Biological father struggles for visitation rights

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  June 18, 2010 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

My husband has a child out of wedlock that he has seen 8 times in 7 years. The mother got married when the child was 6 years old to a man that the child calls "dad." The times that my husband was allowed to see the child, he was not allowed to tell the child that he was his dad. He was introduced as a friend and by his name.

Since my husband and the child's mother were never married, child visitation was never set in place by the court, only child support was. Therefore, the mother will not let my husband see his son.

The child has experienced many behavioral problems and was suspended 4 times from Kindergarten in the first semester. The last time my husband saw this child was in December 2009, when the mother allowed us to have Christmas with the child (under her supervision) at a Pizza Hut.

My question is, how will this affect the child later in life when he does find out that my husband is his father?

FYI: We are in the process of saving money to take her to court to get visitation rights.

From: MKI, Auburn, AL

Dear MKI,

This mom is making a mistake and, if you’ve been reading me for any length of time, you know I don’t use that word often (if ever) or lightly. She is not only hurting her child by withholding information from him, but she is also placing her own relationship with him in jeopardy. Sooner or later over the course of his life, he will stumble upon the truth, and his anger and feelings of betrayal will be directed toward the mother who lied to him all those years, not to the biological father. That's a long way of saying that the biggest fallout from him learning later in life about the secret she kept will be to her relationship with him: It could erode his relationship with her.

Also, keep this in mind: The behavioral issues he’s having now have nothing to do with his mother's lack of honesty. That’s not to say that his father’s consistent presence in his life couldn’t be a positive influence, but you’re on shaky ground trying to link the two facts.

Your question prompted me to get in touch with my go-to person on this subject, psychologist Leah Klungness of Long Island, a blogger and specialist in single-parent parenting issues.

Good news: The court case you are saving for may not be as expensive as you fear.

Since you are paying child support, you clearly have already established paternity. “The court will accede promptly to your request for parenting time,” Klungness predicts. “No court wants to stand in the way of a biological parent having a relationship with a child.”

Once you get a court order for parenting time, the big question is when and how to tell your son you are his father. You do not need the mother’s permission to do that but, obviously, it would be in the boy’s best interest if the adult conflict is resolved beforehand. If the mother is unwilling, however, your husband certainly has a right as the biological father to tell him the truth.

Here's Klungness' advice about that: “Hold off saying, ‘I am your dad,’ until you are able to also say, ‘I am so happy we will be spending time together every xxx.’ The child needs a clear view of how this revelation will fit into his daily life.”

What’s more, she says, “The father would be the bigger person if he is able to avoid blame or recrimination toward the mother. The child loves his mother, don't create conflict there. Simply say, ‘Your mom and I had some difficulty working out the details [of you and me spending time together], but that's past now. I want us to grow to know and love one another.’” Also don’t try to diminish the feelings for the man who is in truth his step father, she said.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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15 comments so far...
  1. I'm now 44 years old and was "raised" intermittently by a man who was not my Dad. I met my real father at the age of 10. What did it do to me? I had been a very well adjusted child, outgoing, excelled in school. When I realized that my Mother and Step Father had been lying to me, I became very insecure and self-conscious. My grades fell. I had a hard time meeting new friends. This was exacerbated by the fact that I was not allowed to have a relationship with my real Dad and was told to keep quiet about it. Finally, at the age of 25, I found my biological Dad. It's no coincidence that after finding him and establishing a very nice and ongoing relationship, I finally was able to find a wonderful man who became my husband. Prior to that, I was in & out of stupid relationships. My Mom died recently. When looking through her papers I found the affadavit of paternity my biological Dad had given to her to claim me as his daughter. She never filed it. I don't know why or how this came to pass but, that piece of paper showed me that he did want to be my Dad and made me feel much relief. These issues stick around one's whole life. Keep trying for the sake of the child or children involved.

