Father’s Rights Attorneys-Beware
The best “Father’s Rights Attorney” for you in Los Angeles is an attorney that is not a self-proclaimed “Father’s Rights Attorney.” I have practiced law as a frontline family law and child abuse and neglect attorney for 11 years. When I hear the words “father’s rights,” I think of marketing schemers and shady lawyers whose photographs belong on the back of bus benches.
Experience has taught me that when an opposing counsel holds himself out to be “Father’s Rights Attorney,” it is best to revise my strategy to defend against overly aggressive tactics from overzealous, uninformed, and unprepared attorneys. Such extremes of an attorney as strictly specializing in Father’s Rights can be detrimental to the client. After all, the attorney has the job of presenting the client’s life, background, and role in your children’s lives to achieve the client’s realistic objectives. Judges do not have the patience for bad lawyers and litigants.
Whenever a potential client calls and asks me if I am a Father’s Rights Attorney, I change the subject. I am conflicted because I do stand up for fathers every single day, but there are also so many angry, drunken, drugged-out loser fathers, whose time with their children should be limited. Not all children thrive in 50/50 custody.
I strongly believe taking a gender approach to the law is extreme and should be avoided. Yet, the term “Fathers Rights” is floating in the internet as bait for father’s in search of their knight in shining armor.
Recently, I have had a string of cases involving terrific loving and appropriate fathers. As in most cases, many mothers were withholding the children. The justifications for withholding were all the same: COVID, CDC Guidelines, lies about domestic violence, baseless claims about substance abuse, or the most common “due to the rising numbers in COVID.” It takes a determined person with a poor grip on reality to withhold an innocent child from a loving parent based on lies and exaggerations. Whatever the justification a mother uses for withholding a child from his/her father, it is my job to explore those reasons and present them to the court.
I have experienced too many judges not hold the mother’s accountable when they withhold kids from their fathers. In a recent case, a parent withheld an infant for 8 months because the father would not agree to a professional monitor as a condition for seeing his son or agreeing to pay for random drug testing. All of this occurring while trying to extort a ridiculous amount of child support, while the mother was on disability for being bi-polar. All unreasonable request under the circumstances that the court tossed out. In the end, the father did not get justice and was only provided the father with a 17% parenting plan.
Withholding a child from a parent can be considered alienation if unjustified. I have seen hundreds of fathers reunified with their children after being withheld unjustifiably by their mothers. The ultimate test for me is how the child responds once back in their father’s care. Love and truth in the end conquer the misguided parental alienators out there.
Q: “I just had a newborn and my ex is not allowing me to see my son/daughter, how do I get custody?”
Immediately file a paternity case and Request for Order (“RFO”) for custody. Because you are not married a paternity case in required when a child is born without the parents being married. To file a paternity case you need the following pre-approved California Judicial Council Forms: Petition to Establish Paternity-FL-200, Summons on Paternity-FL-210, UCCJEA Questionnaire-FL-105, Los Angeles Superior Court Case Cover Sheet. Think of those forms are just your cover pages for the lawsuit. The paternity forms costs a filing fee of $435 to the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Next you need to contemporaneously file a Request for Order or RFO. An RFO is a motion for temporary custody and visitation orders pending trial. This allows you to set a date with the judge to get orders for custody and visitation. The cost of an RFO ranges from $90-$120 and is an additional fee that will need to be paid to the Superior Court of Los Angeles.
The RFO that you file needs a declaration or statement of facts that lie out of your case. The declaration can reference exhibits such as photos or text messages. The judges read these declarations. So your declaration needs to be full of facts. The judge wants to make sure that the other side is on notice of all of the facts and issues that you allege so that they have enough time to respond.
What types of things should I include in my RFO Declaration?
