Me, NY MAN, and FaFNY (nor anyone else for “free”) are NOT legal services organizations nor do we provide individual case management. If you are in court the system is such that you either use an attorney or do it yourself. I have compiled self help information here to help you whether you have an attorney or are going it alone.
Knowledge is power - Review the Books and Links Page for up to date information!
I you are going it without an attorney, Pro Se (self represented) persons should go to the Pro Se section of the NYS Unified Court System for up to date manuals, instructions and forms. Review information on financial child support click Here. You can also contact other individuals on our Chat Group Here
Historically, and right now there is zero funding to help fathers overcome the barriers in place which prevent them from being fathers to their children. Should the NYS Government, or any other organization wishing to do good for families, decide to provide funding we are ready to provide those services to the public.
When I began in the family civil rights movement in 1995 the only resources available were manuals and pamphlets prepared by those that had gone through the system (I make mention of Julian Garcia who prepared a pro se manual for New York State with thanks for his work on behalf of others). Most were pro se (self representation) help manuals as most people facing family dissolution eventually run out of money for attorneys. These were copied and distributed by hand through meetings and from friend to friend. Many organizations required membership prior to assisting an individual or providing the manual. Now, the internet has made this information readily available in volumes we would have not thought of achieving in even the year 2000. If you do not have internet access GET IT. Go to a friends or to your public library.
I provide this information free to all regardless of organization affiliation. I do recommend a membership in ACFC which gives you access to their studies section and "The Shared Parenting Tool Kit", in addition to being your voice in Washington, DC and Albany, NY.
Child Custody Discussion - Custodial versus non custodial:
I want to stress right up front that if you are the "non custodial" parent you have no rights in New York's Courts. The Family Court is bound by "the best interest of the child" standard and will "award" control of the child to one parent at the exclusion of the other (93% of the time the mother is the "custodial" parent). The courts say they "award custody" but both parents already had custody, so what the court is doing is TAKING AWAY parental rights from one parent. The "New York Order", as those in the judiciary refer to it, is allowing you to "visit" every other weekend and one day a week for four hours. Hardly enough time to be a parent to your child(ren). They will try to trick you into entering into an agreement by putting in words and phrases to indicate that you have some measure of shared decision making like "joint custody with primary physical possession with the mother" or "primary residence is with" or indicating shared decision making but giving one parent final say on decision such as "the mother shall always consult with the father before making major decisions" indicating their authority to make the final decision . If a parent has "primary physical possession" or "primary residence" they are the custodial parent and you non custodial. If the other parent only has to consult on major decision they are the custodial parent and you non custodial. If you pay child support you are the "non custodial parent". The custodial parent gets to make ALL the decisions regarding the child including whether to relocate out of the area. NY Courts DO NOT enforce "visitation" orders. Be aware of this and also, MAKE NO VERBAL STIPULATIONS IN OPEN COURT, agree in principle and then have the order proposed agreement drawn up for review.
Here’s how it usually goes
MAN's 15 IMPORTANT TIPS ON MANAGING YOUR CASE
You woke up one day and said “I must be in the twilight zone, this can’t happen in America”. Well, you ain't in Kansas anymore Theodore, it does happen, on a daily basis (in KS too). And to make matters worse chances are that the “opposing party” (formerly the person you would have given your life to protect) wants the divorce, filed against you, and is way ahead on the preparation.
First thing you should realize, you are not alone. With a 50% divorce rate and one third our of wedlock birth rate chances are you are sitting next to a divorced/separated "non custodial" dad on the bus, at work, school, library or just walking down the street. Just begin to speak of your situation and the kindred Dads will open up and begin talking to you.
There are some fundamentally important things you can do to help yourself. First and foremost you have to recognize that YOU are responsible for your interactions with others including your ex, your children the Courts, whoever. Second you need to build a support network. We suggest a network of three. One family member, a mother, sister or brother, etc. who can go to ALL meetings you have regarding your children. Court, school conferences and public events you children are in. One friend who understands you and is willing to attend an event or come to court when your family person is unavailable. You can also discuss your emotions with them so you don’t explode later on. One FaFNY member (or a divorced Dad), a mentor from within the organization. Someone who has been through this before. You can do this through networking, phone calls, e-mails and by attending the meetings. You need someone who has been through the system to explain it to you.
Once your support base is set try the following suggestions:
1. “Manage” your outward emotions at ALL times. You can not afford an outward display of anger toward ANYONE, but most importantly towards your ex spouse. As one father put it “I’m the Buckingham Palace Guard when I’m relating to her”. Recognize they will try to make you act angry and argumentative. Don’t fall into the trap. Adhere to the Standard Conditions of Parental Behavior on this site.
2. Keep a DAILY diary or calendar. Cases often run months and even years. Recalling facts and events is difficult and made worse because of the stress. Write down all major points of your interactions with your ex, your kids and those involved in the case such as law guardians, etc. and include phone calls made and topic discussed.