    Posted by Mel June 18, 10 09:28 AM
  1. kudos to the few dads who want to be involved and have paid not only child support but money for what the child needs; not only going above and beyond financially so their child/ren have half a shot at normalcy, going above and beyond being involved, educated, respectful, etc... all that it should be....sadly , too many, use the children to get back at the mom, pay little if anything, barely educated and too often drug and or alcohol addicted sprinkled with a bit of verbal and physical abuse... those dads need not apply or even think of spending time with their children. To the woman above whose fairy tale came true and alas, her world is great now... perhaps should consider the possibility her mom did the best she could with what she had to work with... parents are not perfect... and her bio dad may have been a real twerp earlier in his years. Our family happens to be intricately interwoven with a very compromised person who happens to be fob, who is in no way in any condition straight or otherwise to be near any child for more than 4 minutes and never unsupervised. I have a difficult time thinking oh boo hoo for the dads... and I will say that too many single moms without theri family's support don't fare too well either... sad... family is what is important and the truth is essential.

    Posted by bea June 18, 10 10:24 AM
  1. Excellent article Barbara and good post, Mel. What really strikes me here is the behavior problems in the kid that seem to be independent of the parenting issue. Suspended 4 times in Kindergarten? That is a huge red flag that this kid needs some help. Either the mother needs to get her act together, or the biological dad needs to step in and help push this kid in a better direction.

    The dad seems to be acting about 8 years too late to have the impact that he needs to have. Based on his slow action, it isn't clear that he is going to be able to step up to the challenge! Poor kid.

    Posted by NewtonNewb June 18, 10 10:47 AM
  1. If the child's Mom is dishonest about the biological father then she probably has other issues and or habits that are equally repugnant, so I would say that the 2 issues are linked.

    Posted by Nana Spera June 18, 10 02:58 PM
  1. It's sad that the dad here did not ask for visitation when child support was set up -- because that could have been done at the same time. All the dad needed to say was that he wanted to see his child, and he would have got a court order allowing him too, and a schedule for it. I wonder why he didn't?

    Anyway, unless the LW has left out something major (like, for example, the dad is a sex offender, or drug dealer, or some other such thing that would justify mom's dishonesty) then I agree with Nana; mom has issues, and so in a way the father issue is related to the behavior problems -- if mom is doing this serious a disservice to her child in this one area, I imagine there are other serious problems with her parenting.

    The LW's husband, however, seems to be none to eager to actually step up to the plate and be a dad. It has taken him 8 years to consider going to court for visitation? And he still isn't ready to do it (still saving money)? Honestly, unless there are big issues with his history, this seems so strange to me. Courts WANT both parents to see their kids, so this would not have been some big battle and issue if he'd only just said he wanted to see the child way back when.

    Posted by jlen June 19, 10 09:37 AM
  1. There is no justice in family court.
    I have an out of wedlock daughter. I was there when she was born, I had continuous contact with her for the first 5 years of her life (every weekend at a minimum). She was living with me for 6 months when she was 5 and her mom kidnapped her out of daycare, brought her out of state. In court her mom lied continually. When I finally got to see her she cried all night long, every night "Why do you hate me, Mommy says you hate me." That went on for two years, every night. When she was 10 she told her mom she wanted to live with me and that brought wrath of anger from her mom, telling her those feelings are bad and wrong.
    And it is not just me, she was so close with my family.
    She is 17 now and I have not had any sort of a relationship with her for 4 or 5 years. The was court ordered visitation, school papers, all sorts of stuff, none of it was followed. I have no money to fight this out of state. Her mom poisoned her against me. She has also done this with another child.
    The courts have a belief/bias that a mom is automatically wonderful and a dad is suspect.
    There is not a minute that goes by that I do not think of her and it breaks my heart every day. Her love for me has been stomped out.

    Posted by tomf June 19, 10 10:37 AM
  1. tomf, that is tragic. all i will say is please keep reaching out to your daughter. if she is 17 she will hopefully be independent enough to respond. just please don't blame mom because she'll dislike you for that.

