Posts filed under ‘Father-Child Relationship’

Fathers Hold Key to Communicating with Troubled Teens

by: Jeffery M. Leving

Hilda Franco and the Chicago Freedom School have developed a program promoting outreach to children and teens caught in the crossfire of violence plaguing Chicago Public Schools. I applaud her initiative and agree that active communication with these children is a positive move in the right direction, but I would like to challenge Herald News readers to take this idea one step further.

As Chairman of the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood (ICRF- http://responsiblefatherhood.com), I believe the best way to reach these teens is to teach their fathers how to communicate with their children. In the Riverdale neighborhood where Derrion Albert grew up, nearly 80% of households with children do not have a father present. Research shows that fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school, consistently score lower than average in reading and math, and are eleven times more likely to exhibit violent behavior. There are gender and economic barriers that must be overcome or these fathers will continue to be kicked to the curb. We need to go into this community to empower and educate these men on the importance of being actively involved in their children’s lives. We need to make sure that all fathers in all communities know that they have the legal right to request custody and visitation of their children regardless of their financial situation.

Incarcerated fathers are also victimized by the denial of equal protection. We need to go into the prison systems and give incarcerated fathers the same resources available to incarcerated mothers to help them parent their children both in and out of prison. While Illinois has a program in place giving incarcerated mothers access to their children through virtual visitation (ie: video conferencing), the same option is not provided to fathers. I co-authored the Illinois law giving judges the ability to award virtual visitation to non-custodial parents. Now that this law is in place, let’s implement a virtual visitation program for fathers through the Illinois Department of Corrections focused on the best interest of the child. As the goal, incarcerated fathers remain in contact with their children. Furthermore, during my visit to the Decatur Correctional Center, I learned that incarcerated mothers not only have access to virtual visitation with their children, but are also allowed to live with their babies in prison. The lack of similar programs for fathers is nothing short of institutionalized gender preference showing what little value our society places on the importance of paternal love and bonding.  This bias being perpetuated in our prisons not only illustrates the obstacles in place for fathers wanting relationships with their children, it tramples equal protection safeguards.

Until fathers and children everywhere engage in positive relationships, other proposed remedies to safeguard children from violence are just a band-aid on a gaping wound. As a community, we all need to actively search for a solution to this ongoing violence. I agree that giving teens a forum to express themselves to caring adults is invaluable and ICRF is committed to ensuring that every father in Illinois has the knowledge and resources to be there for their kids when they are needed most. But, we must never forget that any man’s loss of his child is a loss for us all.

Jeffery M. Leving

Chairman

Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood

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November 18, 2009 at 6:23 pm Leave a comment

Danny Glover Interview with Jeffery Leving – part 1

Part 1 of 2 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwz6fy5oKA4

JML: Can you tell us about your father, your family and how you grew up?

DG:
If I’m a good father, it’s because I try to be half the father as my father was. I had a father who I thought was a prince. Even though at times we disappointed him in terms of what we did as teenagers, as kids with all that energy. But for the most part, I just thought when I sit down and analyze what he gave me – the sense of comfort, the sense of safety that he gave me.

I knew that he wasn’t a big man, I’m a foot taller than my father but the sense of presence, and the way he took on his responsibilities of caring for the family – all those things I was able to take into fatherhood. And hopefully, even though some things I think I could have done differently, hopefully those had some sort of impact on my daughter.  And our relationship is a testimony that it’s had an impact on her.

DG:
That’s only because my father was there in the household and my mother was there. We had a unit as a family with 5 children and mother and father and we did things as a family. We traveled on vacation as a family. There was the concept that the family took precedence over me the individual. So we all had and took on responsibility whether it was the upkeep of the house or whether it’s the cooking of the meals and all the other kind of things and I think what it did was give me another sensibility.