- Historical role in the child’s lives
- Dates both parents lived together
- Current address and work schedule of both parents
- Status quo for visits
- Text messages showing instability of the other parent
- Facts leading up to the child being withheld from you
- Photographs of injuries, drug abuse, or drunken debauchery
- Any other information relevant to the best interest of the child
- What collaterals the child will have access to in your care like half-siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other important relationships
After you file your RFO it takes 45-60 days to get a court hearing. That means if your child is being withheld it going to be another 2 months. This is too common. As previously stated, during COVID some fathers were going 8 months with having their children withheld before they could get into court. The only way to move the hearing up is to get an ex parte (emergency order) shortening time or to apply and obtain a temporary restraining order (‘TRO”) with custody orders, which is discussed later on.
Q: What do I do if the mother of my newborn will not let me see the baby at all?
It is ill-advised to start a paternity case involving custody and visitation of a new born child. Judges are not likely to order 50/50 custody of a new born. Starting off a case with no relationship or visits with a new born, limits your parenting time. Thereby increasing child support. Judges prefer to order visits based on status quo. So, if you have a new born and have not seen the baby in 3-6 months or ever, the judge will likely start with short day visits.
I recall a training that I attended and the judge said that a child can only be away from their primary parent as many days as their age. So a 1 year can only be away for 1 day, so on and so forth. That acts as sort of an unspoken rule in family law court. This can place a father at a great disadvantage because fathers are forced to slowly build themselves up to 50/50 custody while being raked over the coals on child support and having the mother’s lies and slanders hold up in court. This only builds tension.
To combat the judge’s proclivity towards status quo, evidence that demonstrates that the mother’s actions for withholding as being extreme and not justified is needed. Additionally, knowing the work schedule of the other parent and working around for additional times is advantageous.
When your infant child is being withheld, I always advise father’s if there is a chance to reconcile consider it because getting 50/50 is going to be a long, emotionally challenging, and draining experience if you ever get there. By staying in a terrible relationship, you can build your evidence and status quo and hopefully increase your parenting time. But who wants to stay in a terrible relationship, it could lead to domestic violence.
What is the fastest way to get sole custody of my kid?
There are mother’s out there on meth, slugging boxed wine, and somehow trying to parent their children. Some woman are violent when confronted about their transgressions or when liquored up. These are sometimes are the hardest ones to take down. Pre-COVID, these mothers always had excessive absences and tardiness for the children at school. Sometimes the circumstances do not dictate sitting around and waiting 60 days for your RFO to be heard.
The fastest and easiest way to get sole custody of your child is to file for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”). Judges receive 5-6 requests for TROs per day. Judges review the papers in chambers. That means that the decision to grant you a temporary restraining order is made solely based on your attached declaration. That means no witnesses are called and no questions asked of you. The judge rules solely on your declaration and moving papers.
The standard to obtain a temporary restraining order is a very low standard of proof. If you can obtain a temporary restraining order with custody orders, you create leverage to settle or the means for obtaining more favorable custody orders when disadvantaged.
Consult with an experienced family law attorney about the merits of your restraining order & custody case. Not everyone has a domestic violence case. If you lie, exaggerate facts, or just simply not prevail in obtaining a permanent restraining order it could have fatal consequences in your custody case.
If in the end you obtain a permanent restraining order, a presumption exists under Family Code Section 3044 that the prevailing party should have sole legal and physical custody.
The other way to obtain custody order without having to wait for your RFO date is to file ex parte or emergency requests for custody and visitation. Like a TRO, the judge reviews you papers in chambers and makes a ruling without calling witnesses or speaking to the papers. It is very difficult to obtain ex parte orders. It is appropriate to obtain ex parte orders to either prevent the child from being removed from the state or demonstrate that the child is at immediate risk of harm.
To me immediate risk of harm to means, something very serious has occurred like a parent being arrested, a child hospitalized, or a shocking admission about drug abuse. For example, if the mother got a DUI while driving with the child, I would advise to file an ex parte. If the child was not in the car, I would advise that the ex parte would not likely be granted, but that the parent would be justified to try and file an ex parte.
I receive so many calls about parents wanting to file ex partes. Judges are looking for very specific fact patterns and are strict at granting requests. The Family Code requires them to not make the orders. So again, consult with an experienced family law attorney before filing an ex parte request.
