A lot of parents feel that the system that's used to determine child support and custody is deeply unfair. Fathers, in particular, seem to feel that they don't get equal treatment in the court.
In an investigation for CNN, reporters spoke with numerous fathers who feel that they've been betrayed by the legal system after their relationships with their children's mothers soured. Some were struggling with unpaid child support, while others were barred from seeing their children due to protective orders that they claimed were unfair. Others had little contact with the children they'd had through temporary relationships.
In general, fathers seem to feel that the courts had little interest in creating workable solutions to their family problems. To help avoid disastrous outcomes, experts offer some advice regarding common situations:
When you aren't on your child's birth certificate
File legitimation papers as quickly as possible if you find out that you are the father of a child out of wedlock.
While the mother starts out with an advantage as far as custody is concerned, your position will be vastly improved if you seek to formalize your relationship with your child right away. The longer your status as a father remains unofficial, the weaker your chances for shared custody.
When you can't afford your support payments
Financial problems can happen to anybody, and the courts do take that into consideration. However, you have to at least show the court that you're doing whatever you can to pay the support you're supposed to be paying.
Pay as much as you can afford and be willing to take whatever job you can find -- even temp work -- if you're out of work. Then, ask for a modification of your support order as soon as possible to avoid falling behind.
When you're the subject of a protection order:
Sometimes, protection orders are used as a strategy in a divorce case. While that's wrong, there's no use going into court and insisting your ex is a liar. Instead, stay calm and realize that there's a process that helps the court sort out what's true. Above all, don't give your ex ammunition to use against you by losing your cool.
While the family court system strives to be fair, there's plenty of evidence that you need help protecting your rights during a custody or support hearing. Don't go it alone in court.