So since there were 4 boys and 1 girl, there was no gender preference given to the boys in terms of responsibility. The boys washed dishes, the boys ironed clothes, the boys cooked – every one of them knew how to do all of that. I think those were important because in a sense that’s the images I saw in my parents. My father cooked, he washed clothes, he ironed, he did all those things – he took on that. My mother was a Cub Scout Mother. When we lived in the projects when I was a little boy, my father was my youngest brother’s Boy Scout Den Father when we lived in a house. So I applaud them in creating the sense of normalcy and the consistency in which they maintained that.

JML:
You’re fortunate because you grew up in a stable family where your parents were together and they raised you as a teen and you had a great dad. You had an excellent father.

DG:
I had a great mom and a great dad and I think they made each other the best that they could be. I had one of those mothers who had the most glorious smile that you ever want to see and yet she was a woman of magnitude. She was the president of the local chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, she knew Dr. Dorothy Hite well, she was the first in her family in rural Georgia to graduate from college. So she was a woman going somewhere. And she happened to pick one of the most gentle men, one of the most beautiful men I ever met in my life – my dad.

JML:
I mean that’s great, as a divorce lawyer and as a fathers’ rights attorney, I’m a big supporter of children having two parents. And when we were growing up, a lot of children had two parents.

DG:
Absolutely, absolutely.

JML:
Unfortunately it’s changed a lot and a lot of fathers get kicked to the curb and children suffer. And I’ve represented a lot of good dads struggling to be there for their children and the system kicks them out. But fortunately for us we grew up in a different time.

DG:
Yeah!  I’m 62 years old so I grew up in a time when it meant something to get in the car and the family go on a Sunday drive down the coast – I grew up in San Francisco – so we’d go an hour down the coast as a family and stop by a little, local hamburger/French fry place – that’s a cravat right there, there was the real thing about that. We’d have some hamburgers and French fries as a family and I loved that and I remember that so vividly in my mind, you know, with my parents. And it could be a way in which they were saying, “Okay, let’s as a family do something.”

We don’t have a lot of money; we weren’t blessed with a lot of money. My parents went from paycheck to paycheck all their entire time that I lived with them. And after I moved out of the house. But there was this sense of doing something that felt so and remarkably wonderful as a family. And I lost a sister, lost a brother to rheumatory arthritis, colon cancer to my sister. But I tell you – my younger brothers that are much younger that I am and I are very very close.

JML:
Oh, that’s great. I wrote this book, Fathers’ Rights and in it on pages 46 and 47, I listed a lot of statistics on how father absence effects in children and the most reliable predictor of crime in America is father absence. It says right here, 72% of all teenage murderers grew up without fathers. The absence of a biological father increases by 900% a daughter’s vulnerability to rape and sexual abuse. And these assaults are not often committed by the dads, it’s committed by boyfriends of the custodial parents. These are the statistics that are somewhat new to our society.

DG:
I agree with you to some extent, but there are other factors that happen within a family, within the communal structure than just those particular statistics which apply to the individual. What are the social conditions? What is the stress level of the mother? What other kind of support mechanism does she have around? Where are the uncles around there to help raise those children? Where are the aunts around to help raise those girls? A lot of other factors that go into that. To say that the numbers, of course, when we take the fact that 2 million men and women incarcerated in this country. Those numbers who suggest that, but I think that there are a lot of other dynamics around the maintenance of a family. The laws and regulations and communities are family-friendly that create the kind of atmosphere as well in support.
The fact is they say that if you can’t love the one you want, love the one you’re with. We found that in most cases, when those single boys – and I’ve been in those situations – and those boys in those relationships where there’s someone who cares, where there’s someone there. He may be a father figure; he may be a father himself. But there’s someone who cares. And those girls are with people who care about them and care about who they are. Amazing things happening.