    Posted by winnifred June 19, 10 07:13 PM
  1. Both parties are to blame in anything custody related; the mother is surely doing what she feels is best for her child and the father didn't seem to work all that hard to ensure visitation. There seem to be too many holes in this story; and why is the wife getting involved? It is the child's fathers responsiblity to fight to see his child and do whatever is in his power to make it right for his child. Grow up and sit down like adults and work it out; then get the courts involved if you can't. And what is the motivation to begin a relationship now? And how does that help the child to have a relationship now? And how much effort did the father even make over the years if he was accepting of a Pizza Hit Christmas?

    Posted by susan June 19, 10 11:25 PM
  1. The second oldest profession in the world is the Mom that uses the children to try to control the ex-boyfriend/husband. The men are scorned if they don't want to go through the torture of dealing with the ex to see his children or the children are pawns in the fight to screw the Dad as much as possible. Either way the courts let this go on by believing the Mom is ALWAYS right.Until there is wholesale reform in the courts Dads will suffer. There will never be fair legislation on this issue because it will put all the scam artist lawyers who promise these women the world and make them pay to chase the dangling carrot of child support and alimony. In the long run it is all about greed. The greed of the divorce attorneys, greed of the judges who perpetuate the system to keep their lifetime appointments,and greed of the "wronged ex-wife" who thinks she can leave the men destitue while they still live in lap of luxury.

    Posted by Stevied41 June 20, 10 04:41 PM
  1. Do not sloppily have out-of-wedlock children with people you are not that keen on having a relationship with. If you're not into marrying or at least establishing a firm relationship with them, it's probably a sign that you should not be reproducing with them. No matter what the woman says, assume she's not on birth control. This kind of situation is sad all around.

    Posted by felix June 21, 10 07:31 AM
  1. Why is it when Dad isn't around and Mom wants to cry about it- it's because Dad is a deadbeat and doesn't care about his offspring, yet when Dad tries and is continuously pushed away by Mom then it's because Dad isn't trying hard enough?!!!!!
    WHEN IS SOCIETY GOING TO SEE THAT MOMS ARE DEADBEATS JUST LIKE DADS!

    Posted by SeenIT June 21, 10 04:58 PM
  1. MASS Court DO NOT want both parents involved because if they are then MASS FAMILY COURT JUDGES do not get paid. Why assume the Father isn't trying hard enough? Why not assume the mother is a nut bag who just wants the Father's money and not his input? WHY ASSUME DADS ARE ALWAYS TO BLAME?
    What if he couldn't afford to go back to court because MASS DOR is taking 60% of his paycheck (or more cause MA could care less about Federal Guidlines)?
    The sexism and unfair treatment of father's in MA is disgusting and it's even more disgusting watching all of these "single mothers" sit on their ass living off childsupport and welfare crying "what about the baby?".
    Just for the record, I am posting this as a WOMAN and MOTHER.

    Posted by DadsRMOREthan$$$ June 21, 10 05:14 PM
  1. Why is FATHER'S CUTODY RIGHTS never a campaign issue ? Its always about Abortion,GUN CONTROL, HOMOSEXUALS !

    Posted by Tonkoy Das December 2, 10 09:06 PM
  1. He is no Dad by any means a paycheck doesnt not make you a father....Its the person at raises you that is your father blood means nothing.

