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Never married father of newborn wants joint custody, but faces challenges from mother

Your Question:
My ex-girlfriend and I found out she was pregnant after we had split up, had tried to be friends, and slipped up without proper protection. After a few months of arguements both of us were too stubborn to continue talking to each other. For the remainder of the pregnancy we had no communication at all. I was preparing for the baby in my own way, I sold my Harley (which she had convinced me to buy) Traded in my newer truck for an older more affordable one etc. When our son was born her mother called me the next day and I was at the hospital within an hour to see him. I came bearing flowers for her and we were able to have a very normal few days while she was in the hospital I got to spend lots of time with my beautiful son. Since she left the hospital to her parent's house (where she had to move back to because she couldn't afford her apartment with the pregnancy expenses) I have gotten to see him very little in the past two weeks. The day after leaving the hospital I called to come over and see him she said no problem but her step mother called me back to say that she needs her rest and me coming back into her life is stressing her out and going to put her back in the hospital and I would have to comply with her parents schedule because it their house, which I can understand. They live in a far out rural area and they must put up the overly protective dogs etc. before anyone can enter the property etc. We both agree she needs to get out of her parents house as soon as possible as her parents still smoke in the house (supposedly not around him) I have been extremely optimistic that we can agree to work things out ourselves particularly if both of our parents stay out of our decision making. However I'm growing concerned now that I have gotten to see my son very little in the 2 weeks since his birth. Tommorow I'm taking the day off from work so I can spend the day with him (and his mother) go to his dr.'s appointment etc. I proposed taking him for the afternoon over to my work to show off my handsome man to the office and then to my parents for the evening and bring him back in the evening and the response I got was he's been cranky the last few nights, it probably wouldn't be a good idea but we'll see. She mentioned it would probably upset him not being with her. What can I do about this? I really want to be able to spend lots of time with him but I feel her living situation is restricting it. Now the fact that I haven't spent much time with him is being used as reasoning against spending more time with him. I would also really like overnights, maybe weekends to start, I feel like if I miss out on getting up in the middle of the night to feed him, change him etc. I'm missing out. She's an intelligent reasonable person (which is why I dated her for two years in the first place) I realize I wasn't there for support during the pregnancy and this is being used against me (even thought the phone works both ways) The Colorado child support agency will take 45 days to establish formal child support, in the mean time I've offered many times to help financially and so far paying his 5 day checkup co-pay is all I've actually done but I'm willing to do more but can't firgure out if just writing her a check is the right thing to do right now either. Her step mom has told me since I don't officially pay child support I have no rights. I get the impression they feel I have to prove myself worthy since I wasn't involved during the pregnancy. What do I need to do right now to acomplish the following; prove that I want to be fully involved with my son (which I shouldn't have to do but...), Get the time I need to establish a proper bond with him at this formative time, Postition myself to get 50% parenting time at least until he starts school, Keep relations with all involved civil and reasonable. Any advice will be greatly appreciated. I just want the opprotunity to be a good father to my boy...

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing. I asked you a number of additional questions, and your answers aren't posted.

I'm sorry to say that you're fighting an extremely steep uphilll battle, my friend, unless the mother agrees with your proposed parenting plan.

I'll discuss some relevant things for you.

  • It's a 40 minute drive between homes. This is on the edge of being "too far" for frequent exchanges. It's going to depend upon the judge.

  • Intentional or not, the mother is establishing herself as the status quo primary caretaker. Regardless of how much you WANT to see the child, you're not seeing the child. The court won't care too much about the "why" of it, so much as wanting to keep a status quo situation for a child.

  • You own a home with your brother. At worst, he MUST be a disinterested but fairly responsible and decent guy. At best, he's a proud uncle and nurturing man who can help you care for your son. You talk about getting another roommate. You then go from "two close brothers living together" to "boy's party house" in terms of how it may be presented to a judge. I recommend that you either move another sibling into your home (if you have another one), or don't get another roommate. Or, alternatively, sell your share of the home and get a two-bedroom apartment by yourself. Don't judge him too harshly if he's not really interested in your newborn baby. I'VE only been really interested in one newborn, my own child. Generally, I just don't find newborns all that interesting to me. My sister (no kids) got more and more into her relationship with my daughter as my daughter was able to play.

  • You have told your employer that you can't travel anymore. That's good. You can get a sworn declaration from your boss saying that, observing that you're taking this parenting thing seriously.

  • You have some job flexibility. That's good. It means you can stay home with a sick child, if you need to.

  • Not being around during the pregnancy is irrelevant. The court cares about you as a parent, not as a boyfriend.

For your awareness about the whole situation, I encourage you to find a copy of or purchase the book Win Your Child Custody War, which I describe on my Recommended Books page.

I suggest that you let your ex know that you are only interested in dealing with her. You have no responsibility to deal with her stepmother. Don't engage the stepmother. Just politely say, "I do respect your role as a grandmother, but these are things that I need to work out with MOTHER'S NAME."

The stepmother is correct, sort of, when she says you have no rights. Until the state finds that you are the father, you have no parental rights. But it's not related to actually paying child support, as she says. Once you're found to be the father, you WILL pay child support and you WILL be able to request that the court make a ruling on custody and a parenting schedule.

Once you have a good idea of a parenting plan (i.e., which you can develop by reading books about it, and/or other posts on this website) that puts your child's interests FIRST and your interests SECOND, I suggest that you arrange a mediation appointment and advise your ex of it.

If your ex doesn't want to mediate the issues, she leaves you no choice but to file an action in court. Once you get court orders, your ex either follows them, or you drag her back to court for contempt. Regardless of what her stepmother may think or demand, court orders MUST be followed.

It is unacceptable that you can't spend time with your infant. But don't expect a court to hand you 50/50 either. You need to really educate yourself on how the system works, what is likely to see at each age of the child's life, and how to best present your case.

Finally, never forget that this is a long process. The first resolution you get will not likely be everything you want. But it's a step towards it. All you can do is be the best father you can, within the restraints imposed on you.

And... keep it all in context. You have 18 years and 5 months before your kid leaves for college. It may FEEL so urgent today, but you'll have your bond with your kid, your kid will love you, and this conflict will temper sooner or later (pray for sooner, but prepare for later).


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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