It’s probably not what you envisioned when you thought about what life would be like as an adult. The marriage, the home, the 2.5 kids, the golden retriever… but, then again, so many things are different than what we envisioned, and that doesn’t necessarily make them any less wonderful (or, conversely, make them less helpful in terms of the lessons we learn and the growth we achieve).
Whether you’re pregnant now and worried about what shape your child’s father will take in your child’s life, or whether your child has already been born, navigating the complex dynamics of coparenting can be challenging. When your child’s father is, essentially, a deadbeat, it’s a weird combination of incredibly challenging and, at the same time, much easier than the alternative.
What do you mean, a deadbeat dad is easier than the alternative?
It’s probably pretty obvious by what I mean about how having a deadbeat dad for a baby daddy can be challenging. If he’s not paying child support, not doing his share of the heavy lifting associated with childcare, and, let’s be honest, hurting your children in the process through his absence, that’s challenging. That’s painful and difficult and not at all what you wanted, probably.
But, in some ways, its easier. In all honesty, my worst cases aren’t the cases where dad is a deadbeat – they’re the ones where he’s abusive, addicted, or mentally ill. They’re the ones where he petitions and re-petitions for custody and visitation and various modifications, dragging my client in and out of court dozens of times and spending tons of money (that they don’t have) in the process. They’re the ones where the kids are in the middle of this game of tug o’ war between the two parents, and where a parent really isn’t putting the child first.
By comparison, a deadbeat – especially one who has no interest in parenting and essentially disappears – can be refreshing. At least it gives the parent who DOES care the opportunity to be the kind of mom she wants to be. At least he’s not trying to pick up the kids drunk or high or in the presence of yet another girlfriend. At least there’s no physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, and mom fighting to stop the visits to preserve the child’s well being.
Hey, I didn’t say it was perfect – I just said, in some ways, it’s easier than the alternative. I’m not saying either road is easy and, in fact, I think it’d be easy to argue that there’s no path that involves children that’s truly easy, but, it is what it is.
With a deadbeat dad, you have a lot more control over the day to day. Let’s discuss.
Deadbeat dads and child support
Technically speaking, from the court’s point of view, there’s not really a link between parenting time (or visitation) and paying child support. You can’t withhold visitation because he didn’t pay support, and he doesn’t lose his entitlement to visitation (assuming there’s an agreement and/or court order in place) because he doesn’t pay child support.
That being said, though, there are penalties for not paying child support – like, for example, jail time in extreme cases. Child support is the law, so that doesn’t mean that he can just ignore it.
You can, though, if you choose, not push the issue of child support. There’s no child support fairy out there who will make sure that he pays the correct amount on time – you’ll have to enforce it if you want/need child support. You’ll have to file petitions to get child support ordered, and you’ll have to enforce it if he fails to pay court ordered support.
You could refuse to either enforce a valid order of child support or not take him to court to get child support established in the first place, if you so choose. Do I think it’s smart? Well, it depends. Child support is the law, and I do believe that you should receive support even if you think that you don’t really ‘need’ it, but there’s no question that it often comes with strings attached.
If you push the child support issue, is he going to push the parenting time issue? Maybe. Is he going to be involved in your life – and the life of your child – to a greater degree? Maybe. I’m not saying it’s a decision that you should make, but it is a decision that you could make, after you carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages.
Deadbeat dads and parenting time
Like I already said, child support isn’t something that dad has to pay in order to have time with the child. The court views visitation and child support as two separate issues, and we don’t withhold one for lack of the other. If, though, you don’t take him to court and there’s no court order or agreement regarding parenting time (or there is, and he doesn’t exercise it), you have a whole lot more freedom to call the shots in your child’s life.
Only you can really determine whether that’s the best thing for your child long-term. A good dad is a good thing to have, even if you and he are no longer together. But he may not be a good dad, and I do think you should trust your instincts.
If your child’s father doesn’t exercise his parenting time, you have all that time – which is both a blessing and a curse. If I were you, I’d document, document, document. If he has time by a court order or agreement, I’d document the time he doesn’t take. If he’s not coming much (if at all), I’d document when he does come so that, if you wind up in court, you can give accurate information about exactly how much parenting time he has exercised.
The current status quo will be relevant in court, especially these days, when the court seems to favor shared custody arrangements. We’ll want to look at what’s been happening and how the kids have been doing under the current arrangement. For you, it’s best to be able to show that, despite dad’s lack of involvement, the kids are thriving and it would not be in their best interests to change the parenting plan structure.
Non-Parents and Deadbeat Dads
I find that, a lot of times, when deadbeat dads DO turn up, it’s often because their parents want to know their grandchildren. They’re looking for parenting time because their mom (or dad) is pushing them to get it – though they have no intention of exercising it themselves.
If this is your concern, I’d definitely suggest adding in a first right of refusal, in the event that your child’s father gets parenting time.
Additionally, in general, I’d point out that non parents have a much harder time getting ‘visitation’ than parents do, because their petitions (if they file petitions on their own) are determined by the ‘actual harm’ standard, rather than the ‘best interests of the child’ standard. Most courts will allow a parent to allocate some of their designated court ordered parenting time to a non parent (like a grandparent), but it’s difficult for them to get time outside of that.
Him being a deadbeat means that you can control the people around your child more, too. If his parents are problematic and you have all the time with the child, you can refuse to allow them to be around. So, that’s another benefit, especially if they’re not great people to begin with – after all, they DID raise a deadbeat dad.
If your child’s father isn’t interested in being involved, there are upsides and downsides to it. The most important thing, though, is being able to be the mom you want to be through it all, no matter what choices he makes.
For more information or to request a copy of our custody book for Virginia moms, visit our website or give us a call at 757-425-5200.