Dad Learns Hard Lessons in Family Court

In this case it’s Dave Flook of London, Ontario (The London Free Press, 1/31/09). He’s in the middle of learning a few of those lessons life teaches you sometimes.

He and his girlfriend lived together and had a child. Things were OK for a while, but tensions arose and she left with the baby to go to her parents’ house for “the weekend.” But “the weekend” is still going on. She still has the child, now 18 months old, and he’s trying to get some semblance of a life with his daughter by representing himself in family court (he can’t afford legal representation).

But the court, Dave has learned, doesn’t seem very interested in actually deciding the case. Delay is the order of the day. His ex’s lawyer knows what Dave apparently hasn’t learned yet – the longer she has custody the less inclined the court will be to grant Dave much visitation. And of course his chance at primary physical custody went out the window long ago. After all, he hasn’t established himself as a “responsible” father, hasn’t spent much time with his daughter and by now she may be only dimly aware of who he is.

Dave may think the court will care that all of that was caused, not by his neglect, but by his ex’s unilateral decision to abscond with his child. That will be another lesson for him – the court won’t give a tinker’s damn about that. The court, the better to ponder the arcana of the “best interests of the child,” will likely appoint an expert who will inquire into which parent has more perfectly “bonded” with the child. And lo and behold, that person will turn out to be, ipso facto, the mother. After that the only issue will be how much Dave pays. Call the next case.

I’ve said it before: in family courts, as nowhere else in life or law, we place the “rights” of one free adult, not in his own hands, but in those of another. When the child was born, Dave Flook supposedly had some form of parental rights. But when his daughter’s mother took away the little girl, Dave’s rights started disappearing like sand through an hour glass. Far from punishing her, the court, by giving her primary physical custody and child support, rewards that behavior.

Having rewarded her bad behavior, the court simultaneously punishes his good behavior. After all, I suppose he could have kidnapped the child just like she did. But he played by the rules and, objectively, the court disapproves of that.

His rights, her decision.

And none of this says a word about the child’s rights to a father.

Child’s rights, mother’s decision.

Those are hard lessons indeed, but ones I suspect Dave Flook won’t soon forget.

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