In Georgia, it’s often the case that people think the mother of the child should have the most parenting time or the final say in major decisions. If it’s in the best interests of the child, I support that. But, when you have a father who is doing all he can to be a positive influence and presence for his child, this father's rights deserves to be supported and fought for.
Family Matters Law Group, an experienced Atlanta father's rights attorney, shares a case study illustrating our approach to father’s rights. This case also speaks volumes about keeping your cool in a custody case, no matter what your feelings toward your ex happen to be.
A 24-year-old father came to my office because he was not being allowed to see or interact frequently with his 4-month-old son. He had just gotten out of a volatile relationship with his 21-year-old girlfriend, and she was bitter about the relationship ending.
The mother was hostile to my client, insulting him and calling him names. She told him that the only way he would get to see his child is if she felt like making it happen or if she wanted money for something.
While the mother was pregnant, my client tried to do everything he could to accommodate her. He continued this after the birth of his child if for no other reason than he wanted to be able to be a part of his child’s life. He knew he needed to “go along to get along.” The one thing he could not do was continue the relationship, as it had become hostile.
Obviously, the biggest issue for me was that a father was being denied the chance to be a part of his child’s life. Repeatedly, research has shown that a child grows up healthier when they can have a relationship with both parents. It’s fine if two people decide they can’t be in a relationship together, but to willfully deny one the opportunity to see their child is wrong if the shunned parent does not pose a threat of some kind to the child. I didn’t want to see the child endure long-term negative effects.
The mother’s behavior was also an issue. When you are going through a divorce or custody case, everything that you do paints a picture to the judge of your character and how much of a parent you will be. If you’re going to act in an aggressive fashion, it will eventually come back to bite you.
Finally, fathers have not received their due in court. While we hear often about “deadbeat dads” and “mother’s rights,” we tend to ignore stories where good fathers deserve to be granted significant parenting time or decision-making rights. Family Matters Law Group believes strongly in fighting for people who operate in the best interests of the child. In this case, the father deserved to have a strong advocate in his corner.
The standard package that fathers are often awarded by the court is secondary physical custody, joint legal custody with the mother having tie-breaking decision-making authority and visitation every other weekend. I was so upset with the mother’s refusal to let this man be a father to his child that when I filed the petition for legitimation, I asked instead for primary physical custody and joint legal custody with final decision-making authority. The client did not ask for such a strong custody package. Despite the young age of the child, I felt we had a strong case to ask for more than the usual.
Once litigation started, Mom’s hostility increased tenfold, and she did several things to escalate the situation. She blocked my client’s number, told him to come over then called the police on him when he showed up. She sent him inappropriate emails full of profanity and vulgarity. This was amazing to me given that her attorney should have advised her on her behavior, but also because she knew we were documenting everything for the court.
At a temporary hearing early on, we asked that the father receive short, frequent weekly visits so that he and the child could acclimate to one another. The strategy here was to use this acclimation time as a foundation for a primary custody request later! The Judge agreed to a visitation schedule that provided for 6-8 hours several days per week.
Mom was furious. She again escalated her behavior by refusing to provide my client any information concerning the health and welfare of the child, such as what type of baby formula the baby needed, which skin cream to use, what water she used with the baby or when the baby had doctor visits scheduled. My response was to contact her attorney and let the attorney know that all of her behavior was being documented and would be used in court as evidence of her inability to co-parent. She settled down and complied.
By the time of the final hearing, my client had decided he wasn’t interested in primary physical custody but did want extended parenting time and final decision-making authority in several areas. That’s what he got, extended parenting time on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends, as well as during the 2nd and 4th weeks of each month. He got four weeks during the summer and final decision-making authority over all extracurricular and educational matters.
How incredible that a father received overnight visitation with a 9-month-old child, as well as final decision making authority over two major areas of his child’s life! Many attorneys resign themselves to the idea that the father should be the secondary parent and don’t fight for them. Family Matters Law Group believes in the importance of a good father, and we are prepared to think of creative, strategic, conceptually rational arguments to make sure that fathers get the rights they’ve earned.
Because the mother’s behavior in this case was so hostile, I was determined to fight like mad for my client. The notion that he was supposed to just “fall in line” or “stay in his lane” just because she told him to or because that’s the only way he could get to see his child upset me. It’s unsettling to do business like that. It’s acceptable to have a lot of emotions during a custody or divorce proceeding; it’s not acceptable to lose control of yourself out of anger or hatred for your ex.
At the end of the day, this father was a good man who deserved a chance to be with his child. When it became apparent that Mom was fixated on a selfish vendetta to get back at him for breaking up with her, I was determined to be an effective advocate for the father and for his child.
If you’re a father in a tough situation, we can help. Our clients come from all over the Atlanta metro area, including Henry, Clayton and Fayette counties. Simply use our online contact form and set up a consultation today!