Deadbeat Moms: Do courts need to change the way they handle cust - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Deadbeat Moms: Do courts need to change the way they handle custody cases?

Do courts need to change the way they handle custody cases? (Source: WOIO) Do courts need to change the way they handle custody cases? (Source: WOIO)
(WOIO) - In a divorce involving kids, moms are usually given custody because laws are stacked against decent dads. 

But some bad moms may be getting away with murder when it comes to their kids. 

Kramer versus Kramer was groundbreaking when released 35 years ago. The movie was about a father fighting to retain custody of his son after his wife walked away.

For close to a year, Clarence Hawkins fought this same battle. "I know some people would have given up," Hawkins said. "I fought hard, I did what I had to do." 

Mom took their 6-year-old son Jayden to live down in Florida and for three months, Hawkins didn't even know where his son was. 

"It's kind of crazy, I didn't know what was going on with him," Hawkins said. "Like where he is at? Is he warm? Is he safe?"

But a judge didn't stop her. And he had to hire a lawyer for $8,000 to fight for him.

"Just because they birthed them and carried them for that nine months and think they're the ones that are supposed to nourish them and take care of them, the dads can do that too," Hawkins said.

This is a scene now playing out in courtrooms across the country. With more and more men becoming stay at home dads and more women working, the relationships between dads and their children are changing dramatically. But when it comes to divorce and custody, the courts haven't caught up, with men usually being cut out of the equation.

"If you look at the statistics, children that are father absence are more likely to be victims of abuse," said attorney Jeffrey Leving, an author and advocate of father's rights. 

Leving even helped pass a joint custody law in Illinois and has seen some of the worst cases.

"I represented a war hero, a U.S. soldier in Iraq and he discovers while he is in Iraq fighting for our liberty, his little boy is beaten to death by his wife's boyfriend," Leving said.

With that, Leving still had to help him fight for custody for the other kids.

"Gender bias is a major problem, a critical problem that is causing these problems," Leving said. "That needs to end." 

It's why Jamal Arif has been fighting for custody of his son, for more than a decade, right after he was born in fact.

"When she became pregnant, I realized she wasn't really interested in being a mother," Arif said.When the couple split, he claims she fought for custody more because she was angry at all the attention he had paid to his son more than a desire to have her child.

"In the beginning I pursued custody because she had stopped letting me see my son," Arif said. "My son was 5-months old."

He filed all the documents while representing himself, because he says it would have cost him tens of thousands of dollars to hire an attorney. He had to fight what he claims were false domestic violence accusations and well as discrimination by the courts.

"A mother is looked at as a nurturer and it's OK for the mother to be in school and be struggling," Arif said. "But if the father is struggling and in school it's looked at as, you know, you are dodging your duty when it comes down to financial responsibilities." 

"I don't feel the courts can legislate good behavior," said Dr. Seth Nieding, a licensed social worker and author of a book called Biblical Therapy which focuses on family issues. "Children will have a cognitive impairment because of the absence of the father. Then they go to school and maybe they're unable to focus, unable to concentrate and they can't pay attention."

Dr. Nieding says in the best case scenario a child would have equal access to both parents. And when they don't, they often blame themselves as being unlovable.

"A lot of times they will become angry, rageful and highly rebellious," Dr. Nieding said. "They will lie, they will steal and these are the ones that will come to the attention of the (juvenile) justice system."

Jamal agrees and at this point just wants to be able to have his son. Admitting this ordeal has been traumatic for him."You get tired," Arif said. "

Emotionally, you get tired, you get drained.But he's not giving up. And neither did Clarence who was lucky to get his son back, even getting to see Jayden's first tooth come in. "Now that he's here, there is no greater feeling in the world," Hawkins said. 

"The time, the money, the hassle. In the end, it was all worth it."

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