3. Buy a digital recorder or a voice activated pocket recorder and phone microphone and record ALL conversations and contacts with your ex. False allegations are an accepted practice in family court and attorneys use them as leverage. YOU HAVE TO PROTECT YOURSELF. If you never suffer a false allegation you can destroy the tapes when your case is done. But in a He said, She said when the allegations are against you, YOU LOSE. Unless you have evidence to the contrary false allegations will be believed. (Speak with your attorney on the legality of recording conversations. Presently in New York State a person can record a conversation as long as they are physically a party to the conversation. Laws change, make sure you are up to date)
3. Make yourself “father of the year”. In the adversarial arena of family court there is a tendency to respond to attacks on your character with cross attacks on character. Instead of showing you should “get the kids because she is no good” show that you should get your kids because YOU ARE SO GOOD. Build yourself up, not tear her down. Carry photo’s and brag about your kids. Get your kids because your deserve them.
4. Know your kids! Learn everything there is to know about your children PERSONALLY. Learn all their sizes and tastes in clothes. Learn about their friends and what they really like to do. Know them as people. Even if you end up with limited parenting time you will be much better off having really learned who your children are.
5. Be involved in the major decisions in your child’s life! Know who their doctor is by name and location and talk to him about your child’s health issues. Be there when they get medical attention. Know who their extra curricular activity instructors are by name in music, dance, soccer or whatever. Attend games and events. Share information with your ex spouse, they are still a parent even though not your spouse.
6. Get involved in your child’s education! Meet with your child’s teacher or guidance counselor and let them know of your continued involvement in the child’s education. File the parental access form (FERPA) with your child’s school but bring it in in person and ask that it be kept on file. Be aware of who is listed on the emergency release card and that the contact numbers are up to date. Explain the current situation to school personnel so that they are aware of the family dissolution as it affects your kids. JOIN THE PTA. Attend school (and school board) meetings and events.
7. Don’t be a Disneyland Dad. Having limited time with your children can often result in a child-parent relationship based on “we have to do something fun”, McDonalds and a movie! But this is not a natural parental role. REMEMBER YOU ARE STILL A PARENT! Act like it. Time together should be spent on normal family functions. Weekday evenings should be homework and dinner at HOME (the one they are currently at!). Do these family things together. Keep normal routines regardless of the parent in charge at the time. Spend weekends at normal family events and gatherings. Remember their religious upbringing consistent with what was done before the divorce.
8. Allow your child to express his or her emotions openly and freely. No child asks for divorce. They are truly the innocent party that has to suffer the consequences of another’s decision. Let your child express their emotions as they need to and DON”T BE JUDGEMENTAL. They want and need security, not blame. Listen. Listen. Listen.
9. Respect the other parent! Absolutely no bad mouthing of the other parent should occur. This destroys your child’s self esteem no matter which parent is “bad”. This goes for extended family, friends and the children themselves. If someone bad mouths your ex-spouse in front of you stand up for your child’s parent. You are not supporting your spouse, you are supporting the parent of your child (and thereby the child them self).
10. Nurture your child’s relationship with their family. Not only your extended family but BOTH branches of the tree. On father’s day call BOTH Grandfathers and wish them a happy father’s day. Same for mother’s day. Aunts and uncles, cousins etc. are important to the child too. Allow open contact with the other parent and all of the extended family when you are exercising your parenting time.
11. Think outside the box. Being “non custodial” means limited time with your children. You can increase your time by thinking outside of the limitations placed on you. Attend all public events your child is in. All sporting events and presentations. Volunteer to chaperone on school and church filed trips. Volunteer to be a reading parent at your child’s school. By being involved you gain time outside the court order and the limitations imposed there.
12. In Court, once you agree to it you can’t take it back. Never, EVER stipulate to ANYTHING on the record. It will get twisted around and come back to bite you. If you are unsure or confused, say so. You can agree to something in principle and ASK THAT IT BE REDUCED TO WRITING SO YOU CAN READ IT BEFORE SIGNING. If you don’t like something OBJECT TO IT.
13. Understand the terminology and what you are agreeing to. Vague references such as “such further visitation times as the parties agree” are unenforceable. “Joint custody with primary physical possession with the mother” really means she is the custodial parent and you are the non custodial parent. Make sure dates and times are specific. A statement “Christmas in even years with the father from 10:00PM Christmas eve to 8:00PM Christmas night” is enforceable and is better than “the father shall have the child every other Christmas” which is unenforceable.
14. Think Ahead!!!! You are going to be in this system until your child reaches 21 years of age. Think ahead about who will pay for college and which college. Will you spouse try to move your children away from you when she meets a new boyfriend? Ask yourself, “What can happen in the future to keep me away from my children and what can I do to prevent it from happening”.
15. Ask yourself, “Can I accept this definition of fatherhood” and “At what price is my fatherhood”? Many people enter into agreements without asking themselves these two questions. If the definition of fatherhood handed to you doesn’t meet your expectations your parental role will fade over time. Also if the price to exercise your fatherhood is to high you won’t be able to do so. If you have to work 60 hours a week to pay the support you won’t have time to be with your children if you have them say 40% of the time. If you are abused by your spouse or arrested under false allegations of abuse when you try to get your kids the price of fatherhood will eventually, emotionally and financially, be to high for you to continue. If your spouse slams the door in your face when you come to get your children will you have the energy and stamina to keep taking her back to a court that really doesn’t care about your parental time with your children?
Being a separated parent takes work. But it is the most rewarding thing that you can do. Stay at it. Don’t give up. The better the job you do in the beginning the easier it will be towards the end.