And sometimes in the 21st century, given all the kinds of dynamics that happen. In the last part of the 20th century, people were very mobile. They moved from place to place. They went from job to job as opposed to the first part of the 20th century. The last part of the 20th century, people become mobile and that has an impact on whatever the social dynamics among the family and the community itself. And also, the structures that employ us, remember – you take a place like Detroit. Detroit was one of the first places in this country as black people after the invention of the cotton picking machine in 1944 – black people were free from the land. 100% of the cotton was picked by hand in 1944, within 25 years 100% of the cotton was picked my machine. So black people moved, migrated. 5 million black people moved out of the South, to the North. All kinds of family disruptions. So almost a quarter of the black population moved in transit to find work.

They came to places like Detroit, got jobs – good jobs. Low skill jobs, good paying jobs. They built homes, raised families all over the country. Then those cities became de-industrialized. Those jobs went over seas to cheaper labor. Continued, we see it today. They went to some other place, for cheaper labor. Therefore are many losses: tax based. They lost a sense of self. They lost their sense of identity. Upon losing that sense of identity you have what you have now. Those are the kind of ideas that we cannot simply; we must incorporate any analysis of those things that have happened. That’s real history. That’s real history that’s right in front of my eyes.

My dad had a job, he retired from a job after 31 years. My mother when she passed away was still working. They had a job and everything else. They were able to build a family. We moved from the projects, I lived in the projects, the housing projects until I was 11 years old. We moved from there, we bought a home.

Every one of us got into problems; yes we did things as kids. But I remember when my dad came down into that police station and said after I had done something and came in and picked me up and said, “Son, I am disappointed in you.”

I’m towering over him now, I’m 6’2”, I am towering over him. “Son, I am so disappointed in you.”

That has meaning to me. That had meaning to me because of their life. That had meaning to me because of all the things that have happened. And that was the last time I had been involved in anything like that. I’ve been arrested for doing other things like for protesting something or sitting in or something like that. But it’s the last thing. Those are the kind of things I think of enforcedly. I know that now. I got a 5 year old grandson whose father is not there. I know that I have to tell him everyday that he is the most important person in my life. I have to tell him every day that I love him. I have to tell him that everyday, the best job that I have, the best job in the world for me is to being your grandfather – and everything else. Your dad may not be here, but you know what, I’m here. That kind of infrastructure, that kind of support will give him a shot! Give him a chance, you know. Somebody loves me. And maybe it’s nice that I love myself as well.

JML:
I see.

 

May 1, 2009 at 7:17 pm 1 comment

Illinois Virtual Visitation for Incarcerated Fathers

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by Jeffery M. Leving

A non-violent felony conviction has landed Juan behind bars for the next three years. As Juan is trying to adjust to prison life, his young son is trying to adjust to life without a father. Juan, like countless numbers of inmates in Illinois, is locked up in a correctional facility far from where his elderly mother, wife and son live. The high cost of transportation and related expenses make regular visitation unaffordable for the impoverished family.

Every time someone breaks the law, there are victims. While the system tries to bring justice to those victimized, new victims are created.  The plight of the incarcerated fathers may not evoke sympathy in many people.  However, I must point out that the grief and suffering of their children are exacerbated by a correctional system that is ill-equipped to address the pain of losing their fathers.

Research has shown that children whose parents have been incarcerated “experience anger, anxiety, inability to concentrate, depression, preoccupation with their loss, sadness, grief, shame and fear following the incarceration.” However, children who often visit their incarcerated parents and do so under favorable conditions “exhibit fewer adjustment problems.” As for the prisoners, those who maintain strong family ties behave better during incarceration, re-enter society with better success, and have a lower rate of recidivism.

Many correctional facilities in Illinois are remotely located from the Chicago population. The sheer distance discourages many families from visiting their relatives in prison. The high costs of transportation, food and lodging, not to mention the substantial amount of time involved, are additional inhibiting factors. Most importantly, however, the prison can be an inimical environment for children so that a visit there may be traumatic. As a result, many families opt for telephone contact. Unfortunately, telephone contact is totally unsatisfactory. Not only is it expensive for the families because all calls from prison must be collect calls, but also frustrating to the children because they do not  see their parents.