How to deal with Mentally Ill Mother in Family Court?
When someone at 7-11 calls me “boss” at the end of a transaction, I remind them that I am not their “boss” because they are not tax deductible. They are usually dumbfounded by the response. As a family law lawyer, I similarly hear: “My ex is a narcissist or sociopath and I want to sole custody!”
Me: Has your ex been diagnosed with any mental health, taken psychotropic medication, or been placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold?
And I would say at least 9.9 times out of 10, the answer is no. When I hear a potential client accuse their ex of being a narcissist, it is usually the other way around. If you are being referred to as a narcissist don’t worry about a family law judge finding that true. I have never heard of a judge finding a parent to be a narcissist.
It is difficult to bring mental health conditions before a family law judge. Medical records including mental health records are privileged. The best way to bring mental health issues before the court is to get a 730 Custody Evaluator appointed to perform psychologic testing and confer with mental health providers. A 730 can cost between $7.500 and $30,000. So if that is out of your price range or not likely to be ordered based on the circumstances, you have to find other means for proving you are dealing with a mentally ill co-parent.
The best evidence to use against your mentally ill co-parent are involuntary psychiatric 51/50 holds, non-compliance with medication prescribed, bizarre behavior, strange text messages, photographs of pill bottles, admissions by the mother of mental health conditions, and articulating episodes. I have seen many lawyers proceed with mental health as their main theory of defense without evidence and fail. You would want to gather this evidence in your declaration and present it to the court in a way that sticks.
How do I protect myself at child custody exchanges? Where should I have my custody exchange?
Who does the pick-up and drop-off in a family law case is an important issue to the parents. I am not a big fan of kids being exchanged at police stations. For one, it is negative energy and the kid is going to pick-up on it. It is sad to think his/her parents cannot get along to the point where cops must be present. If you do not have a domestic violence case or a compelling reason try to avoid police stations for exchange places.
I have cases where a parent has run over the other’s parents’ foot with a truck. Another where a parent pretended to get hit by the car, fell to the ground, and reported a vehicle assault. I have another where a parent has to drive or travel to Las Vegas, Nevada twice a month because the mother chose to move there.
The judges in court in the event of a disagreement will order receiving parent picks up from school or if no school curb side at the custodial parent’s home. If the parents live at opposite ends of Los Angeles, for example one parent in Riverside and the other in Sherman Oaks, a half-way point like a Starbucks or McDonalds off the freeway.
Doing the exchange at school avoids parents having to see each other. This can help out that Disneyland Dad who has the children every other weekend and a Wednesday dinner visit. For example, if a Father gets every other weekend or 1st, 3rd, 4th weekend of the month from Friday after school until Monday drop-off at school, the extra overnight allows them to take to school to avoid the other parent, get more parenting time to minimize child support, and set themselves up for more time in the future. Father’s need to always fight for the Friday until Monday weekend overnights instead of Friday until Sunday.
Guys be careful at your custody exchanges. Mother’s frequently make false allegations at exchanges. This is often prompted by bringing your new significant other to the exchange. If you are outside car and in a public place you can legally record. However, pulling out your phone can cause more tension and drama. The other side can grab it and then a physical altercation ensues. I cannot tell you how many restraining orders I have seen involving cell phones being snatched away.
I find the best practice is a dash cam on your car. A security camera that covers the outside of your house or car. This way the mother in her rage is unsuspecting that she is being recorded and her true nature is documented for the court without you risking a physical altercation and false allegations of domestic violence.
Some other ideas of exchange locations:
- Third parties address like a grandparent
- Starbucks or McDonalds parking lot
- A half-way point between the two residences
- In circumstances where a parent only has short day visits or lives far away, request an order that that parent do both pick-ups and drop-offs.
Are some judges gender bias and favoring mothers?