    Posted by Shmee February 1, 11 08:50 PM
  1. We are in a situation where my husband had set visitation with his son, but somehow the mother has convinced the son that we want to harm him and she says he is too scared to leave the house. we still go to try to pick him up on schuduled visits. She will only allow us to take him out for a bite to eat and then home. I know it sounds like we could just bring him to our house, but the childs mind is so warped that he will actually get sick on his stomach crying for his mommy. My husband has always paid support, in fact, she told the courts that she did not work, and they believed her(we have a lawyer and that will be straightened out after the child custody hearing. my step sons mother tries EVERYTHING to keep him from coming. The newest one is that we are suddenly trying to pick him up on the wrong weekend. We are so burned out with her games. It is DEFINAtely parental alienation to its extreme. If you could hear her on the phone crying hysterically about her son leaving her, our lawyer said she may spend time in jail. The one that is hurt the worst is her own son. I dont understand the point of it all. She did get a new internet boyfriend, he moved in about when all this began. She does things like on my husbands birthday last year, she emailed a "family portrait" of the three of them, then kept the phone off and my husbands son never aknowledged his dads birthday. We have a stack of evidence of repeated torment like this, emails, we also kept records. So this is what my husband is dealing with. Oh, she also decided to home school him due to him having cvs. The son also informed us last weekend that his esophegus will eventually break from his stomach and he will die. We told him that would not happen, and of course he only believes his mother, and now believes we WANT him to die??? I am hoping for a psych eval in court, and counseling for my step son. We also were able to get copies of last years school records. In in we found that my step sons mom informed the school that her sons dad had become astranged and this meant that her son had emotional diffuculties as a result. The principal personally put this on top of the copies and handed them to us. I pretty sure the school knows more than we know that they know. A prayer for the truth to be so obvious to the judge once we are in court would be welcomed. His ex can also "manipulate a manipulator"/

    Posted by daleann03 February 8, 11 09:49 AM
 
15 comments so far...
  1. I'm now 44 years old and was "raised" intermittently by a man who was not my Dad. I met my real father at the age of 10. What did it do to me? I had been a very well adjusted child, outgoing, excelled in school. When I realized that my Mother and Step Father had been lying to me, I became very insecure and self-conscious. My grades fell. I had a hard time meeting new friends. This was exacerbated by the fact that I was not allowed to have a relationship with my real Dad and was told to keep quiet about it. Finally, at the age of 25, I found my biological Dad. It's no coincidence that after finding him and establishing a very nice and ongoing relationship, I finally was able to find a wonderful man who became my husband. Prior to that, I was in & out of stupid relationships. My Mom died recently. When looking through her papers I found the affadavit of paternity my biological Dad had given to her to claim me as his daughter. She never filed it. I don't know why or how this came to pass but, that piece of paper showed me that he did want to be my Dad and made me feel much relief. These issues stick around one's whole life. Keep trying for the sake of the child or children involved.

    Posted by Mel June 18, 10 09:28 AM
  1. kudos to the few dads who want to be involved and have paid not only child support but money for what the child needs; not only going above and beyond financially so their child/ren have half a shot at normalcy, going above and beyond being involved, educated, respectful, etc... all that it should be....sadly , too many, use the children to get back at the mom, pay little if anything, barely educated and too often drug and or alcohol addicted sprinkled with a bit of verbal and physical abuse... those dads need not apply or even think of spending time with their children. To the woman above whose fairy tale came true and alas, her world is great now... perhaps should consider the possibility her mom did the best she could with what she had to work with... parents are not perfect... and her bio dad may have been a real twerp earlier in his years. Our family happens to be intricately interwoven with a very compromised person who happens to be fob, who is in no way in any condition straight or otherwise to be near any child for more than 4 minutes and never unsupervised. I have a difficult time thinking oh boo hoo for the dads... and I will say that too many single moms without theri family's support don't fare too well either... sad... family is what is important and the truth is essential.

    Posted by bea June 18, 10 10:24 AM
  1. Excellent article Barbara and good post, Mel. What really strikes me here is the behavior problems in the kid that seem to be independent of the parenting issue. Suspended 4 times in Kindergarten? That is a huge red flag that this kid needs some help. Either the mother needs to get her act together, or the biological dad needs to step in and help push this kid in a better direction.

    The dad seems to be acting about 8 years too late to have the impact that he needs to have. Based on his slow action, it isn't clear that he is going to be able to step up to the challenge! Poor kid.

