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Divorce – Child Visitation

PERSERVERANCE; A KEY FACTOR FOR FATHERS IN CHILD VISITATION CASES
By Arcelio Hernández Mussio, Esq.

Many people have had to go through the very painful and anguishing process of a separation or divorce. When there are children involved, and where there is passionate conflict, similar scenarios arise in many cases.

Costa Rica’s law on child support and alimony stipulates a duty of support between the spouses, as well as between parents and their children, among others. When there is resentment on either side, many times we face a typical situation, very damaging to the lives of children, and very traumatic for the parents. The process of “dehumanizing” is always very damaging, and when a person feels that the only reason they are important to somebody else is because of money, not love or human relationships, there can be terrible psychological and emotional consequences.

I have seen many cases where a mother uses child visitation as a negotiating tool against a father, who in many cases has a financial advantage over the mother, that is, has more control over money in the household than does the mother. This happens in traditional family models, where the woman is the housewife and the man is the bread earner; however, it can also occur in cases where both parents work.

In my experience, both as a court translator and as a family lawyer, when a couple has a bad break-up, the mother, sometimes ill-advised by a greedy and unethical attorney, takes the kids and throws the father out of the house, usually through a court order based on false domestic violence claims, or the father may leave voluntarily, since he figures the children will need a roof over their heads regardless of what happens with his marriage. Immediately, the man finds himself at an economical and emotional disadvantage: he is left without a place to live, he faces a lawsuit for child support and alimony, plus he is sometimes denied the right to see his children, many times as a way of exerting pressure to reach a settlement in the amount to be paid for child support, and in the distribution of marital assets. This forces the father to go to court in order to start a lawsuit for visitation rights against the mother.

If all this sound like I am portraying the father as a victim of the system, this is exactly the case, as my personal and professional experience has taught me that this situation is completely possible, and even common, and can find the support of family courts who facilitate this sort of abuse, where kids as used as weapons against the father, because of a system which is prejudiced against men. Many fathers have to face an unjustified perception of always being the “aggressor”, and the one who should suffer most because of the separation, which is often blamed on him alone. But no matter what, do not let the system take away your precious children from you.

The Costa Rican justice system is notorious for favouring women, and some judges and politicians are even proud of this way of administrating justice, which clearly discriminates against men and their parental rights. In some circles, one who dares talk about these matters would be immediately labelled as a male chauvinist, or in Spanish, a “machista”, and in modern times in this country, not being a devout feminist can be highly unfashionable, and some people will try to ridicule you if you defend men’s rights, partly because of a machista, hypocritical culture. Thus, many innocent men must go through painful months or even years of supervised visitation with their children, simply because mothers use the system to punish them. Some even justify such ordeals for men seeking to maintain a healthy relationship with their youngsters, especially in cases where the father has had an extramarital affair. But one must wonder whether such cruel treatment of fathers should be tolerated by our society.

Men obviously have feelings too, can be very much emotionally attached to their children, and it is a great injustice to simply view them as the money suppliers when there is a separation. Many children have lost the priceless figure of a father, and a healthy father/son or father/daughter relationship, due to the selfish exploitation of our legal system by bitter women, who take advantage of a system which is extremely protective of both women and children, to the degree of being straight out offensive to average fathers, who are often presumed guilty until proven innocent, and must undergo humiliating experiences in order to share time with their children, in small and inadequate rooms provided by the court system, for very short periods of time, typically two hours, once a week.

I have seen many humiliated fathers who simply give up in the process. My advice to any father currently learning the cold and cruel reality of Costa Rican family courts when dealing with issues involving their right to child visitation is to NEVER give up. Find a way of enduring this very hard stage of proving to the visitation supervisor that you are a loving father, and that the many false allegations sometimes created as a bargaining tool for monetary purposes, are unfounded. Do not show yourself to be a violent person, no matter how frustrated you may be. Use every legal means within your reach to fight this ruthless system, be bold and forceful, but respectful and polite: act with dignity. If the mother claims that you are a drug addict, have a lab test done immediately, and file it at the court. If the mother says that you have plans to take the child out of the country illegally, go to the Immigration Department, at the window called “Subproceso de Menores” and request that an impediment be entered into the computer system, because of your fear that the mother may take the child out of the country illegally, due to a recent separation, which will make it legally impossible for the child to be taken out of the country, and again, file it in the court file, explaining to the court that all these matters are merely fabrications aimed at pressuring you into a financial settlement, if that is indeed the case. If the mother claims that you are some type of criminal, provide a criminal record showing that you have no convictions. Push for regular visitation days with your child. And don’t rely 100% on your family lawyer: go there yourself! Sometimes judges are frightened by the writings of your adversary. Your presence may help dismiss some of those fears.

I have had to see the pain and frustration in the faces of fathers and their children when they have to undergo months of supervised visitation, and many family courts are headed by judges who are bitterly prejudiced against men. I am sorry, but this is the reality. Do not despair. If you have to accuse the judge before the judiciary inspection court for not being objective, do it, and make frequent visits to the court to see the file, so as to become very familiar with everyone in the court who may have to do something with your case. Show interest, put the pressure on, make emphasis on your child’s right to have a relationship with you, file a complaint at the bar association against the unethical attorney who authenticates baseless accusations against you, write letters to the judge expressing the pain you are going through because of an injustice, ask for an interview with the judge and ask him/her whether he/she has read your letters, and whether he/she realizes that you need to maintain a relationship with your children. Talk with the court psychologist or visitation supervisor, ask when a report on your visitations will be filed at the court, and you will see that perseverance pays off. If you have convinced the supervisor that you are a good father, you have made very important progress. Whatever you do, do not give up on your kids. Remember that whatever reasons you had for the separation from your spouse, the children are never at fault. You will be glad you persevered, after the storm, and you will find strength in your kids to carry on. There is life after a separation or divorce. As painful as these experiences are, you will survive, and in your new life, your children will bring you much joy.