Dear Mrs Macaulay,
I am a Jamaican citizen who lives abroad. I have a serious concern about my child's father. My son is seven years old now and I have been looking after him by myself since he was born. My son's father doesn't play a role in his life at all. I hear he currently lives abroad but he doesn't care for our son. I've tried numerous times for him to try and take care of our son but he doesn't care. I feel now is the time for me to seek legal advice as to how to seek full responsibility. I don't know how to go about and accomplish such. Can you advise on this matter?
I have noted the contents of your letter and before I answer your queries, I must mention how appalled I am that it is only after your son attained the age of seven years that you decided it was time for you to seek legal advice about how to get his deadbeat father to contribute to his maintenance expenses, and even more important to have a relationship with him.
Are you aware that in waiting so long you neglected and disregarded your son's rights and welfare? In fact, unless you know where the father resides (or works) here or abroad, you will not be able to rectify the situation. How could it take you seven long years to realise he was a lost cause when during those years you say you had to solely provide for your child though you contacted him many times to get him to provide support?
Anyway, let me now deal with the situation which you allowed to fester. You say you think the child's father is now living abroad. This informs me that you do not have his address. In fact, I believe that you really have no idea in which country he now resides.
If I am correct in my assumption, then you really cannot file any application in any court to order him to make specific and periodic contributions towards your son's maintenance and for your child to have access to his father. You need an address for him, or, failing that, you need sufficient information upon which you can ground an application for an order for substituted service instead of personal service. If you do not even know whether he is still in Jamaica (you only heard that he was, which is clearly hearsay and completely unreliable), or in which country, city or town he is abroad, you cannot even start any proceedings.
You must therefore first find out where he is now; as his address needs to be in your application and in order to effect service on him.
If I am wrong and you do know where he is, and he is here, as you live abroad, you should retain a lawyer here to assist you to prepare the requisite applications for legal custody, care and control and maintenance of your son. The applications will then be filed here and heard and concluded here and the requisite orders made. You must provide details of what you have to spend to maintain your child including his share of the costs of shelter, utilities, clothing, footwear, food, toiletries, grooming, transportation, amusement and miscellaneous. Educational, medical, dental and optical expenses are generally ordered to be met on a 50/50 basis. The sharing of the other expenses which I have listed, unless you can prove that he earns far more than you do, will be shared equally between you both. Under our Maintenance Act both parents are responsible to provide maintenance for their child, as far as they are able.
If the father does in fact live abroad, you will have to make your application in the court which deals with family matters (children) in the town or city in which he resides. The courts here would have no jurisdiction to deal with the applications because then you, your child and the father would not be residing within the borders of Jamaica.
I am sorry that these are the circumstances, but this is what happens when people do not take the legal action provided in law to protect their rights. And in this instance it is your son's rights that you may have permanently (but hopefully only temporarily) endangered.
So please try to find out your son's father's place of residence now and act as soon as you obtain this information. It should not be just what someone says; you must check any such information out so that you have facts and not suppositions. Please do this for your son's sake, so he can obtain what he is in law and fact entitled to obtain from his father.
Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org ; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.