Yes, but they do not want to admit it. Lawyers know who the weak judges are and always try to avoid them. Some judges have reputation for favoring mothers and others fathers. I would say the best judge for your case is a judge is going to review your case, hold the other parent accountable for their actions, and have the big picture best interest of your child at heart. Those judges are few and far between. Some judges have zero experience in family law and have personalities like math professors.
Figuring out your home court, the potential judges that will be assigned your case is a conversation I always have with my potential clients. For example, if you live in Norwalk, you have to file your case in Whittier. Every parent has a right to file their case at Central District-Stanley Mosk Courthouse. It may be an advantage to take your chances downtown. Consult with a lawyer and try to give yourself the best judge for your case.
Drugs in Family Law Cases
“Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, Marijuana, Ecstasy, and alcohol…ccccocaine,” and methamphetamine.” -Josh Homme-
Q: I got served papers to go to court, will I have to drug test?
Probably not. The family law court judges have very limited powers to order drug testing in family law cases. Despite accusations of substance abuse being very common, drug testing is rarely ordered unless consented.
Family Code Section 3041.5 states: “In any custody or visitation proceeding brought under this part, as described in Section 3021, or any guardianship proceeding brought under the Probate Code, the court may order any person who is seeking custody of, or visitation with, a child who is the subject of the proceeding to undergo testing for the illegal use of controlled substances and the use of alcohol if there is a judicial determination based upon a preponderance of the evidence that there is the habitual, frequent, or continual illegal use of controlled substances or the habitual or continual abuse of alcohol by the parent, legal custodian, the person seeking guardianship, or person seeking visitation in a guardianship.”
What that means that absent a court finding continuing and habitual drug testing that you will not be ordered to the drug test. Frequent arrests, stints in rehab, or very compelling evidence of extensive history of drug/alcohol abuse is required.
Q: I am being accused of being a drug abuser, what should I do?
A: Take a voluntary drug test that is observed at a facility that is 12-panal and GS/MS. Responding to allegations of substance abuse with negative tests can diffuse concerns and increase custody. Depending on the allegations it might be best to show sobriety before appearing at your RFO. Agreeing to take a drug tests shows the court that you take the other sides concerns and want to dispel those concerns for the betterment of your family.
Q: Can the judge order me to take a hair follicle drug test?
A: No. Judges do not have the authority to order hair follicle tests because they are too intrusive. The only way that a hair follicle will occur is if you agree to it.
Q: How do judges deal with drugs and alcohol in a family law court?
Nicotine: Do not smoke inside and prevent your child from second hand smoke and the judges have no issues with it.
Valium: If a parent has a prescription it is not an issue. If they do not have take it while child is not in there care it is not an issue. Even if have no prescription, not a big issue unless there is a child neglect incident.
Vicodin: Pain pills and prescriptions for pain pills like Oxycodine are scrutinized. The opiate pandemic has left judges scared. Make sure that you have a prescription and take as recommended. I would consult with a physician so it is noted in medical notes about taking your prescription while operating a car and supervising your child.
Marijuana: Will it be used against me if I drug test positive for marijuana in my family law case? Probably not. The family law judges know that weed is legal. Best practice during a custody case is to keep marijuana stored in a locked box and not within access to the child. Do not drive minor children while high, getting arrested for it, or allow the children to ingest edibles.
Ecstasy: It is rare to see a straight ecstasy or Mali case. The court can treat it like cocaine. It is best to show if used that it was done not while children were in your care. Sometimes honesty is the best defense.
Alcohol: There are some box wine drinking straight alcoholic of mothers out there. They get drunk, angry, over emotional, and lash out in denial of their affliction. The best evidence to find a present are convictions of DUI, proof from private investigator that drinking while caring for the children, bank receipts to track alcohol purchases, showing drunken text messages, describing drunken behavior, train-wreck social media posts of the debauchery.
If you are accused of being an alcoholic in family law court. You can wear alcohol monitoring devices voluntarily. The judges are not like to order SCRAM Bracelets or Random Breathalyzers that detect alcohol in the blood stream 24/7 with random checks throughout the day. The court system like it when parents attend AA classes or seek therapy. Even though you may be sober depending on your case facts you may want to consider such measures.
