Dad’s Talk with Jeffery Leving

March 3, 2009 at 10:08 pm Leave a comment

American Society has declared war on crime. All wars generate collateral damage and, in this case, the damage consists of families of those who bear the burden of the public’s wrath with crime. This is particularly true of the most vulnerable and defenseless members of society – the children of imprisoned men. These children, through not fault of their own, are often denied spiritual and emotional nurture by their fathers. Never forget: incarcerated fathers are parents, too. Fathers are not “social accidents” as many people have been incorrectly taught due to negative male-stereotyping.

As an advocate for fathers’ rights for over two decades, I’ve long understood that positive father involvement is vital to the stability of our society because fatherless children pose a high risk for addiction and crime, as documented in my book “Fathers’ Rights.” Children are the future of our society, and this is no less true of the children of incarcerated men. Children of incarcerated parents should not be abondoned. Their positive parental relationships require support to break the cycle of criminality caused by father absence. The most reliable predictor of crime is neither poverty nor race, but growing up fatherless.

Several years ago I represented an incarcerated father I will call Bob. Bob became embroiled in a divorce and visitation dispute that was as bitter as it was high-profile. Yet I was able to reunite him with his children and keep him connected to them while incarcerated. This required aggressive and strategic litigation on my part, but it was worth it. I pursued visitation for Bob and did not give up until he had it. The court even ordered specific dates and times for phone visitation. Upon release, he was reunited with his family.

Obviously, visitation is more difficult for incarcerated fathers. However, it is possible. Often a letter from a law office motivates reluctant caregivers to let fathers back into their children’s lives so bitter legal battles can be avoided. But, sometimes they are necessary. My goal is never to use the law to make mothers’ lives miserable, but to maximize positive father contact for the child. In Bob’s case, I had to fight hard. Successful litigation kept this father connected with his kids and he lives with them now.

A critical reason for maintaining visitation, even if only by phone, is to attempt to prevent the possible termination of parental rights. One possible problem for incarcerated fathers is the threat of court-ordered termination of parental rights in an adoption. Failure to write, telephone or otherwise communicate or take an interest in his children can constitute a basis to attempt to terminate those rights. This sets the stage for adoption of his children.

If you feel your parental rights may be threatened, familiarize yourself with the laws of your state and, if it becomes necessary, find a family law attorney in your state to protect those rights. More importantly, make sure you educate yourself in the art and craft of parenthood. The law can be hard on incarcerated dads; it’s harder on those who give up.

I believe many incarcerated men are ready, willing and able to contribute to their children’s lives. There is a significant social cost to a narrowly punitive policy, which may not take account of the needs of the children of incarcerated fathers. If we recognize and change this policy, we may achieve a reduction of crime without requiring new taxes by simply promoting positive father-child involvement.

And in a similar vein, incarcerated fathers need to understand and protect their parental legal rights. Incarcerated fathers are parents, too.

Jeffery M. Leving is one of this country’s leading family law attorneys and the co-author of the Illinois Joint Custody Law. His book, “Father’s Rights” on which these columns are based, is regarded as a definitive work on this important subject.

Entry filed under: Attorneys, Divorced Dads, Fatherhood, Incarcerated Fathers, Responsible Fatherhood. Tags: , , , , , , .

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