Mom rationing access to my child
Dear Mrs Macaulay,
My daughter lives in Kingston and her mother has not allowed me to see her for more than a few days each year despite the fact that I have flown both of them to the US for visits. If I don’t give her the money she wants, she won’t allow me to speak to my child.
I pay child support but she demands more than I can afford. She believes because I’m an American that means I’m rich. I am far from rich, have just graduated, and am just now trying to become financially established. Friends have cautioned me that lawyers in Jamaica may charge me a little more when they discover that I’m American. I’ve said that I don’t believe that to be true but thought I’d write to you for advice. Does this happen? How may I find a good attorney that won’t gauge prices? I live humbly and even the airfare will prove challenging, but I’m determined to seek legal remedy as I worry about the emotional damage being done to my daughter by being kept away from me.
I must applaud your determination to persist with your efforts to have a meaningful relationship and a real presence in your daughter's life, despite her mother's wrongful actions in restricting your access to only a few days annually. Her mother is also wrong in refusing to permit you to speak with your daughter only if you send her money over and above the sums you send to her for your child's support.
It is gratifying that you are prepared to travel to Jamaica in order to pursue the process to obtain the necessary orders from the court here, which would establish your rights and obligations and those of your child's mother; and in this way ensure that you have proper access to your child.
You say you have been cautioned that lawyers here may charge you at a higher rate because you are an American, and ask whether this is true and whether it does happen. In answer to this, I can only say that like lawyers in every jurisdiction in the world, there are some who would act in this way, with not only an American but with anyone who they believe they can get to pay more than is their usual fee. However, I also can assure you that, as elsewhere, those who may act in this manner here are in the minority, as the majority of attorneys in active practice are very hard-working and abide by the law and the profession's ethical standards and regulations.
I suggest that you contact the General Legal Council's office and, through its secretary, request names of attorneys who are in good standing and whose area of practice and experience is in family law, and whose reputations as to fees have not been challenged
or if so, not successfully. A list of names will normally be provided of family law practitioners, but the council will normally not make a specific recommendation.
The council is the governing body of the legal profession in Jamaica and it is the keeper of records of attorneys who have practising certificates, which are legally needed for them to practise law. It also has on record the areas of the law in which we all practise and with its sub-committee, the Disciplinary Committee, the records of the good standing or otherwise of all attorneys.
You should, when you contact the secretary, indicate whether you intend to make your application in the Supreme Court or in the Family Court, as some attorneys practise largely in one court or the other. The contact is: e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; postal address: 78 Harbour Street, Kingston, Jamaica; telephone numbers (876) 922-2318/ (876) 967-1206/ (876) 967-1528/ (876) 967-3688. The website is www.generallegalcouncil.org. Remember that you should address your enquiry for the attention of the secretary.
You could also contact the co-ordinator or senior social worker of the Family Court for the parish in which your child and her mother reside. You can search for the relevant one on the Web for the courts of Jamaica.
Please remember that if your name does not appear on your daughter's birth certificate, you should apply for a declaration of paternity and joint custody of your child with her mother. This will entitle you to be part of the decision-making for all the important areas of your daughter's life — her education, health and medical treatments, where she ought to reside and with whom, and the specific times and length of your access to her. Your access, I would suggest, should be all her major school holidays for which you may solely have to pay for her airfares. Additionally, you may have to alternate with whom she spends Christmas and/or Easter, but you ought to insist that you get her for the major chunk of her summer holidays.
You must also apply for your maintenance support contributions to be in a specific sum payable monthly as you are away, and that you pay one-half of her educational, medical, dental and optical expenses, in addition to the general maintenance sum ordered.
You must specify in your Affidavit in Support of your application what you earn, your living expenses and deductions from your salary (if any) and what you are offering for your daughter's maintenance.
I hope this will assist you to obtain and enjoy your paternal rights to your daughter and to fix your specific obligations to her and at the same time make clear the rights and obligations of her mother.
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 allwoman@jamaicaobserver. com; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5.
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.