Do I have to respond to my child’s father’s requests for information?
When your child’s father abandons you, there are hard feelings. I’ve heard some pretty horrific and heart rending stories throughout the course of my career, and, even though I’ve been doing this a pretty long time at this point, it still weighs on me. A woman I talked to the other day told me how, at two weeks postpartum, she went for a visit to her parents for two weeks. When she got to her parent’s house, her husband told her not to bother coming back. With her infant son.
That’s just one story, and I’ve heard so many others. A friend of mine – not a client – has a son with an ex boyfriend who is almost completely uninvolved. He frequently doesn’t send child support and she, saint that she is, doesn’t react. Her phone is cut off from time to time, and, at one point, she moved in to a house that her mom owns because she couldn’t consistently pay the rent on her own place. When she couldn’t afford preschool or daycare expenses for her son because of her child’s father’s inconsistent child support payments, she decided to homeschool him.
When I ask her about it, she tells me she’s just thankful. Thankful that her son is hers, and that he doesn’t get in the way. She calls the shots, and she has almost 100% of the time with him.
I can think of a million terrible stories, but I don’t want to drag anyone down. My point in writing today is to help women prepare to face these kinds of situations, and to make sure that the choices they make will protect them if their path ends up taking them to court at some point in the future.
In many cases, dads are fine to stay uninvolved. But when something changes – like mom meets someone new, moves away, or asks for child support – all bets are off. Suddenly, he wants parenting time on his own. He wants to make mom come back, so she has to live near him so that he can conveniently not see his child. He wants more time so that he can pay less in support. Whatever the case may be, suddenly dad wants something.
Dads are good at that. Maybe I’m being cynical, but, hey, you can’t blame me. I represent women exclusively in divorce, custody, and support cases, and I’ve seen some deadbeat dads who are real doozies.
They’re full of excuses, too. “Oh, she didn’t let me see the child.” “I asked, but she wouldn’t tell me anything.” “I didn’t know she was moving.” “I wanted to be involved, but she wouldn’t let me.” “Actually, I think she’s telling our child all sorts of horrible things about me to undermine me and ruin our relationship.”
And, the thing is, these arguments can sometimes get traction in court. I’ve seen plenty of dads who made virtually NO EFFORT to see their kids petition the court and get visitation. In fact, dads getting visitation is kind of the norm. That’s not to say that dads necessarily win custody – though it would depend on the fats and circumstances – but dads can go from total deadbeats to having specific visitation in no time flat.
For you, a mom who has done 100% of the work and who has struggled to make ends meet, that can seem unfair and ridiculous. How can he waltz in, after having done nothing, and get time so easily? But that’s what I see in the court system. They’ll give dad a chance to be a parent, even if he hasn’t taken those opportunities before.
So you need to be prepared. Both in the sense that I think it’s better to have a good offense (to hopefully avoid issues like these coming up in court), and also in the sense that I think that, if there’s nothing you can do anyway, you need to be ready to appear as strongly as possible in the event that you go to court anyway.
Do you have to share information about the child with him? Yes. In fact, if I were you, I’d do so gratuitously, without prompting from him. That doesn’t mean you have to send him updates every day, but I would make sure that he has any information from a doctor or teacher, or run big decisions by him (especially anything related to non emergency medical care, religious upbringing, or education, since those are the basic factors related to joint legal custody). If he doesn’t respond, even better. But at least you’ve tried.
That doesn’t mean he should have free and unhampered access to you, especially if it’s bad for your mental health. You can limit how these interactions take place. Email is a good way to make sure he gets the information he needs, but also to make sure that you aren’t fielding constant text messages. It’s also easier, too, to print up an entire exchange via email than text message, if we need to use this information in court.
If he asks questions, you should answer them. I’d scan and send documents from doctors or school, or provide him with login information to online portals holding that information.
Even if he doesn’t ask, provide some details. I wouldn’t write a novel to someone who wasn’t asking me for details, but it wouldn’t kill you to provide the basics. For example: “Meeting pediatrician Wednesday at 3 for two year old well child check. Went to the zoo this week; he loved the elephants. Here’s a pic. He loves reading Dragons Love Tacos. Talk to you next week.”
You know, whatever. If he does ask, or if there’s something specific happening, I might give more details.
What if you don’t share? Well, you’ll look petty. You may also give some weight to his argument that you’re not allowing him access to the child, or that you’re deliberately withholding access. Remember, custody is based off of the best interests of the child factors, so you’ll want to be sure that the decisions you’re making jive with those factors.
To be safe? Share. Maybe don’t overshare, because you don’t want to give ammunition. If I were you, I’d paint a very sunny overall picture, and never say anything disparaging – though you can ask for support, if it’s overdue, or a little extra assistance if you need it. Watch your tone, though, and do it nicely. (As my mom always says, you catch more flies with honey, anyway, and, besides, it may be read aloud in court one day.)
For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.