Virtual Visitation for Incarcerated Fathers

For years, I have been warning of the damage done to children who grow up without contact with their fathers. Due to the large population of incarcerated fathers in Illinois, many children are growing up fatherless. Extensive research has shown that children whose fathers are involved in their lives perform better in school, complete more years of schooling, have fewer behavioral problems, have better cognitive and psychological development, experience less poverty, are less likely to drink and use drugs,  and have better self-control.

As the chairman of the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood and as a fathers’ rights advocate, I have been pushing for the creation of a virtual visitation program for incarcerated fathers in Illinois. This program will enable children to interact with their incarcerated fathers via real-time video and audio conferencing, eliminating the problems associated with traveling to and visiting the prison. Instead, visits can be scheduled in a child-friendly environment – with toys and appropriate furnishings and decorations.

I have co-authored an amendment to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act to provide for reasonable visitation between a child and a non-custodial parent through electronic communication including video conferencing. This bill (SB1590) is awaiting a decision at the Illinois State Senate, and would give legal support to the virtual visitation program for incarcerated fathers that I advocate.

Virtual visitation with inmates is not a new concept. The pioneer seems to have been the State of Pennsylvania, where a program began in 2001. The Pennsylvania Family Virtual Visitation, created by The Prison Society in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, provides high-tech video conferencing equipment that allows families to visit in “real time” with their loved ones who are incarcerated. For a small fee of $20, families can schedule a 55-minute visit once a month. According to The Prison Society, inmates, family members, and prison staff have expressed their support for and appreciation of this program. Correctional officers have reported that many inmates are better adjusted and seem happier after virtual visits. Virtual visitors express how important and meaningful the program is to the health and welfare of their families.

In Florida, there is a program called Reading and Family Ties, which allows incarcerated mothers to read stories to their children using live video via the Internet. The program has been credited with enhancing family unity, easing inmates’ transition back to society and improving literacy for both parents and children.

In Illinois, we, too, have had success with a pilot program for incarcerated mothers, but none for fathers. Through this incarcerated mother program, which was created through the partnership between the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Women’s Treatment Center, staff are available to the families prior to, during and after each visit to address their needs, and to ensure that the visit is child-focused.

A subsidiary benefit of virtual visitation for incarcerated fathers is the rehabilitation of the father, but the most cogent reason for implementing this program is the welfare of the child. It is past the time for Illinois to enact a law and establish a program that help the tens of thousands of children have a relationship with their incarcerated fathers.

March 31, 2009 at 3:49 pm Leave a comment

Interview with President Barack Obama – on Responsible Fatherhood

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Interview with President Barack Obama

Then Senator Barack Obama appeared as a guest on the Jeffery Leving Fathers’ Rights Legal Show on SOUL 106.3 FM – Chicago/Indiana.  Here is a transcript of the interview where they discuss the importance of responsible fatherhood:

Jeffery M. Leving
:
Senator Barack Obama

President Obama: Yes, sir!

JML: How are you doing? It’s an honor to talk to you. I actually met you at an NAACP event Vera Davis put on in Chicago years ago.

President Obama: Well it’s wonderful to talk to you again.

JML: This is Jeffery Leving with the Jeffery Leving Fathers’ Rights Legal Show today. And today we are honored to have as our guest Presidential Candidate Senator Barack Obama.

Senator, I was reading your website, BarackObama.com/family and I was reading about Strengthening Fatherhood and Families and in your website, you talk about fatherless children and how they are more likely to end up in poverty and drop out of school and I also read your Responsible Fatherhood & Healthy Families Act.

And I think that’s tremendous and it can help a lot of children and families. What motivated you to re-introduce the Responsible Fatherhood & Healthy Families Act?

President Obama: Well, Jeffery as you know my father left me when I was 2. I remember watching my mom struggle as a single parent, trying to go to school and work and raise 2 kids at the same time – and fortunately she has support from my grandparents but a lot of single moms don’t have that.

