When it comes to determining child custody, some say the courts favor the mother. Do they? Should they?
According to Halbert Sullivan and Lisl King Williams, Missouri courts more often give custody to mothers than to fathers, and make it especially difficult for a low income father that was never married to the mother of his child. Sullivan is the founder and CEO of the Fathers' Support Center, located in North St. Louis. Williams is the director of legal services there.
“There is a tendency in the courts, specifically when you are dealing with newborns, young children, for whatever reason, to want to give them to mom, when the social evidence clearly indicates that that’s the time for bonding with both parents,” said Williams.
“For your never married, non-custodial parent, he has no rights….in order to get some rights, he has to go into a court of law, and we all know how expensive that can be,” added Sullivan.
When a man is married to the mother of a child, the law assumes he is the father. But for an unmarried man to gain custody, he has to first prove paternity.
Attorney Heather Biagi has also encountered difficulties in gaining fathers' rights for her clients. She is a litigation manager at Cordell & Cordell, a St. Louis firm that specializes in men's family law.
While Williams deals mostly with paternity cases at the Fathers' Support Center, Biagi handles more custody and visitation rights cases. Both work with child support cases.
Child support in particular makes things complicated.
"You can be deemed by the state to be dad for purposes of paying child support, but not for purposes of custody and visitation," said Biagi.
Which means a father can be paying child support to a mother while simultaneously paying court and attorney fees to gain custody and visitation rights.