    Posted by NewtonNewb June 18, 10 10:47 AM
  1. If the child's Mom is dishonest about the biological father then she probably has other issues and or habits that are equally repugnant, so I would say that the 2 issues are linked.

    Posted by Nana Spera June 18, 10 02:58 PM
  1. It's sad that the dad here did not ask for visitation when child support was set up -- because that could have been done at the same time. All the dad needed to say was that he wanted to see his child, and he would have got a court order allowing him too, and a schedule for it. I wonder why he didn't?

    Anyway, unless the LW has left out something major (like, for example, the dad is a sex offender, or drug dealer, or some other such thing that would justify mom's dishonesty) then I agree with Nana; mom has issues, and so in a way the father issue is related to the behavior problems -- if mom is doing this serious a disservice to her child in this one area, I imagine there are other serious problems with her parenting.

    The LW's husband, however, seems to be none to eager to actually step up to the plate and be a dad. It has taken him 8 years to consider going to court for visitation? And he still isn't ready to do it (still saving money)? Honestly, unless there are big issues with his history, this seems so strange to me. Courts WANT both parents to see their kids, so this would not have been some big battle and issue if he'd only just said he wanted to see the child way back when.

    Posted by jlen June 19, 10 09:37 AM
  1. There is no justice in family court.
    I have an out of wedlock daughter. I was there when she was born, I had continuous contact with her for the first 5 years of her life (every weekend at a minimum). She was living with me for 6 months when she was 5 and her mom kidnapped her out of daycare, brought her out of state. In court her mom lied continually. When I finally got to see her she cried all night long, every night "Why do you hate me, Mommy says you hate me." That went on for two years, every night. When she was 10 she told her mom she wanted to live with me and that brought wrath of anger from her mom, telling her those feelings are bad and wrong.
    And it is not just me, she was so close with my family.
    She is 17 now and I have not had any sort of a relationship with her for 4 or 5 years. The was court ordered visitation, school papers, all sorts of stuff, none of it was followed. I have no money to fight this out of state. Her mom poisoned her against me. She has also done this with another child.
    The courts have a belief/bias that a mom is automatically wonderful and a dad is suspect.
    There is not a minute that goes by that I do not think of her and it breaks my heart every day. Her love for me has been stomped out.

    Posted by tomf June 19, 10 10:37 AM
  1. tomf, that is tragic. all i will say is please keep reaching out to your daughter. if she is 17 she will hopefully be independent enough to respond. just please don't blame mom because she'll dislike you for that.

    Posted by winnifred June 19, 10 07:13 PM
  1. Both parties are to blame in anything custody related; the mother is surely doing what she feels is best for her child and the father didn't seem to work all that hard to ensure visitation. There seem to be too many holes in this story; and why is the wife getting involved? It is the child's fathers responsiblity to fight to see his child and do whatever is in his power to make it right for his child. Grow up and sit down like adults and work it out; then get the courts involved if you can't. And what is the motivation to begin a relationship now? And how does that help the child to have a relationship now? And how much effort did the father even make over the years if he was accepting of a Pizza Hit Christmas?

    Posted by susan June 19, 10 11:25 PM
  1. The second oldest profession in the world is the Mom that uses the children to try to control the ex-boyfriend/husband. The men are scorned if they don't want to go through the torture of dealing with the ex to see his children or the children are pawns in the fight to screw the Dad as much as possible. Either way the courts let this go on by believing the Mom is ALWAYS right.Until there is wholesale reform in the courts Dads will suffer. There will never be fair legislation on this issue because it will put all the scam artist lawyers who promise these women the world and make them pay to chase the dangling carrot of child support and alimony. In the long run it is all about greed. The greed of the divorce attorneys, greed of the judges who perpetuate the system to keep their lifetime appointments,and greed of the "wronged ex-wife" who thinks she can leave the men destitue while they still live in lap of luxury.