And unfortunately although many of them do heroic jobs – it is true that statistically; children without fathers involved their lives are more likely to experience poverty, more likely their girls to get pregnant as teenagers, they’re more likely to have problems at school and so I really believe that it’s important for us in all communities but especially the African American Community – which has seen such as problem with lack of men and male involvement in family life that we really put an emphasize on this.

And this is something that the government can help to make sure that we don’t have a dis-incentive for fathers to be involved; make sure that our welfare programs for example are designed in such a way that they don’t penalize fathers participating.

I think we got to do a real good job trying to reintroduce males who’ve been involved in the criminal justice system as ex-offenders – giving them the opportunity so that they are able to support their families, find work, get on the right path – but ultimately there’s a lot of personal responsibility that’s involved in this. And one of the things I want to do as president is to use the bully pulpit to say to men, “You’ve to get involved in your child’s life. It will make a difference not only in their lives but in yours.”

JML: I agree with you 100%. We need to support and involve fatherhood. I also believe, to do this, we have to change the way the world views dads – and fathers are an untapped resource and I believe by involving fathers in positive relationships with their children, that will reduce youth violence which is affecting our country terribly, especially in Chicago where we’re from.

So we need to do this and justice shouldn’t be a luxury and many fathers don’t have the resources to seek legal counsel, to involve themselves in their children’s lives and they don’t have even basic knowledge – so your bill is excellent.

I’m a big supporter of it because I think the bill will help many many children throughout our country – because millions of children are father-absent in the United States and because of that, they are living in poverty and they can escape poverty by this bill coming law.

How do we keep crime down in the United States? We know that involving fathers and positive relationships with their children is one solution. But what are other solutions to keeping crime down and fighting youth violence?

We also have to have after school and summer school to give positive alternatives to our youth. And if we invest in early childhood education, studies show that every dollar we invest there we see improvements in reading scores reduced dropout rates, and reduced delinquencies. So giving young people positive things to do and investing in more police on the street the better off we are going to be.

Alright Jeffery, thank you so much for having me.

JML: Thank you for being on my show, I appreciate your time.

President Obama: Thank you so much – take care.

To listen to the archived interview, please visit: www.DadsRights.com

March 12, 2009 at 5:23 pm 1 comment

Top 10: Mistakes Men Make in Divorce

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By Jeffery M. Leving

It’s easy to make mistakes at the very beginning of the divorce process, especially if you’re dealing with someone who is highly manipulative, abusive or just plain irrational. Even if you are divorcing a reasonable person, it’s tough to think clearly and make the right initial decisions. Most people are so angry, upset or anxious at the end of their marriage that they’re not thinking logically about what they should do to protect themselves or their children from an unfair settlement.

In the past, the prevailing emotions during a divorce were usually sadness and regret. Today, anger is the dominant emotion: People are angry at their spouses, their spouses’ parents, at their spouses’ new partners, etc. All this anger translates into words and deeds that make the divorce process more costly, stressful, frustrating, lengthy, and an all out war. It doesn’t have to be that way, even if you are divorcing the most irrational of humans. Below are the 10 most common mistakes men make in divorce. If you can learn to place your emotions in check and avoid these mistakes, you can alleviate some of the pain that comes with any divorce.

#10Using Your Children as Pawns
Threatening to limit or deny visitation is a powerful threat, and it can terrify a parent who loves his child(ren). Often, parents who are the primary caregivers, but who lack the financial resources, feel that they must use this threat to gain sufficient financial support.

As painful as these threats are, do not respond in kind. Don’t issue threats of your own. Instead, recognize that in most cases, the truth will come out. If you’ve been a good, responsible parent, your spouse likely cannot deny you a chance to see your kids on a regular basis. More to the point, the court won’t allow it in most instances.

#9 – Thinking Romance First, Divorce Second
The most common factor that turns a normal divorce into an abnormally contentious one is bringing another woman into the mix. The situation is already potentially volatile, and all it takes is the mention that you have a new lover for your spouse to become infuriated.

