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 Sonja Davig, whose practice includes family law.
"The first thing to do is to learn whether you have been adjudicated as the legal father. For the father to be protected, this needs to occur through a formal paternity action," Davig 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," Davig 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 make-up placement among possible penalties.
What may help parents is The Parenting Place's co-parenting class "Shared Parenting." It includes basic child care education and techniques for two people who may essentially be strangers to work together.
Both parents need to understand their new roles, responsibilities and rights. Effective co-parenting can reduce stress and anxiety for both parents and especially for the children.
"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," Davig said.
Information provided by family and divorce lawyer Sonja Davig. For more information about visitation and child support, contact her at 608-784-5678.