My son was conceived in my hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico. His mother was a childhood sweetheart. When we were teenagers, we lived together in Santa Fe for about a year, and then for about six months in New York City.
After not seeing each other for about ten years, we started hanging out again when she started breezing through town from time to time. She would call me up and say she was going to be in town for a few days, and we would perhaps spend the weekend together. She was traveling around a lot, so when we did see each other it was usually for only a day or two at a time. After an intimate encounter she would always say something like, "...by the way, I'm leaving for Thailand on Monday. Don't know when I'll see you again..." The last time this happened, she said "...by the way I'm leaving for Tucson on Monday to take care of a sick friend..." That was the last I had heard from her until two months later, when she called me to say she was pregnant and she was going to give birth.
I was not unhappy to hear about her pregnancy. Although we didn't plan to have a child, we had talked with each other about what it would be like once on a weekend camping trip. I told her I would support her any way I could; I offered to marry her; I asked if she wanted me to move to Tucson; I asked if she would like to move to Santa Fe; I said if she wanted to live with me, I would take care of all the living expenses; I said if she wanted to have her own place, I would help out any way I could. After some time, she called me to say she would live with me in Santa Fe. We made arrangements for me to go to Tucson and move her stuff to Santa Fe. I reserved a big rental truck for the weekend of the planned move. I kicked out my room-mate, cleaned my rented house from top to bottom, painted all the walls, spruced up the grounds and did a dump run--the place looked beautiful. Then, just two weeks before the planned move, she came to visit. She took one look around the place and said "Why is everything so clean? I'm not going to live here" then she drove back to Tucson...I canceled the moving truck and looked for a room-mate.
When she went into labor I called her at the hospital and told her I could be in Tucson, within eight hours. She said she didn't want me to be there and asked me not to come. She chose to leave my name off of the birth certificate and, regardless of our agreement that if she were to give birth to a boy I would name him and, if a girl, she would name her, she gave my son a first name that I never would have chosen for him; her own middle name; and her own last name. Although Arizona guidelines recommend it, she refused when I asked her if she would share travel expenses in exchanging my son. I have never been allowed to see, or even speak to my son on his birthday; she has never let my son spend Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Summer Break with my half of his family--essentially robbing him of his right to a relationship with his grandmother, three aunts and multitude of cousins. She has always dictated everything regarding my son and I have had no say whatsoever about any aspect of his upbringing. She took him to Thailand when he was only two-years old and I had no idea where they were staying or for how long they would be gone. She has never sent me a report card or even told me were he was enrolled in school. She has never informed me of his medical condition or well-being. I had to find out from my son that he was allergic to citrus. She has even told me that she brought my son to Santa Fe, without telling me about it or letting me see him!
Although she has always done all she can restrict and control my contact with my son, she was at least somewhat cooperative and let me have my son (at my own expense and with no reduction in child support) for a couple of weeks at time when he was very young. However, after she became involved with some weird aggressive guy who she eventually married, she became increasingly uncooperative about discussing visitation. Eventually, she refused to speak with me at all; effectively completely alienating me from my son. I was reduced to leaving unanswered messages month after month in an attempt to have any kind of contact with my son. She started to (and does still) encourage my son to call her husband "Dad," and to refer to me as "Daddy Dave." Her husband even assaulted me during an exchange: "Your a little piece of sh*** I oughta kick your ass!" he yelled in my face while poking his finger in my chest--my son was barely outside of hearing range when this happened. Had my son not been so close by, I might have followed my instinct to break his finger and jaw--this guy is much larger than me and I was considerably intimidated...I am glad that I was able to control my fear. As I was driving away, my girlfriend, my nephew and I, all witnessed as my son's mother came out of the hotel and stuck her middle finger high in the air (in full view of my son). I had not witnessed such atrocious behavior in humans since high-school. Their bizarre and belligerent behavior made me more determined than ever that I would do all in my power to rescue my son from the obvious insanity he was being raised in.
Even though the job-market was horrible I didn't want to move away from Santa Fe; by then I was halfway through the paralegal program at the Santa Fe Community College and I wanted to finish my classes. I didn't know anyone in Tucson anyway, and it is a rather dismal place. Why should I have to move to some other place just because she abducted the fetus there? What guarantee did I have that she wouldn't just go somewhere else? Had we been married when my son was born it would have been easy to get the New Mexico courts to order back to Santa Fe. I struggled to make my support payments and continue my schooling and visited with my son whenever I could...
I finally finished the paralegal program at the community college, but was still having trouble finding steady work in Santa Fe, and my financial situation was getting worse. I decided to move to the North Bay area of California, where I have some family. Demographic research showed that I would find work there as well. The move took all of my remaining resources and I lived in my car for several months while I tried to get situated in California. Finally, I was able to get on my feet and find regular work. As soon as I was financially able, I planned a visit with my son. I had given up trying to speak with his mother about seeing him, but I sent her an email begging for some visitation. She replied that I could visit with my son for a few hours at a time under the supervision of she or her husband. That was the last straw, I couldn't stomach the idea of being supervised around my own son by someone who had attacked me--I told her that I didn't recognize her husband's authority to supervise my visitation with my son and that after the way he had behaved the last time I saw him, I didn't think it was a good idea for him to be around at all. Then she insisted that I meet with she and her family counselor as a precondition of allowing me to see my son, which I quickly agreed to even thought she had no right to make such a demand. I decided I would bring the paternity action.