There are several reasons you may want to announce your new relationship-revenge, one being to show her that someone finds you attractive and you’ve even found happiness. Try to keep a new relationship out of the conversations with your spouse and especially your children. The best decision is to wait until the divorce is concluded before you engage in a new relationship.

#8 – Allowing Your Spouse to Convince You to Not Hire An Attorney
If your spouse has hired a lawyer, you need to hire one quickly. If you don’t, you are an amateur playing against professionals. One underhand tactic is for a spouse’s attorney to offer to represent both parties to save time and money. Not only is it unethical, but it also creates a conflict of interest.

The process is designed to be adversarial, and there is no way a lawyer can fairly represent you both. The odds are that your spouse has something to hide or something she wants, and she knows that if you hire a lawyer it will be more difficult to achieve that goal.

#7 – Using Verbal Abuse
Just about everyone who gets a divorce argues. Not everyone, however, engages in continuous verbal battles in which threats and vile accusations become routine forms of communication. Being on the receiving end of this abuse is demoralizing, especially when the threats raise the possibility of physical harm to you or your children.

You need to discuss any threats of this type with your attorney, who can advise you on how to deal with them. Furthermore, if it is you who’s engaging in the verbal abuse, remember that your spouse can easily obtain an order of protection and any violation of this order can land you in jail. There is a myth that men do not endure verbal or even physical abuse from their spouses, but it is just a myth. Abuse is not gender specific.

#6 – Rubbing Salt In the Wound
If your goal is to avoid a court battle and the high costs that go with it, then you want to avoid any accusations of personality flaws. Be aware of your spouse’s sensitivities and avoid inflaming them. Compromise is the essence of divorce negotiations, and if you say and do things to encourage your spouse to dig in and be inflexible, you’re asking for a war.

No matter how much you despise your spouse; no matter how many ways you feel you’ve been wronged, don’t make a bad situation worse by identifying your spouse’s vulnerabilities when trying to reach a settlement. Always try to negotiate before you litigate.

#5 – Using a Difficult Attorney
Lawyers can turn good divorces into bad ones and bad divorces into nightmares. It’s not just divorcing spouses that are difficult. Certain lawyers are intent on churning fees, and they can cleverly manipulate situations to their financial advantage. The result is couples who will fight over the big and little things and invariably wind up in court and broke.

Do not fall for the myth that you have to find a take-no-prisoners attorney, someone who is ruthless and will use any tactic necessary to “win” the case. When there is one difficult attorney, the odds are the divorce will be costly and unpleasant. When there are two difficult attorneys, the divorce will be a total nightmare.

#4 – Becoming Passive
The last thing you want to do when your spouse announces she wants a divorce is to become completely acquiescent. Many people are manipulative, and if they think they can manipulate you into getting what they want out of the divorce, such as money, property or custody, they will do so.

If you are stunned or saddened, you may agree to anything and everything your spouse recommends. Don’t confuse passivity with being reasonable. My experience is that the shock of divorce soon wears off, and once it does, you’re much less vulnerable to making this mistake.

#3 – Arguing About Who Gets What
In most divorces where couples have been married for a number of years, disputes about property arise, and sometimes these arguments are perfectly understandable. These arguments, however, can become completely irrational and vengeance-based. I had a client say, “I would rather incur 10 times in legal fees what the painting costs than allow her to have it!”

These arguments can be draining emotionally (not to mention financially), but it helps to recognize that no matter how your spouse uses these objects in the bargaining process, the court generally divides property fairly if both parties have competent attorneys.

#2 – Serving Your Spouse with Divorce Papers in Embarrassing Places
Having an officer of the law serve your spouse at home or business should be reserved for cases where they refuse to file an appearance or accept service of process, or where great conflict exists between the two parties.

There is nothing more embarrassing than having a police officer serve you with papers at work, and nothing more unnerving than hearing the doorbell ring at 2 a.m. and seeing a policeman at the door (and having your neighbors see him as well).

