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Never married mother of infant wonders about her rights and is concerned about the father's fitness

Your Question:
I am the single mother of a 5 month old daughter. The father spent 6 months of the pregnancy vowing his committment to me and to her, signed a 12 month lease with me, asked me to marry him. I found out that he was involved with 2 different women (both sexually) during the last trimester of my pregnancy, which means he exposed our unborn baby to possible sexually transmitted diseases. I do have medical records of a course of antibiotics that I had to stay on during the course of the pregnancy. During the week I gave birth, he moved in with one of these women. He never assisted me with the baby after having a C-Section. He has bathed her once (with my supervision) but knows nothing of her daily routine. Over the last months, things have come to light (after a 3 year relationship). He has been put out of the home of this woman and is living in an extended stay motel. He is addicted to crack cocaine. If he is on a binge, child support does not get paid. He has told me that he hates me and the relationship between us has become extremely contentious. I did encourage visitation (even with the circumstances). He has gone as long as 3 weeks without seeing the baby. It seems that he only wants to see her if he can drop in. His visits with her have been extremely erratic with no consistency. I do not believe it is in the best interest of my mental health and the welfare of the baby to allow him to visit without a schedule. He has resisted my requests for a formal visitation schedule. I have started child support proceedings through the court system.

I plan to consult an attorney, but was wondering your thoughts on the following:

1. What are my rights? I have been the sole caregiver for the child since birth. I don't think the child is even cognizant that he is her "father".

2. Because of the drug addiction, I am unwilling to let him take the child outside of my home. Is that my right or do I have to have a judge make that determination?

3. I would like for her to have a relationship with her father, but feel he should be drug-free, healthy and stable before I would feel secure in allowing her to spend days and/or nights alone with him. Taking her to the girlfriend's house is not acceptable to me nor is taking her to his seedy motel room acceptable. Is this within my rights?

4. He has signed an acknowledgement of paternity and the baby has his last name. I make sure that his parents have access to visit with her and eventually will allow her to visit with them solo. Am I her legal guardian or does this have to be determined by the court?

5. As long as he is crack addicted, I do have concerns about who would take care of her in the event something happened to me. Can I state these concerns in my will along with recommendations that guardianship be split between both my parents and his?

6. How do I protect my daughter while allowing him to be part of her life? His parents have been very supportive and have expressed their concerns about his fitness as a parent. They have strongly urged me to make all things legal.

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing! You've got some excellent questions and some reasonable concerns, and I think you also need to slightly adjust part of your thinking and perspective. If you've read any other posts, you know I let my opinion known sometimes. :)

First, until a court orders otherwise, and if you're at least 18, you have 100% control over what happens with your child. If you never filed any legal action, and if the father never filed any, you would automatically have sole custody, and he would have no rights.

However, you've decided that you want child support and a custody ruling, so a judge will make some major decisions that have an impact on all three of you (i.e., unless you and the father come to agreement first and then have the court enter stipulated orders that follow your agreement).

One perspective I offer... this is the father who you picked for your child. It's important to own that. Unless you were raped, you played a role in creating this situation for your daughter. I think all your concerns about the father's parenting are legitimate, but... again... you picked him. That's a hard pill to swallow, but it keeps us humble.

The other perspective I offer... how poorly this man is as a companion is completely irrelevant during the child custody proceedings. Doesn't matter that he cheated on you, doesn't matter that he failed to bring flowers to the hospital during your recovery, doesn't matter that he hates you. ALL that matters is his parenting ability from here on out. I suggest you find a private outlet to deal with the perhaps valid anger you have at him as a companion, and keep focused on parenting stuff at all other times. For some, therapy helps. For others, kickboxing helps.

One "over the top" comment that you made is that your five month old girl isn't even cognizant that he's the father. Ummmm, when my daughter was five months old, she didn't have a clue what a father was, nor mother, nor uncle or grandmother. She had two speeds, "I'm comfortable with this person" and "I'm not comfortable with this person." I'm commenting on your words because if you say a such thing in your sworn pleadings, you sound very silly, far-reaching, and less credible to a judge. Get my drift? No need to dramatize-- your case is strong.

Okay, on to the legal stuff you ask:

  • Yes, it's legitimate to be concerned about his drug use. It's reasonable to ask the court to order regular drug tests.

  • Kudos on keeping the paternal grandparents involved. If they're willing to testify that the father is not fit, your case is a slamdunk. If they're good people, then do your best to keep them involved. You and your child can both benefit from that additional circle of support.

  • Until you have court orders to the contrary, you control everything about this child. If you don't want the child alone in his care, then don't. However, keep in mind that you may have to explain yourself in court if/when his attorney says, "Your honor, this mother has no intent to co-parent. In the past 4 months, she has refused to allow my client to spend quality bonding time with the child on every occasion he asked."

  • Consider asking the court to order one or both of you to parenting classes. If the judge believes your position that the father is really unfit, the court will have no problem ordering just the father. If the court isn't sure, it's easier to ask the court to order both parents to do it.

  • It's possible to require supervised visitation of your ex. If you can prove (with evidence) everything that you're saying, it's possible you may get such an order made. If you trust his parents, you can make them the supervisors, and then he just has to work it out with them.

  • At the same time, think about what it'll take to give this guy a chance to be a father. If he's proven clean for 3 months, has a job, has his own apartment, has completed a parenting class; then it would be only fair to drop the supervision a bit and see how it goes. What I just outlined is a tall order. If he can pull it off, it shows his determination to take this all very seriously.

  • If you have sole custody, it's my understanding that you can assign a guardian in the event that you die. You'll have to consult with an attorney on that. There may be more to it.

  • Finally, get an attorney. If everything you outline is true, and if you have no major problems yourself, you should be able to get sole custody without protracted litigation. Better to spend $5,000 (even if you need to borrow it) to do it right and have it done in 3 months, than to screw it up yourself, drag it out, and not consider issues or options only an attorney would know.

So... you picked a bad father, and you need to accept it and move on. You asked intelligent questions, so I think you're heading in a right direction. Just grab an attorney to finish it off for you.


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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