As a father, you have certain rights and responsibilities with respect to your children. You do not need a court order to obtain your rights as a father. You already have them. They are guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the laws of your state. Until and unless a court rules otherwise, your rights as a father and as a parent include the right to:

  • be an influence in your children’s lives, be involved, interact, and spend time with them;
  • love and nurture your children without harassment from the other parent;
  • decide where your children will live;
  • participate in the parenting of your children;
  • see the school and medical records of your children;
  • attend and participate in your children’s extra-curricular activities;
  • have the custody, care and control of your children;
  • select your children’s school and determine whether it will be home, public, or private;
  • determine your children’s religious faith and practices;
  • determine your children’s doctors, dentist, and medical treatment;
  • follow your own beliefs and parenting style during your time with the children without interference from the other parent;
  • guide and discipline your children; and,
  • decide what is best for your children.

In addition to your rights, you also have certain duties, obligations and responsibilities, too. As a father and a parent, you have the responsibility to:

  • support your children;
  • provide them with food, shelter, and clothing;
  • see that they obtain appropriate medical treatment;
  • provide access to their schooling;
  • protect them from harm and neglect;
  • foster their relationship with their other parent; and
  • give them all the love, nurturing and encouragement you possibly can.

My blood was boiling when I read an article by Elizabeth (“ Liz”) J. Kates, of Pompano Beach, Florida, who calls herself a “holistic lawyer”. In her article railing against Parental Alienation as a theory, there is a list of names she says to stay away from in your child custody case. And my name is smack there in the middle of the list!

Now I don’t know Liz. I have never spoken to her. I never had a case against her. I couldn’t pick her out of a line up of two.

But the source of her animosity towards me is that I am listed on the Parental Alienation Awareness website (along with many PhD’s and other professionals) as a lawyer who handles these types of cases. Liz seems to think that Parental Alienation is a big fraud and that Reunification Theory is a lot of nonsense.

Well, I don’t think it takes a lot of common sense to know that some parents alienate their children against the other parent. Alienation can involve words or conduct and it may be done consciously and unconsciously. It can be covert or direct. But if you have been the victim of it, whether as a mother or a father, you know it is real.

So Liz can rant all she wants, and tell you to stay away from me, but I am still going to be handling these cases and standing up for good parents and children everywhere against those who would advocate parental alienation and hostile parenting.

With Father’s Day approaching on June 15, ChildWatch, a family advocacy group in Bermuda, is holding a letter writing contest for children to highlight the importance of fathers.  Children ages seven to eighteen are asked to explain in a letter, 500 words or less, “why your dad is a wonderful dad to you”.

There are four age categories and four winners with the child’s father winning prizes too, including: a bicycle radio, DVD player, TV, stereo and free buffets for two families of three at the Elbow Beach Hotel in Bermuda (plane tickets not included).

The letter should be titled “Letter to Dad” and at least 100 words.  Letters should be neatly handwritten or typed and emailed to childwatch.bermuda@yahoo.com or mailed to ChildWatch, suite No. 1080, #48 Par-la-Ville Road Hamilton HM 11, no later than May 30.

According to Tari Trott writing for The Royal Gazette of Bermuda, judges will be looking at the author’s ability to write articulately and passionately.  Post your letters in the Comments section below as well.

Nearly half of the mothers questioned in a poll in England said that dads were no longer in charge of discipline at home and focus on playtime instead, as reported by Sophie Mansell in the Sun.

“As women have become stronger and more independent they’ve ended up doing everything – bringing up the kids and working – while fathers have lost their way a bit,” according to psychologist Donna Dawson. “Dads often get home late and are more likely the ones to play with the children. But dads have a positive role to play in parenting and teaching children — manners should be about teamwork.”

I don’t know about your house, but this doesn’t ring true for me. I think if they polled the dads they would find that a lot of dads are still participating in disciplining the children and teaching them manners and not only in charge of playtime. The article does have some tips for disciplining children, and teaching them manners, which are as helpful to us dads as those English mums they polled.

Sometimes in a child custody battle, a client will ask me, “What’s your strategy for my case?” I have to think about this for a while because frequently I do things by intuition. That’s because through experience I know what has worked and what has not worked in prior cases. So here are some strategy tips for child custody battles.

