be able to stand each other or trust each other.”
If one parent is not complying with a court order about where the child will live and placement rights, that parent can be taken to court. Courts can find a parent in contempt of its orders, with jail and a fine among possible penalties.
What may help parents is Family Resources’ eight-week co-parenting class. It includes basic child care education and techniques for two people who may essentially be strangers to work together.
In La Crosse County, the Family Court Commissioner requires couples in this situation to attend the course together and come up with a plan about how they will co-parent the child.
“Parents need to realize that even though they may never have had a good relationship, a long relationship or even any relationship, both parents have legal rights regarding their relationship with their child. The law recognizes that children do best if they can have strong, healthy relationships with both parents, and courts will do what they can to foster such relationships,” Arneson said.