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Long-distance father wants to know how to see his daughter

Your Question:
Have a daughter who lives with her mother in Penslyvania and I live in las vegas. I'm behind on my chils support due to unemployment. But was paying on time when I was employed. My question is this. Even when I was current, She refused to let me see my daughter, even if I traveled there. What are my rights on custody and visitation. I am very uninformed as to my rights. I do know that child support and visitation are two very seperate issues. I just want to know if I have any right to be in my daughters life? Any information would be greatly appreciated. I don't have any issue with paying chlid support, but I also want to be able to be in my daughters life! It's killing me not to be able to be part of my daughters life. What can I do? Thanks

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing.

Without further details about how your situation came to be, I can only give general commentary on what you should be considering.

First, you're on the right track that child support and visitation issues are distinct and separate in the court's eyes. So, I'll address them separately as well.

With regard to child support, if you're behind, you need to figure out how to correct it.

  • Do your best to send something every month to the mother. Even if it's only $50, it'll show that you're doing your best to support the child, even when times are rough for you.

  • Gather all your documentation of paying child support on time for the past X years. This will help convince a judge that you're a responsible guy who follows orders.

  • While unemployed, you can file a temporary modification for child support, due to your involuntary unemployment. This should be done ASAP, since once you have arrears (i.e., debt owed) on child support, it can't be forgiven. You will show the judge how hard you're trying to locate comparable work as your last job (e.g., document all resumes sent out and interviews you've had). If you were laid off for reasons outside your control, show your termination letter. If you got fired due to your own work performance (e.g., insubordination, stealing from the company, etc), don't expect much sympathy in court.

  • At the same hearing, ask for a payment plan to get caught up on your arrears (i.e., past support owed). If you get a temporary reduction in child support, and the court gives orders that you're to also pay perhaps $50 extra until you're caught up, then you have your child support issues cleaned up.

Now, on to the issue of you spending time with your child. Keep in mind that it's not about fairness to YOU. In the court's eyes, it's about what's best for the child.

  • Unless there is something major wrong with you, the court will make orders for you to spend time with your child. If you have a very violent past, repeated criminal convictions, decades of alcohol or drug abuse, problems with pedophilia... then the mother stands a pretty good chance at convincing a judge that it's not good for the child to see much of you.

  • I think you're in a Catch-22 on this issue and your child support issue. If you can't pay child support, and if you ask for a reduction, how can you afford to travel to see the child? This is a valid question that the mother's attorney may raise. The court won't let you shirk your child support responsibilities in order to purchase an airline ticket. So, you may need to wait on seeking court orders to spend time with your child, until you find a job and are back on track with child support.

  • Okay, now on to what to ask from a judge. Gather all the documentation you have of your attempts to see the child, and the mother's refusal to cooperate. You'll present that as attached exhibits to your declaration/affadavit when you file a motion for orders on visitation. Think long and hard about what to request from the court-- it needs to be focused on the child's best interest, not what you want or what's most convenient for you.

  • I don't know your history with this child, the child's age, the child's demeanor, or anything else. So, I really can't comment on what would be reasonable. Think of what is age-appropriate for the bond that you have with the child. If you have had no contact, and the child is 13 with no other father figure, you can ask the court to order reunification services where you and the kid get to know each other with some help from a therapist, with the goal of establishing a bond from which a new-found relationship can grow. If you're talking about a 2 year old, it's a much different picture. You'd want shorter and more frequent contact to build a bond. Spend some time reading about parenting plans, to get ideas that a court would likely find reasonable.

Finally, I think one of your biggest challenges you face is the distance. It's really hard to have a relationship with a child from 1500 miles away, especially when you know the other parent will do everything she can to minimize any bonding opportunities you have.

Given that you're unemployed, given that the PA court will have jurisdiction over all this (i.e., assuming that the mother and child have lived there a while), it may be very timely for you to pack up your car and move to the same city where the mother lives.

I encourage you to think about the judge's perspective. An uninvolved dad from 1500 miles away (regardless of reasons for why he's not involved) wants to somehow have enough time with the child to form a father/daughter relationship and have a positive impact on her upbringing. That judge can only scratch his/her head and wonder how it can be done... and, of course, it can't be done. So the judge will make some orders that you can see the kid once a month, and perhaps as the child is older and has a greater bond with you the child will spend a week or two with you during the summer. Or maybe a bit more than that. But you still won't be very involved.

On the other hand, think about the judge's reaction to a father who moved 1500 miles to be close to his daughter, and who is proposing a schedule to see his child a few times weekly. It's much easier to help a father be involved with that scenario, than in your current situation.

But regardless of your path, you can expect that a court will make some orders for you to see your child. Then, you expect the mother to follow those orders, or else you take her back to court for contempt.

Good luck.


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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