• Ken Garten: Navigating difficult paternity issues

  • When a married couple with minor children dissolves their marriage, the law requires numerous issues to be addressed regarding the care, custody, co-parenting and support of those minor children.

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  • When a married couple with minor children dissolves their marriage, the law requires numerous issues to be addressed regarding the care, custody, co-parenting and support of those minor children.
    Some years ago our state also adopted the Uniform Parentage Act, which provides for a civil action to address those same issues with respect to children whose parents were never married.
    In most of the Uniform Parentage Act cases I have handled over the years, I've represented a man who wanted to secure his rights to be involved in his child's life, often after period of conflict with the mother over just what his role and rights should be.
    Part of the process, I explain, is that the court will also order him to pay the mother his fair share for the support of the child.
    Fathers I have represented fully understand this, accept it, and wish to proceed nonetheless with the case because they want to fulfill the role of a father to their child.
    Often, the father comes to me some time after the child is born after a vague, informal understanding that the father will provide financial support and the mother will permit the father to be an involved parent has fallen apart.
    In many cases, the parents do not have identical ideas as to the proper form and measure of financial support to be provided by the father, nor as to extent and manner of the father's involvement with the child, and conflict ensues.
    The father feels that he is helping sufficiently by bringing by a box of diapers and a container of baby formula from time to time and by shuffling money to the mother when he can. The mother thinks the dad is a deadbeat whose level of support is grossly inadequate.
    The mother feels that the father's contact with the child is only when convenient to the father, and only upon short notice, or no notice, that is not often convenient to the mother, who is agitated by the father's perceived lack of financial support. The mother finds this to be frustrating and denies the father's attempts to see the child when it's not convenient to her, causing the father to think that the mother, who constantly complains about not having enough money, is using the child to extort money from the father and to fulfill her need for control.
    With this backdrop in place, one party or the other decides to go see a lawyer. Considering that their motivation tends to be financial distress and the love of one's child, emotions often run high.
    What I try to stress to people in these situations is that the most important thing here is the best interests of the child, which are served by having enough economic wherewithal for a decent upbringing and a meaningful relationship with both parents. It's not about winning, because you are angry at the other parent.
    Page 2 of 2 - Hopefully, the conflict between the parents will be resolved by an agreement, approved by a court order, that provides specificity and certainty to their situation.
    One party, usually the father, will be required to pay a specific sum of money each month to the other parent for support. The receiving party will then be responsible for buying the child's necessities, except when the child is with the other parent.
    The order will provide a specific schedule of parenting time to be exercised by each parent, including a detailed holiday schedule, summer schedule, and weekday/weekend schedule.
    Oftentimes, after these issues are detailed and reduced to writing, and the parties have specificity to guide them, the conflict diminishes, and everyone benefits.
    I think the best advice is for unmarried parents to be proactive at the outset of their lives as parents together in reaching a detailed co-parenting agreement, and not wait until matters reach a point of conflict.
    Ken Garten is an attorney in Blue Springs. Email him at krgarten@yahoo.com

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