THE mom-centred court system has been called a mythical concept by modern-times experts, who argue that nowadays, both parents, regardless of gender, have equal rights to their children when it comes to custody and access, and court rulings reflect this equality. This is far different from what obtained here in Jamaica, and even elsewhere in the past, where the law presumed mothers as the better parents. Now, in most jurisdictions, the best interests of the child often dictates who gets primary custody.
But, say some dads, their experience in the courts prove that mothers are still more likely to get custody when parents separate; fathers with custody are often criticised for seeking maintenance from the mothers; and a deadbeat mom is less likely to lose custody or her children than a deadbeat dad, even when she commits the vilest transgressions.
We canvassed four dads who had their day in court, to tell whether gender equity in child custody and maintenance decisions is purely theoretical.
My kids’ mother left and went to America, and I was holding things down here by myself for years. When she got straight she got a better job and would send them things, but not enough, or consistent enough to make any real impact. I went to court to see if I could get a child support order. I was insulted, ridiculed and criticised by the mothers there for wanting to take her to court. One woman said I was a man, and needed to take care of my kids. The court people weren’t much help either and tried to give me the runaround, including saying that what I was asking for was impossible. But I knew my rights and it took a few years, but I got my order and filed it in her state, so now she’s paying support.
You have to get a lawyer — that’s the only way they will take you serious. I remember the first time I went, I wanted custody or more access as I didn’t like the way my son was being raised. It was so traumatising just dealing with the system, and realising that even a bad mother who went out partying every night would be seen in a good light, and I was treated with disdain. Second court date I had a lawyer and that’s when they started to listen, and I got joint custody and more time.
Between my lawyers misrepresenting what my actual chances were, and the people in the room snickering and whispering under their breaths about how dare I want to “take weh di woman pickney”, thousands of dollars later, I realised that I stood no chance of getting custody, even though the mother was careless and all over the place, and I was married with the resources to take care of my child. The mother could do no wrong in their eyes, even though I had evidence of her neglect. Worst, I didn’t even get joint custody. She got full custody and I got access at her discretion.
Picture this: divorced parents, the man, me, is told to pay a certain sum per month, plus half medical. The children are to live with mom. This goes on for three years, with four per cent increases every year. Then mom decides she’s getting remarried and moving parishes, and kids will live with dad full-time. She presents a figure that she wants to pay for support, which is three quarters what dad was paying, even though she’s doing well financially. Dad takes her to court and she’s ordered to pay half what he was paying. So the kids, now older with more needs, are to survive on less money than they were receiving before, just because it’s support coming from a woman. The courts are so gender biased, it’s not funny.