Cocaine: The laws in the State of California are decriminalizing possession of cocaine. However, cocaine carries a stigma in court. Being caught with cocaine or having evidence of use can be helpful in a custody case.
Methamphetamine: Judges pretty much have zero tolerance for meth. Our community is being decimated by meth. Absent a positive drug test, it can be very difficult to catch a meth using mother. The best evidence to support in your declaration is criminal arrests, times in rehab prior, admissions of meth use, bizarre behavior, rapid change in physical appearance.
Substance abuse issues in family law cases can be difficult to prove. I had a case where a fully functioning father was taken methamphetamine and coming down with heroin. Even the 10-year old child’s telling his attorney that he found needles in his dad’s cupboard was not enough for the judge to terminate overnight visits. It took the father od’ing in his car with a heroin needle in his arm for the judge to change the order. At the end of the day, the system can be cruel, impatient, and flat out wrong.
How do I co-parent? What do I do if being accused of not co-parenting?
“Co-parenting” is another term that is used as a weapon in written communications between parents via text or talking apps like Family Wizard and Talking Parents. If I had a dollar for every time, I heard “he refuses to co-parent with me,” I would have buckets of dollars. To me co-parenting does not mean arguing back and forth about the merits. That emotion should be avoided.
To truly co-parent, I advise my clients to treat their ex like an equal. Share information with them about doctors’ appointments, school, and other concerns. Be polite, to the point, and courteous. Nothing causes tension like parents accusing the other on the talking app.
I have seen a fair share of mother’s who claim the father is not co-parenting and they themselves are withholding the child or making unreasonable demands. Best to consult with an attorney about how to best respond. And always keep in mind, the message may be read and scrutinized later by a judge. Treat your ex like some sort of corporate boss in your written correspondence. Fathers do not need to respond to every accusation made against them.
Q: The kid is not mine, I want a DNA Test.
A: Did you sign the birth-certificate? If you signed the birth certificate you did you are already the presumed father by law and a judgment of paternity exists allowing child support services to collect child support from you upon request.
Under the Family Code three types of father’s exist:
- Presumed Father. Do not be fooled by the word “presumed.” If you want to be a father to your child you want to be a presumed father. Pursuant to Family Code Section 7611(d), a presumed father is one that has held himself out as the child’s natural parent and provided necessities of life. You are also the child’s presumed father if you signed the child’s birth certificate. If you are the presumed father, you are responsible for child support.
- Biological Father: If a DNA test finds you to be the father and you did not sign the birth certificate and have never visited with the child. Becoming the biological parent can afford visitation to start to become the presumed father. The DNA test that you take cannot be some over the counter test. It must be a laboratory approved by the United States Health and Human Services. Most judges in Los Angeles county order Lab Corp. So if you can get a DNA test without going to court, go to Lab Corp or assure that the tests are accepted by the court. Under California law, there are age requirements for when you can request and the court will order a DNA test.
- Alleged Father: If you do not want to pay child support and want nothing to do with the child. You want to be an Alleged Father with no rights or obligations to pay child support.
Paternity issues can be difficult to understand and have timeframes upon which to act. I advise to immediately consult with an attorney that specializes in family law and can explain your legal options. I offer limited scope appearance fees, document preparation, as well retainer agreements. Call to set up a consultation.
As we move forward from 2020 and COVID, mothers are going to continue to withhold children and find new excuses to justify their actions. The system is cruel, and justice is often lost in Family Court. If you are trying to assert your “Father’s Rights” it is best to fight smart with an experienced attorney.
“He who brings danger upon another has more spirit than he who repels it.” -Scipio Africanus’ address to Roman Senate regarding plan to invade Carthage and lure Hannibal out of Italy in 204 B.C. to defend his homeland-
“For mankind is ever the same and nothing is lost out of nature, though everything is altered.” –John Dryden on the characters in Canterbury Tales-