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Never married custodial mother has concerns about deadbeat father getting custody if she were to die

Your Question:
I really have only one main question and a few questions related to the main question, but first I want to provide some background for you to frame the questions:

I made a series of very bad decisions that have placed me in a VERY BAD situation. I had only been a few dates with a guy when I got pregnant. We didn't speak again after that incident - at least until 3 weeks later when I found out I was pregnant. I knew it was his because I hadn't been with anyone else and I was willing to abort, but I thought he should pay for it or at least half, so my second bad decision came when I contacted him and let him know I was pregnant by him and asked for him to pay for an abortion, but he refused to contribute any money to the abortion and disappeared.

In the interim, yet another bad decision came when I decided to keep the baby (although I haven't regretted this for one second since he was born!), and along with that another bad decision came when I contact the guy again and let him know I was keeping the baby because I just thought he should know he was going to have a child out there, but of course he wasn't interested and disappeared again. The final bad decision came when I decided to file for child support after the baby was born. If I'd know then what I know now I wouldn't have, this was my first child and I had always practiced safe sex even within the confines of committed monogamous relationships because I had never planned to have children, and I definitely had never planned to be a single parent, so I was just very naive about the system and did not realize that filing for child support would mean establishing paternity and therefore rights to the child for the biological father.

Anyway, long story short, the father denies paternity, DNA confirms paternity, child support is established, but father still refuses to pay child support and abandons all parental responsibilities toward the child until one day, out of the blue, when the child is 15 months old and a month after I have moved with the child over 1700 miles away from where the father lives, then all of a sudden I am served a petition in the mail with the father asking for full custody of the child. So, we went through the custody trial with me having to travel back to the city of jurisdiction for the hearing, and even though his petition for sole was not granted the father got joint legal custody, visitation rights and a reduction in child support.

Well, it has been 6 months since the custody determination. The father has yet to pay ONE full month of the reduced court ordered child support amount and has not exercised any of the visitation he was granted and the child is 28 months now. As you might guess, the child has no idea who the father is and even though over 1700 miles still separates us the relationship between the father and I is quite contentious. The one thing we did agree on is that it was in the child's best interest that he is never told the story of how he came to be, and the father has offered several times to relinquish his right to the child if I just close my child support case. So my question is:

Do you think it would be in the child's best interest for me to close the child support case if I can get the father to notarize a statement stating his intent to relinquish all legal rights to the child? And, if we did this and something happened to me where I could no longer care for my child myself (i.e. I'm deceased), could the father then come back and take physical custody of the child even though he has not been financially supporting the child and the child does not even know him? On the other hand, what if we do NOT agree to close the child support case and terminate the fatherís rights and something happens to me, would the father "automatically" get the child then even if the child does not know him and the father has not demonstrated that he can care for the child?

I am recognizing my mortality more than ever now and the thought of my child potentially being raised by this guy who goes deadbeat on his financial responsibilities and abandons all parental responsibilities to the child makes me very anxious and nauseous! Is there anything I can do to prevent this?

Thanks in advance for your feedback!

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My Answer:

If you're asking for advice on how to reduce your anxiety and nausea, I guess you can take some over-the-counter stuff. Pepto-Bismal for the nausea? Or see a doctor.

You recognize your role in your current situation, so I'm going to make sure readers understand it too, by making it in big, pretty letters:

When a parent files for child support, it is inviting the other parent to be a part of the child's life. There's no such thing as a free lunch, even in family law.

It's not likely that a court will allow this man to walk away from his financial responsibilities to this child by merely terminating his parental rights.

Your state doesn't want to become your financial provider, if you end up needing public assistance. That's why states enforce child support vigorously. It's all about money. The state wants the parents to pay for the child, rather than just giving welfare benefits to a single parent.

Further, even if his parental rights were terminated, he can't make the arrears (i.e., past child support debt) disappear. It stays with him forever and can't even be discharged in bankruptcy.

If this man were a decent person who has shown at least minimal devotion and responsibility for the child (regardless of how much you dislike him), my advice would be to find a way to keep both parents involved.

However, that's not the situation you describe, if you're being honest in what you wrote.

I think the way you'd want to play this situation is to come to a clear understanding with him that if he disappears and leaves you and the child alone, you won't enforce child support. I don't think you should ever put that in writing, nor ever mention it more than once on the phone to him.

You have district attorney offices available to you to enforce child support. Consequences of not paying child support can include wage garnishment, suspension of driver's license, and eventually jail time. If you wanted to play hardball, you probably could. That's a pretty big stick to be holding above his head.

If you want to raise this child without the father, than do it in every sense of the word. Don't take a dime from this man. Don't ever apply for welfare either, since the agency will try to go after the father for reimbursement of benefits provided to you.

Just tell him that, and then let it go. If he stays away, then everything is okay. If he starts making your life difficult, then you call the district attorney to seek help in collecting on the tens of thousands in child support arrears.

If he suddenly reappears and is genuinely a changed and remorseful man, then leave part of your mind open for that day and figure out how he can play a role in your child's life.

But until that day, recognize that he has so much to lose if he starts to mess with you. No doubt he realizes that too.

With regard to what happens in the event that you die, you should have strong relationships between this child and other healthy family members-- your siblings, parents, etc.

Draw up your will and include a provision on who you want to be the guardian of your child (which will be a person to whom the child is very close). Get life insurance to be put in trust for the child (i.e., you define the terms of the trust-- e.g., to distribute 10% per year for the care of the child). For people under 35, to get 20-year term life insurance with a $250,000 benefit is extremely cheap. This will ensure that the guardian of the child has enough money to raise the kid, and perhaps even pay for the child's college - in the event that you die within those 20 years.

Naming a guardian is no guarantee that the child will end up with that person. But - if the father has been out of the picture for years (with perhaps no way to locate him), a judge isn't likely to pick the father over a close aunt who has spent time with the child many times per week and who was identified by the deceased mother as being the best caretaker for the child.

It's worth spending a couple hours of a attorney's time to draw up your will.

All in all, as you recognize, the situation you helped to create has already placed many challenges in the life of this child. At this point, it's up to you to act with nothing but your head in making plans for the future.

Anxiety and nausea don't come from the head, so that indicates some barriers to using your head in all of this. You can't control when you die. You CAN control much of what happens if you WERE to die-- and that's simply the best you can do.

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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