Lately I have been talking to an extraordinary number of fathers. I usually represent a lot of dads who are courageous and amazing at raising their sons and daughters. However, lately it seems as though 80-90% of my calls this week have been from dads. Dad's that are dealing with difficulties in raising their kids without cooperation from other family, Dads that are dealing with "baby momma drama,” Dads caught in trappings of old child support orders that were never changed, and many other major challenges of parenting and relationships.
I want to simply give some love and light to my Dads and offer the following short tips. This is not intended to exclude my heroic moms, this is just in response to the flurry of calls I have been getting and an effort to encourage and remind fathers who they really are. These tips do not encompass every dad or situation and consulting with an individual attorney is best, but they do address many of the common situations faced by involved Dads. So here it goes (these are not in order of priority or order of importance):
1. Forgive the mother of your children and her family. It may not be the first thing or your mind or heart as you deal with the challenges you face, but it will go a long way to mending your relationship as co-parents. Whatever the hurt, whatever what was said or done - forgive.
2. Pay your child support order every two weeks no matter what. Even if you are not working, have kids in your custody, or some other situation that indicates you should not be paying child support. Pay the order anyway - at least until you get it changed. It will go a long way to pay something bi-weekly (even if not the ordered amount), rather than walking in court having paid nothing (for months and months or sometimes years and years) or worse yet having not paid to the point of having a warrant issued for your arrest for back child support.
3. File a motion or consult an attorney to make sure your order is consistent with your living. So many dads have custody of their children, but the court orders still says they do not. Or, so many dads income level has changed and they are still paying child-support at the old level of income. There are many other situations, but dads are often bad at following through and making sure the orders reflect their strength and commitment in parenting.
4. Keep copies of all your receipts and legal records. I cannot tell you the number of times we are trying to piece together the history of parenting (e.g., tuition receipts, back to school clothing, extra-curricular activities, vacation plans, etc.), because parents do not keep copies of receipts and other important documents in their life.
5. Letters and conversations are not enough. If I had a penny for every time a parent comes in my office and tells me who they talked to or the things they said to the judge, that the judge knows. The court speaks through its orders and nothing else! If you do not get a changed court order in hand, all the conversation and nice impassioned letters your write will not change the already existing orders.
6. Put the kids first. Seems like a novel idea, but often when Dads feel wronged by court staff, judges, former wives and girlfriends, or others they react back with vindictive actions that do no good for the long term health father family or children. Keep the kids in view and put them first - even when you have been wronged yourself. Remember, it is not about you.
7. Do not shut down and ignore the problem. Often the reaction to feeling wronged or feeling the sting of unfairness, some people often cope by just quietly (and angrily) giving up. Do not shut down. Do not give up. The problem will not go away without effective and consistent action.
8. Remember who you are. The court or others cannot define who you are as a parent, son, partner, or man. Do not get caught up trying to prove to others. Keep yourself centered in the amazing gift to your child that you are already are. Are you perfect, absolutely not - and, you are committed, capable and strong.
9. Be consistent. Be consistent in the actions you take and leave the excuses for others. Your child and all those who love your child(rem) need to know you are reliable.
10. Get support. Parenting is a community task. An old African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.”. Ask for support and do not let your macho independence rob you of your village.
Yes I wrote this for my Dad’s, but most can apply to anyone who loves a child and happens to be tied up in the court system. So feel free to share this generously with any one who is adding love to the life of a child.
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If you have legal or faith questions, or perhaps another concern or question, feel free to contact me at:
Regina D. Jemison
500 Griswold, Suite 2410
Detroit, MI 48226