A frequent concern and frustration for many non-custodial fathers is the pain of dealing with high child support payments, limited visitation with their children, apathetic attorneys, and biased family court judges. The frustrations of fathers in navigating the family court system following the end of their relationships are well founded. Increasingly father's rights groups and advocates have pointed out biases against men in being granted custody, visitation, and how child support is enforced. Fathers are less likely to be awarded custody in family court hearings, are more likely to have reduced visitation, and more likely to be ordered to pay high child support payments (they also face stiff penalties or imprisonment for missing payments). In some cases men are even ordered to pay child support for children that aren't biologically theirs, or for children whom they have regained custody of. Some fathers are able to successfully navigate the family court system (reducing child support, increasing visitation, and in some cases winning custody) with the assistance of dedicated lawyers. For men who don't have the resources to spend thousands of dollars on retainers and attorney fees, many have educated themselves and are teaching others on how to represent themselves in family court. Increasingly there have been efforts to pass legislation for more equal recognition of father's rights in family court.
While legislation to combat biases against fathers in family court is needed, and hiring lawyers is an unfortunate necessity, neither approach is the most efficient or practical way to eliminate child support and increase visitation for men. The most efficient way to eliminate child support debt and increase visitation with your sons and daughters is not with a good lawyer, it is improving your relationship with the mother of your children. In other words, the most effective way to deal with a biased family court system is to never appear in family court. This means that fathers have to sit down with the mothers of their children and come to an agreement on matters of custody, financial support, education, medical care, and visitation without having to appear in front of a family court judge. The only way that will occur is to improve the relationship you currently have with the mother of your children.
Improving relationships (which in many cases means repairing relationships) is certainly not easy. This is also a suggestion which is not being made lightly. The end of a relationship is emotionally difficult for both mothers and fathers. Many women may be upset over the end of a relationship, and may be using the children to punish the father. Many women may have already moved on with a new man. Some women may feel hurt and betrayed at the promise of a relationship that never manifested, which is a particular challenge faced by many unmarried fathers. The mother of your child may indeed by overly emotional and unreasonable. You may not like the new guy that she's with. She may have been the one responsible for the breakup, and you harbor ill feelings towards her. No matter the circumstances, ultimately improving the relationship with her is necessary despite your feelings, because this woman is the mother of your child.
Improving relationships requires compromise, humility, and maturity. Compromise is inherently difficult. It requires us to make concessions which we may not like, in order to come to an agreement which ultimately benefits us more. Compromise with the mother of your children may require you to give up "Sunday Fun Day" or "Friday Movie Night" in order to receive two nights during the week and every Saturday (an agreement which may be more kind than a family court judge would have given). Compromise also requires humility. It takes a great deal of humility to agree with terms that you don't' want to. Both compromise and humility require maturity. It takes maturity to be the bigger person. It takes maturity to place your child's needs above your own. In some cases, maturity, humility, and compromise will also require fathers to apologize for past misdeeds or to right past wrongs.
Although improving relationships can be incredibly difficult, it doesn't have to be a task fathers (or mothers) take on their own. Couples counseling, relationship workshops, and mediation are options which are available. Couples going through a divorce can go to an Arbitrator who can work out agreements on child custody, financial support, and visitation without having to go to family court. Improving relationships can take months or in some cases it might take years, but certainly the effort will not last longer than custody and child support hearings, which can linger in family court for years. Most importantly improving relationships between mother and father is the only true way to eliminate child support payments and limited visitation, by helping to ensure men don't appear in front of a family court judge. This is also the best approach for children to avoid the emotional trauma of witnessing court battles between their parents. It may not be easy and it may not work in every case, but it is worth a try.
Dr. Mark Echols has been working with children and families in both educational and social service settings for the last 15 years. He is a Fatherhood advocate and the creator of Black Dads: Changing the narrative on Fathers in the African American community on LinkedIn. You can connect with Dr. Mark Echols on LinkedIn.