1. Get the Facts First. Most clients are not lawyers. They are scattered and harried by their case. That means you have to get them to settle down and give you the facts. Then you have to check the facts because they give them to you only through their own filters. Finally you have to organize the facts.

2. Develop a Theory of the Case. Boil it down to one sentence that the client agrees with and can carry as a big flashing neon sign in the back of their head. This will inform their testimony at deposition and trial and help the lawyer present their story to the court. It will also help you separate the good facts, the ones that support your theory, from the bad facts, the ones that support the other side’s theory.

3. Be Constructive. Don’t make the theory of the case that the other party is the bad parent and you are the good parent. Keep the focus on the children, not the other parent. Play up your positives instead of the other parent’s negatives. Instead of, “Mom never helps little Johnny with his homework” say, “I am more consistent in helping little Johnny with his homework.”

4. You Can’t Fight City Hall. The Family Court System may be terrible, but we are not going to change it overnight for your case. Accept it the way it is. It is never going to be the way it should be. That means I can’t get the Judge to disqualify herself, I can’t get the Custody Evaluator or the Guardian Ad Litem replaced, so you are going to have to get these people on your side. If that means you have to get your own therapist or acting coach to tell you how to do it, then that is what you have to do.

Child custody battles are the worst kind of litigation. The stakes are high. Who wants to lose their kids. And emotions run wild. Stay calm, focus on these strategy tips, and you will successfully navigate your child custody battle.

?If your partner threatens to leave and take the children, let her know that she can go, but the children are staying. She does not have the right to remove the children from the family home.

If she takes the children anyway, you can bring them back. If she leaves and takes the children, you have the right to know where they are. You can ask the court to order her to return the children.

Until and unless a court orders otherwise, you have joint legal and physical custody of your children with your spouse under the common law. Anything less than this takes rights away from you. Many fathers opt for less than joint custody, and in some cases, joint custody may not be in the best interests of the children. But you have the right, if you wish to exercise it, to insist on joint custody from the outset. In cases where the mother is an unfit parent, you can ask the court to award you sole custody.

If the mother denies access to the children, you can ask the court to order it. You are entitled to half of the time with your children if you want it. There is nothing in the law that says you are an incompetent parent because you are a father. There is nothing that says the mother can be a better parent than you.

The court will tend to keep the status quo, or existing situation, by leaving the children where they are. This is to avoid any more disruption in their lives than the divorce of their parents is already causing. That is why it is important that you set the precedent of equal time from the beginning of your case.

Ghost dads are fathers who disappear from the lives of their children following divorce, according to an article by Sarah Hampson. She says that often the loss of daily contact with their children was so painful, they react by staying away. Other fathers blamed the mothers for alienating the children against them.

“When the father is late, the mother has a choice. She can criticize him and say, ‘Oh, he’s such an irresponsible guy and he cares more about his girlfriend than he does about you.’

Or she can think about what she would say if they were still happily married and she didn’t want to undermine the child’s respect for his father.

She might say, ‘Oh, dad is always late for things. Lots of people are. I wish dad were better at being on time. But he’ll be here soon. Let’s find something to do until he arrives.’ “

— Constance Ahrons, The Good Divorce

The judge has continued the visitation order against Britney Spears for failing to show up at her custody hearing earlier this month.

Law Professor, Joanna Grossman, has written an instructive article on the lessons we can learn from the Spears case. She notes that Spears probably could have won custody, and maybe she could even now, but she continues to shoot herself in the foot. Here are some things not to do if you want to win a custody case.

1. Obey Court Orders. Spears lost access to her two sons last year when she failed to submit to a drug test.

2. Show Up for Court. This month, Spears made it to the courthouse, albeit 4 hours late, but then left abruptly before going into the courtroom. The judge continued the no contact order against her.

3. Behavior Counts. The court will decide who gets custody. The judge will make this decision based on which parent he or she thinks is going to be best for the children. The court will rely on the custody evaluator. If you are involved with drugs or alcohol and party every night, do not expect this to be in your favor.

4. The Judge Decides. Leaving it up to the judge, a stranger, is usually not the best way to get what you want.

5. Listen to Your Lawyer. Britney is on her third law firm and that one has petitioned to be allowed to withdraw from her case. Why pay a lawyer for advice if you are not going to follow it?

6. Custody is Always Modifiable. Britney could still turn this case around. But she has to turn herself around first.