Kelly Clarkson recently co-wrote and performs a hit song titled “Piece by Piece,” which has received extensive airplay. As anyone familiar with it is aware, the song describes a troubled relationship Ms. Clarkson has with her father, from whom her mother was divorced when the singer was a child. She contrasts this relationship with the one she has with her husband and father of her children.
Every time I hear the song I can’t help but think of the thousands of fathers I’ve spoken with over the phone, met with in person, and represented in my 20 year career as a custody lawyer. The vast majority of these men want a relationship with their children and want to be a part of the important decisions. They want to participate and do the work necessary to support their children’s education and extra-curricular activities. They are willing to continue to meet their children’s financial needs. They don’t want to walk away, and yet it is easy to see how men can feel frustrated with the legal process that is supposed to be focused on the best interests of the children.
Sadly, I’ve listened to countless men recount their ex-partner’s threats in the heat of an argument or otherwise that “you’ll never see your son again!” Sadly, I’ve spoken and met with fathers whose ex-partner has unilaterally moved the children from the home to an unknown location or even out of the state or country. I’ve heard of extended family members or a new boyfriend engaging in threats or violence to keep the client away. I’ve represented men who have had to fight tooth and nail not only in family court for the ability to see their children but also in criminal court defending against false allegations of abuse or other criminal behavior used as a weapon in a custody case. I’ve counseled many men who feel helpless in enforcing existing court orders for custody and parenting time where their ex gets a “slap on the wrist” for denying parenting time while the client is threatened with jail time for falling behind on child support.
Faced with all of this it is not hard to imagine even the best of fathers throwing up their hands and stepping away.
As custody lawyers, it is our job to offer hope to fathers dealing with these situations and to remind the client and courts that the law, properly applied, is gender neutral. Custody and parenting time determinations are supposed be based upon the best interests of the children. The law recognizes that children need both parents. Fathers do have a chance to get custody. Courts are supposed to enforce custody orders and need to be reminded to do so with the same vigilance applied to child support. People proven to be abusing domestic restraining orders or the criminal justice system to gain advantage in custody cases should face appropriate punishment. Courts need to be reminded of monetary sanctions that the law provides in violations of custody orders, not the least of which should require the offending party to pay the victim’s attorney fees. Judges need to be more willing to modify custody when one party is clearly lacks the “willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent” as set forth in the Michigan Child Custody Act.
Piece by piece parents, lawyers and judges need to do their part to ensure that children have a relationship with both of their parents. As the playing field is leveled, fewer and fewer dads will just walk out the door.
About ADAM (American Divorce Association for Men)
The American Divorce Association for Men (ADAM) is a group of highly qualified attorneys who advocate for men’s rights in all aspects of family law. In addition, ADAM represents men, women, or married couples in adoption matters. Since 1988, ADAM has been aggressive, diligent, and uncompromising when representing their clients.