Because I couldn't afford an attorney, I prepared the papers as best as I could by myself and planned my trip to Arizona. I would couple the visit with my son and the filing of the paternity action into one trip. I met with she and her family counselor. I made it very clear at the meeting that I wanted some kind of a parenting plan initiated immediately. We all agreed to meet the following day so we could prepare a plan. I had already filed the paternity action, but I could still abort the process by not serving her with the Summons.
After the meeting with her and her therapist, I visited with my son for about three and a half hours with his mother present. We had a great time and my son was very affectionate. She had said she could stay until five-thirty, but at five she said it was getting late and they must go. When I got back to my hotel room I called to remind her that we were to meet at the therapists the following day. On the following day I met with the therapist at the appointed time to discuss the parenting plan, but she didn't show up. Her therapist was quite perplexed but I wasn't surprised at all. "I knew she would never show," I told him. She did show up later to supervise a few more hours of my visitation with my son, but there was no mention of a parenting plan. I decided to go through with the suit. After another great afternoon at the amusement park with my son, she was kind enough to let me take him in my car while we all drove to the mall. While we were alone in the car, my son told me again (for he had said this many times in the past) how much he loved me and how he wanted to come stay with me at my place. We went to the mall and I bought him a book and then we all walked out to the parking lot and I hugged kissed him goodbye. He squeezed me again as hard as he could--you know, he did that thing where they grab your leg and sit on your foot, like they will never let you go. Then he got in his mother's car and looked very sad. My heart broke as I headed to the airport and flew home. I flew from San Francisco to Tucson, and only got to spend a total of about six hours with my son. In my opinion she and her husband have tortiously interfered with my relationship with my son and his right to have a relationship with his father, but without the benefit of a competent attorney and a large legal fund, I could never get a court in this country to do what's right.
Once she was served with the paternity suit, she came up with the $5,000 to hire an attorney right away and a hearing was scheduled. About six months later at the hearing, things did not go well. Even though I understood it to be standard procedure in the family courts where there were allegations of violence, my request for a restraining order against her husband was refused and I had to present my case with my attacker sitting right there in the courtroom. I went to go find a bailiff (apparently none was appointed to the courtroom, again in spite of my allegations of domestic violence) in order to reduce the intimidation factor. Without the bailiff sitting behind me, I would have been alone in the courtroom against her, her expensive attorney, and her aggressive husband. The judge basically refused to let me speak at the hearing and she didn't look at any of the volumes of evidence I brought. She spent a lot of time lecturing me about how rude I was, and smiling at the expensive attorney. She looked at me with hatred in her eyes and pointed at me as she pontificated. I cried as I tried in vain to get the judge to let me speak.
It was nearly a complete waste of time bringing the suit. With such financial disparity, I never had a chance.
For all of my trouble, all I got was an earful of a hateful, sexist judge's, rhetoric; it took all of my emotional and financial resources and I still have no parenting/visitation rights. I do feel good, knowing that I did all that was in my power to fight for my son's well-being, but that is accompanied by feelings of powerlessness and frustration. My son's mother is still not cooperative about communicating with me, but the judge did rule that I could have at least one phone-conversation per week with my son on a specific day, and his mother has more or less honored that. I was ordered to pay $2,000 of her lawyers' fees, which makes absolutely no sense to me because if I could have afforded attorney's fees, I would have hired one to represent my son's interests in the suit I brought on his behalf. Nevertheless, considering the judges obvious hatred of me, I was just glad I hadn't been ordered to pay all of her lawyer fees. It definitely didn't help me to get the courts involved, I don't recommend it unless you can afford an expert attorney. It is easy to see why so many fathers flip out when trying to deal with the system. Try to educate yourself as much as possible about child custody issues; you can find a great book on the subject, right here: Click Here!
The implications of my story are scary and should not be ignored. Arizona has the highest number of single mothers--I believe that is because some women are taking advantage of this loophole in the law: If one parent takes a child out of the state without telling the other, it is considered child abduction, but if a woman takes an unborn fetus out of the state and gives birth in another state, she can then long-arm the father for child support in the state where the child was conceived, and she never has to let him see his child. If a father wants to enforce his paternal rights (and his child's rights), he must petition the courts wherever the abductor has gone off to.
I started this page partly as an outlet for myself since the judge would not let me speak at the hearing. I had to find some way to get my story out. If you are an attorney reading this and you would like to help my son and I, please contact me. Anyone who wishes to contribute to our legal fund can do so by clicking on the "Donate" button below:
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