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Never married father can't get much access to toddler; mother just filed for sole custody; he's wavering on what to do

Your Question:
2.5 years ago I met a girl (not dating) and things happened. She then came to me after a month (of no longer speaking or seeing each other) and stated she was pregnant. She asked what I was going to do, where I stated I would be responsible so long as the baby was mine because I was going to have a paternity test done. This obviously heated things up (the thought of me requesting a DNA test, sorry!). However, she had my son (I say my son because after a year of going back and forth we got the test done and he's mine) and she never would allow me to take my child for visits or anything unless it was for an hour or so in front of her home. When I would go over there I felt humiliated by the indirect comments and the way they watched me with my son. I finally got fed up and (I think I made a mistake at this point) I threatened to take her to court since she was accepting help from me monthly, money, clothing, etc, yet would not let me be a part of his life, nor let me have any decision over him. Well, this has went on for two years, my son will be two in January 2007, and now I get a letter that she's taking me to court for child support and limited visitation. She got the jump on me in court because I gave her the benefit of the doubt and thought we would come to an agreement. She always had an excuse on why we should slowly come to an agreement, etc. So now that you've read the long story, what I want... is to be a father to my son and be there for him whilst establishing a good relationship. Joint custody! So I went to an attorney who is going to charge me an arm and a leg for a joint custody battle. Is it worth it really? What are my chances? I live on my own, I'm single with no other kids.

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing.

Your painful story, along with similar stories from many other people, is a great advertisement for this.

You helped create this situation, and it's up to you to decide how you want to live it for the next two decades. You fathered a child.

This child will go to school, will play some sports, will have friends, will date, will go to college, and will start his own family too.

The question is... if you truly want to be a father and an involved part of this person's life (for the rest of YOUR life), then how can you NOT make the commitment to make that happen?

The good news is that unless you have serious problems, a judge will likely let you be more involved than the mother has let you.

The bad news is that the mother has two years of history as the primary caretaker, and you posing as a rarely present father (regardless of reason).

You've got an uphill battle to get joint custody.

It's very important for you to get educated FAST about how to best portray yourself and portray the mother. It's critical that you learn what is most relevant for a judge, not your opinion of what matters.

Here's what I suggest:

  • Retain a family law attorney who has at least 10 years experience in your county. This attorney may cost more than less experienced attorneys, but this experienced one is better for you. Get recommendations from friends or co-workers. Feel free to spend a day sitting in your judge's family law courtroom (they're usually open to the public) and see which attorneys seem to do well before your judge-- then follow that attorney into the hallway and ask for his/her business card to set up a consultation.

  • Get the book, "Win Your Child Custody War", which I describe on my Book Review page. This is your new best friend, and you need to read most of if ASAP.

  • Ask your attorney what parenting class is recommended in your county. Take the parenting class, ideally before your next court hearing. I don't care what your parenting skills are, but you certainly can't be accused of having no parenting knowledge after you complete such a course.

  • Get your home ready for a toddler to spend the night. Set up a separate sleeping and play area. Get it child-safe (e.g., putting safety plugs in open electrical outlets, putting cabinet locks on cabinets containing dangerous products, etc).

  • Consider deposing the mother before the next court hearing and before she really comprehends that you're suddenly found your testicles and are not going to live by her dictatorship anymore. A deposition will cost you several hours of your attorney. However, if the mother admits in deposition that you are not violent, you're not into drugs, you're not abusive, and she has no reason to believe you're not a good parent-- that will become GOLD for you in court. Deposition testimony is admissible in court... she can't change her story later.

In the end, nobody can predict your chances of securing joint custody. It may take years to get there, or you may get it immediately. It's not likely that you'll get it immediately.

But as I often point out to people, I can predict your chance of joint custody if you don't make the effort. That chance is zero percent.

If you make the effort to learn how child custody matters are determined in court, and if you make the effort to build a plan for your case... your chances are far more than zero percent.

It's time to quit being the mother's pawn. It's time to stand up on a rooftop, pound your chest, say "I'm this kid's dad", and do everything to protect the father/child relationship.

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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