By Guest Contributor Max Smelyansky
Fatherhood is the single most important relationship a man can have. Unfortunately, a father’s relationship with his child is often negatively affected or permanently suspended after a breakdown in the father’s relationship with the mother. Usually this breakdown is followed by several months, if not years, of family court intervention. In family court, a father is faced with issues such as child custody, child support and, possibly, defending against accusations of domestic violence. While each court is unique, in most courts, men absolutely, and often, get the short end of the stick. In other words, while the court system claims gender neutrality, the reality is much different and the judicial system is rarely on the fathers’ side.
Sadly, society expects very little from the father. As a result, our family court system foolishly assumes, without proof, that the father is unable to care for his child and, as such, family courts almost never award primary physical custody to the father. A father, however, is entitled to more. Fathers who are deprived of their parental rights, by the family court system, must defend their rights on issues such as child custody, child support, and accusations of domestic violence.
Getting caught up in the family court system can be one of the most daunting experiences in a man’s life. One of the best things a father can do for himself, and his child, is to prepare physically, emotionally, and mentally for the legal battle which will be fought in family court. Simply ignoring the process and avoiding the fight is a recipe for disaster which inevitably results in a fathers unequal parenting time or no parenting time at all. If prepared properly, however, a father can successfully recognize and overcome the prejudices inherent within our family court system.
10 Things You Need to Do To Prepare for Family Court
For fathers who want to prepare for and overcome the family court system, one of the best things to do is to take specific but simple steps to prepare for family court on every possible level. Here are 10 things you can do in order to prepare for family court.
1. First and foremost, it is absolutely crucial that you stop communicating with the mother. This means no more texting, emailing, or facebook. Cutting communication will be difficult but it is very important. Any and all communication will be used against you and, unfortunately, during this emotional time, you are likely to say something you will regret. If zero communication is impossible, then you must, at the very least, limit your communication to discussing your children and keep the messages short and on point.
2. Defend yourself against false allegations of domestic violence. Although a majority of women do not falsify domestic violence complaints, some woman do. The fact of the matter is, a domestic violence complaint is sometimes a tool used by women to remove men from their home or deny them contact with their children. If the mother of your child alleges domestic violence, defend yourself!
3. Obey and comply with all Court Orders.
4. Research both the Court and the Judge assigned to your case. Accomplish this by searching the web, visiting the courthouse, speaking with the Judge’s law clerk and talking to others in the community who have possibly dealt with your family court and/or Judge.
5. Hire an experienced family court lawyer or, instead, familiarize yourself with the normal courtroom procedures and strategies used by lawyers. Although hiring a lawyer is not required, for the best results, a family court lawyer is necessary.
6. Keep track of what is and is not happening. Examples include but are not limited to, the mother missing a parent-teacher conference, your underage child is left home alone during the mothers parenting time or the mother fails to provide doctor prescribed medication to your child. Always take note of the date and occurrence and keep your notes organized by date.
7. Do not hesitate to contact the Court and complain about the mother. If necessary, file a formal complaint against the mother for any and all failings. Remember, family court is not a playground, it’s a battlefield and, in most cases, mothers do not waste any time before filing complaints against fathers.
8. When appearing Court, remember at all times that you are being watched and reviewed by the Judge. It is your job to stay calm and focused. Never show anger, resentment or any other negative emotion. Listen to everything that is said, take notes, and, when it is your turn to speak, respond accordingly. Many battles in family court are lost simply because of the fathers negative and distasteful reactions during court.
9. Understand and truly believe that your child needs you. Even if the mother disagrees and the Court is against you, remember that your child is counting on you to hang in there and fight for your parental rights. Once you convince the Court that you are a caring, present, accountable, and responsible father, you will likely be granted joint custody.
10. Be patient. No one said that this was going to be easy! Understand that family court is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Don’t allow your child’s mother or your local Family Court to take your children away from you without a fight.
Max Smelyansky is a Founding Partner at The Smelyansky Law Firm, located at 602 Central Avenue, Suite 102, Albany, New York. He specializes in personal injury, divorce and family law. He is first a father and then a lawyer. He believes strongly in protecting the best interests of a child and that no child is best served without his/her father.