    Posted by Stevied41 June 20, 10 04:41 PM
  1. Do not sloppily have out-of-wedlock children with people you are not that keen on having a relationship with. If you're not into marrying or at least establishing a firm relationship with them, it's probably a sign that you should not be reproducing with them. No matter what the woman says, assume she's not on birth control. This kind of situation is sad all around.

    Posted by felix June 21, 10 07:31 AM
  1. Why is it when Dad isn't around and Mom wants to cry about it- it's because Dad is a deadbeat and doesn't care about his offspring, yet when Dad tries and is continuously pushed away by Mom then it's because Dad isn't trying hard enough?!!!!!
    WHEN IS SOCIETY GOING TO SEE THAT MOMS ARE DEADBEATS JUST LIKE DADS!

    Posted by SeenIT June 21, 10 04:58 PM
  1. MASS Court DO NOT want both parents involved because if they are then MASS FAMILY COURT JUDGES do not get paid. Why assume the Father isn't trying hard enough? Why not assume the mother is a nut bag who just wants the Father's money and not his input? WHY ASSUME DADS ARE ALWAYS TO BLAME?
    What if he couldn't afford to go back to court because MASS DOR is taking 60% of his paycheck (or more cause MA could care less about Federal Guidlines)?
    The sexism and unfair treatment of father's in MA is disgusting and it's even more disgusting watching all of these "single mothers" sit on their ass living off childsupport and welfare crying "what about the baby?".
    Just for the record, I am posting this as a WOMAN and MOTHER.

    Posted by DadsRMOREthan$$$ June 21, 10 05:14 PM
  1. Why is FATHER'S CUTODY RIGHTS never a campaign issue ? Its always about Abortion,GUN CONTROL, HOMOSEXUALS !

    Posted by Tonkoy Das December 2, 10 09:06 PM
  1. He is no Dad by any means a paycheck doesnt not make you a father....Its the person at raises you that is your father blood means nothing.

    Posted by Shmee February 1, 11 08:50 PM
  1. We are in a situation where my husband had set visitation with his son, but somehow the mother has convinced the son that we want to harm him and she says he is too scared to leave the house. we still go to try to pick him up on schuduled visits. She will only allow us to take him out for a bite to eat and then home. I know it sounds like we could just bring him to our house, but the childs mind is so warped that he will actually get sick on his stomach crying for his mommy. My husband has always paid support, in fact, she told the courts that she did not work, and they believed her(we have a lawyer and that will be straightened out after the child custody hearing. my step sons mother tries EVERYTHING to keep him from coming. The newest one is that we are suddenly trying to pick him up on the wrong weekend. We are so burned out with her games. It is DEFINAtely parental alienation to its extreme. If you could hear her on the phone crying hysterically about her son leaving her, our lawyer said she may spend time in jail. The one that is hurt the worst is her own son. I dont understand the point of it all. She did get a new internet boyfriend, he moved in about when all this began. She does things like on my husbands birthday last year, she emailed a "family portrait" of the three of them, then kept the phone off and my husbands son never aknowledged his dads birthday. We have a stack of evidence of repeated torment like this, emails, we also kept records. So this is what my husband is dealing with. Oh, she also decided to home school him due to him having cvs. The son also informed us last weekend that his esophegus will eventually break from his stomach and he will die. We told him that would not happen, and of course he only believes his mother, and now believes we WANT him to die??? I am hoping for a psych eval in court, and counseling for my step son. We also were able to get copies of last years school records. In in we found that my step sons mom informed the school that her sons dad had become astranged and this meant that her son had emotional diffuculties as a result. The principal personally put this on top of the copies and handed them to us. I pretty sure the school knows more than we know that they know. A prayer for the truth to be so obvious to the judge once we are in court would be welcomed. His ex can also "manipulate a manipulator"/

    Posted by daleann03 February 8, 11 09:49 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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