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Never married mother of infant has many questions and concerns regarding father's demand for joint custody

Your Question:
I'm an unmarried mother of a 3 month old infant. I have some questions about child custody and I'd greatly appreciate your help!

The father and I were living together, when I became pregnant. He is thirty-three and I'm twenty-one. We actually got along really great, until we started to disagree on how to raise the child. I ended up moving back home with my parents. I kept him informed with all the doctor's appointments and let him see the baby, right after he was delivered. He came down a week after the baby was born and then started to not return my phone calls. I called him, he called me, and it was back and forth- with a lot of harsh conversations. My mistake was, telling him that he could not see the child, if he did not help finacially... I do know that was a mistake but it's hard to let him get off so easy.

Now, he wants joint custody and I'm not exactly sure that I'm willing. I do want him to be involved in the child's life, I have no problem with that. However, he does not even know his own child or anything about him. He does not know what sized diapers, clothing, what formula ext. I told him that he could come down and visit and to get familiar with the baby. I will not just let him take him though, I feel it's unfit.

I send his parents pictures, cards, and notes. They write back and he has a problem with this. I'm willing to let him have the child every other weekend and sometimes during the week-just not joint custody. He already left one child, I do see how he wants this one? Can I bring that up in court, that he has another child that he never sees? His family lives thousands of miles away and he has no one living with him, to help out. I'm with my parents and the child is very well taking care of. I'm a stay at home mom and I spend all day loving, teaching, and caring for our child.

What are his chances of getting joint custody? What can I do to prevent that? I do want what is best for our child, I'm just not sure he can do what it takes.

Thank you and I hope to hear from you soon.

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing.

You and I had further email correspondence (not posted for readers), and part of your further information will also be addressed in this response.

I think I'll bullet-point a variety of issues (some answers to your questions, and other stuff too), for your consideration.

I pointed out to you already that the parenting plan you propose is not based upon any consultation of a textbook or psychologist. It's what YOU want. I find it far from ideal for an infant, who builds bonds based upon frequency of contact. If only seeing the father once a week (on average), the baby won't bond, and the baby will likely have discomfort every time they're together, since the father will be a stranger for quite a while. I'll address a parenting plan later.

The age difference between you and the father is irrelevant in a custody determination. Don't worry about it. A custody ruling will be made on best interest of the child (including stability of home, parenting abilities, basic needs, ability to cooperate with the other parent, etc). While a parent's "maturity" may be a consideration, so long as you're an average 21 year old (and not an extremely immature one), it won't be an issue.

You mentioned (not posted) that the father works a third shift. You expressed a concern about overnights, given that the father cannot care for a child while working at night, and you argue that it's more in a child's interest to be put to bed by a parent rather than a babysitter. Generally, I agree with you. But your position falls apart on the nights the father doesn't work.

That you live with your parents is irrelevant, unless the home is inadequate or inappropriate for a child. The court most wants to see a stable home in which a child can be nurtured and thrive.

It may or may not be relevant if he has another child whom he has elected not to see. If he lost custody due to abusing the child, it's relevant. If he made the decision because the mother was unstable and made his life hell, and he didn't have the money to litigate, and the mother moved and he couldn't find her; then it's irrelevant to your situation. I imagine that the real answer is somewhere between those two extremes. But he could also argue that he's had much regret over his PAST decision, which makes him committed to this second child in the PRESENT. And he renders your position on this irrelevant.

As the law allows with unmarried mothers (until a court ruling says otherwise), you have elected to exercise your right to complete control over this child. You have threatened him with never seeing the child unless he pays you (and you acknowledge your mistake), you demand that he only see the child on your terms (and under your watchful eye), and you have even taken it upon yourself to continue a relationship with HIS parents without even giving him the courtesy of asking if it's okay (regardless of whether or not his parents are nice to you and thank you).

Let's boil down your approach in communicating with him... in essence, you have told him, "Screw you, I don't care about anything you say, I will raise this child how I want. If you want to be part of this child's life, either agree completely with me or go to hell."

Right? I mean, you didn't say those exact words, but that's the theme of what you've done for 3 months. Your way or the highway.

And now you're wondering why he's demanding joint custody?! Asking a court for joint custody is the only option YOU gave him, if he wants to be a parent who has at least a minimal (or equal) say in his child's life. You think he wants to deal with you having 100% control for the next 18 years?!

In your two emails you sent me, you have not raised a single issue (in my eyes) that a court would find as credible to drastically limit this man's involvement with the child. In your second email, you wrote, "I do think that he could be a good father."

Okay, all of that said... in your second email to me (not posted), you expressed that there has to be a better way then ending up in court.

The better way, though likely tough for you to do, means that you have to give up some control. You're going to have to give the father enough latitude to either prove himself or hang himself (in terms of a custody ruling).

So, here's what I suggest as your action plan, in order to avoid court:

  • Agree on a monthly child support amount. Each parent should contribute financially to the child's welfare. This includes you, so find a part-time job.

  • Agree on a parenting plan where the child sees each parent almost every day for the next six months. We have to get this baby bonded with Dad, and if it's short (but frequent) periods, maybe you'll stress less. I think that 3 hours per day, five days per week, plus 6 hours on one weekend day, would be a great schedule. Schedule the 3 hours perhaps from 1pm to 4pm (i.e., after baby wakes up from mid-day nap, so baby is less likely to be cranky). If you really want to see what this father is made of, propose this schedule for the next six months, and see if he follows through or ends up canceling many of the periods.

  • During the six months, do your best not to freak out. If the baby occasionally returns with a wet diaper, the world won't end and the baby won't die. If the baby routinely returns with a wet diaper, address it with him (calmly, and without threats).

  • ASK him questions about what he thinks (regarding the baby). For example, ask him whether he thinks you two should do vaccinations at this doctor's appointment or the next one. The answer really doesn't matter, but the message he'll perceive is that you're trying to co-parent... and that belief will keep you out of court.

  • Agree to re-examine the situation in six months. If he's stuck with this schedule, you can build up to overnights by 18 months (but it's reasonable to require they not occur if he's working that night). "Building up" means giving him a longer period every week, so that he can put the child down for a nap. Let he and the child build a bedtime routine (i.e., same as naptime) before overnights begin.

  • If you want him to take a parenting class, agree that you BOTH will take and complete ABC Parenting Course within 3 months. If you single him out for no reason other than your own fear/paranoia, you put him on the defensive.

If you approach him with what I suggest, I think you'll see your situation move in a much better direction. Like it or not, if he wants to be a parent, you have to deal with this guy for 18+ years. You can choose to litigate everything (horrible for the wallet, for the parents, AND for the child), or you can choose to find a middle ground.

Give him the benefit of the doubt. If you give him much opportunity to be a parent, and he elects to blow it off, then you have your definitive answer.

But all you have right now is your own speculation, and he sees no choice but to take you to court. And up to now, he's completely right.

Good luck.


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