This post is one in a series of how I wound up having virtually no access to my son despite the fact that I am a good dad, have a good job, have no criminal record and have no alcohol offenses. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on attorneys fees and was hit with a $15,000 judgment just because I fought for my right to see my son on holidays and summer break and spring break. I’ve nearly spent myself into bankruptcy and can no longer afford to pay money into this broken family courts system. And though it is embarrassing to write this in such a public forum, I love my son and I’m certain this is happening to thousands of other single fathers and mothers across the country. If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. It’s time to shed a light on this craziness that is tearing families apart.
When something bad happens to you, when life reaches out and punches you in the face, it’s easy to point the fingers at everybody but yourself. It’s the judge’s fault. It’s my attorney’s fault. It’s my ex’s fault.
But since my parental rights were virtually zapped in a hot, muggy Travis County courtroom on Sept. 4, 2014, not a day has gone by that I have not second-guessed the decisions I made that have me in this particular bind:
- I did not retain an attorney before that Sept. 4, 2014 hearing.
- I waited until 2014 to try to have the courts help me get proper access to my son.
This post will be about mistake No. 2.
When I first moved from Fort Worth to Austin in May 2009, my son was not even 2 years old. At the time, me and my kid’s mother were getting along well enough. In fact, from the time she and I broke up in Dec. 2007 until I moved to Austin, I drove down 3 hours to her house every other weekend just to make sure this kid knew from Day 1 that he had a father who loved him. He couldn’t talk and could barely walk, but when I popped through his door he’d crack a grin and run to me. He knew who I was and that meant more than anything.
There are no custody laws for children under 3 in Texas. And since the ex- and me got along, we had this informal agreement: I’d wire her child support every month and she’d let me see my kid for a few hours every weekend (mostly from noon to 5 on Saturdays). The first six months I was in Austin, I didn’t even have a job, so I’d wire the ex 20-percent of my unemployment check. Over the years I bought her a computer, a camera, and gave her my old iPhones when hers went on the blink. And I still paid what we’d agree I would pay in child support. Again, I wasn’t doing this because we were trying to get back together. I was doing this because she was my kid’s mother. I paid her child support because I love my son.
When the kiddo got older — 3 years old, then 4, then 5 — I started asking the ex- to let me have more time, at least overnights, overnights that a court grants every other fit, non-custodial parent. She’d balk. She’d say I wouldn’t know how to take care of the kiddo, who at one point had multiple food allergies which included egg, dairy, peanut, and tree nuts. (He currently has only the peanut/tree nut allergy). Not only wouldn’t she let me have overnights with the kiddo, but if I wanted to take him to Dallas to visit my parents, she’d insist that she’d go. And so me, trying to be a good guy, would just give in and let her go with me when I’d take my son to Dallas. My parents would always look at me strangely, but since I wasn’t putting up a big fuss I guess they decided not to put up a big fuss either and they treated my ex- as one of their own children.
Soon, this arrangement became too burdensome for me. I wanted full weekends. Holidays without the ex- around. Summers. Spring Breaks. I knew how to take care of my son. He’d never had an allergic reaction in my care. Never needed to be rushed to the emergency room in my care. Yet the ex- didn’t want the kiddo out of her site. She is a hypochondriac and she places those fears on our kiddo, always living in fear that something bad was going to happen to him. I mean, it could be 75 degrees outside and overcast and she will lather up this black-latino kid with enough sunscreen to make him look like a ghost. Once we spent the night at my sister’s house and the kiddo wanted to sleep in the room with his cousin. The ex insisted he sleep with her in the guest room. He’s 8 and she still makes him sit in a fully functioning car seat in her car. She has told him and myself that when he is old enough to go to college she will go to school with him and be his roommate in his dorm. Even now, she makes him call her 3 or 4 times while I am in possession of him.
The ex is not only driven by anxiety, but rage — rage at me. On two occasions before this custody order was in place, the ex got upset with me while I was in possession of the kiddo and she’d drive to where I was and take the kiddo from me and go home. You read that right. When the kiddo was maybe 4, he and I were driving to Zilker park when the ex called my cellphone. We got in an argument and I hung up. She kept calling and then texted and said if I don’t pick up the phone she is gonna come to the park and take the kiddo. I didn’t answer and five minutes after arriving at Zilker, the ex showed up and took the kiddo home. Another visit I had with the kiddo a few years later when we were at a festival at the Texas School for the Deaf ended the same way. Me and the ex argue. She doesn’t like what I am saying. She takes the kiddo home.
Against this backdrop of rage and anxiety, I’d beg the ex to let me have proper access without going to court. We’d argue and the arguments would always end with me saying, “ok, that’s it, I’m going to court.” And the ex would always cry and beg and plead for me not to take this to court. “Please don’t do this Kevin,” she’d always say. And for a moment, I’d forget the craziness that I had to go through to see my son and I’d relent. We’d do that dance two or three times a year: I’d get sick of not seeing my kiddo and threaten court; she’d cry and beg and promise to do better; feeling guilty, I’d give in.
On Father’s Day 2013, the ex finally gave in and let me have my first overnight with the kiddo — on one condition: That she be allowed to come to my house that evening and tuck him in bed. I balked a little, but let her see our son at my house before he went to bed. From June 2013 to June 2014, the ex let me see the kiddo every other weekend from about noon Saturdays to 2 or 3 p.m. Sundays (She stopped coming over to tuck him in bed after a few overnights). I was always griping that I couldn’t get more time, but I kept wiring child support to her. I just kept figuring that she’d one day realize that I was trustworthy, that I was a good parent and she’d let me have full standard possession of my kiddo without having to go to court.
But in July of 2014, everything changed.