If your spouse uses this tactic on you, as obnoxious as it may be, remain calm.

#1 – Responding to An Impending Divorce With Anger
The early stages of the divorce process can be a highly emotional time when people say things they do not mean or act in unusual or uncharacteristic ways. Divorces “blow up” legally when one person responds to anger with even greater anger, creating an escalating war of attrition that otherwise would have been a brief skirmish.

Therefore, allow a bit of time to pass before you do anything. Your spouse may settle down after blowing off some steam, and you can continue to move forward in a reasonable manner.

March 6, 2009 at 6:52 pm 1 comment

Incarcerated Fathers & The Law

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Editors note: This article is educational and not intended as advice for
a specific matter. The laws of each state vary, and readers should seek
legal advice from a licensed attorney in the appropriate state.

It is not revelation to prison readers that 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 because fatherless
children pose a high risk for leading lives of poverty, addiction, and
crime, as documented in my book Fathers’ Rights (Basic Books).

Children are the future of our society, and this is no less true of the
children of incarcerated men. Imprisoned fathers are responsible for
most of the 1.5 million minor children of incarcerated parents. We
need to break the cycle of criminality through positive father-child
involvement because 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. 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 I had obtained a court
order. 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 or note from a law office motivates
reluctant caregivers to let fathers back into their children’s lives so
bitter legal battles can be avoided. My goal is never to use the law to
manipulate mothers or make their lives miserable, but to maximize
responsible father contact for the child. In Bob’s case, I had to right
hard. It meant going to court many times, initiating discovery, and
correctly persuading the court that the best interest of the minor
children would be served by consistent paternal contact that could be
insured only by court-ordered visitation. Successful litigation kept this
father connected with his kids.

A court order is meaningless without something to back it up. In the
jurisdiction where I practice, that something can be the contempt
power of the court. When a visitation order is violated by mom, then I
can file a Petition for Rule to Show Cause against the mother in the
civil proceeding requesting that the court find her in contempt for
violating the order. If mom is held in contempt of court, she can be
sentenced to a period of time in the county jail. In Illinois, we can also
recommend an alternative to contempt proceeding, because visitation
interference is a crime in my state, which can be prosecuted by the
state’s attorneys office. This decision is best made on a case-by-case
basis.

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 potential threat of
court-ordered termination of parental rights in an adoption. Illinois
courts have held that an incarcerated father may lose his parent rights
if he has shown little interest in his children. Failure to write, telephone
or otherwise communicate or take an interest in his children can
constitute grounds for termination of those rights. This sets the stage
for adoption of his children. In fact, a recent Illinois legislative
initiative gave birth to the Baby Abandonment Law, which allows a
biological mother to legally abandon her infant without notice to the
father under certain conditions. I believe this law is unconstitutional
and ignores the rights of fathers.

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 don’t
invest some energy into being a good dad.

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 Leving is an attorney and founder of the Incarcerated Father Project. His practice will respond to any inquiries you may have about fathers’ rights as much as possible at The Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving, Ltd., 19 S. LaSalle Street, Suite 450, Chicago, IL 60603. (312) 807-3990

March 4, 2009 at 10:59 pm Leave a comment

New Law Would Help Keep Dads in the Picture

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Representative Gerald Mitchell’s pro-child House Bill 2491 easily passed the House of Representatives in a landslide vote of 77 to 23. This legislation can help many fathers remain an active part in their children’s lives, as it would allow non-custodial spouses (who are generally fathers) the right to object to the other spouse’s removal of the children of more than 100 mils away within the state. Such a bill is important as many child relocations are motivated by hate and parental alienation, thereby leaving child causalities throughout the state.

Bill 2491 tells me that our legislators may realize the psychological benefits to “children of divorce” in having two parents instead of one. Our legal system, which allows parents to divorce the children from the “other” (non-custodial) parent. The future of our society depends on it, as the United States is now the world’s leader in fatherless families.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18 million U.S. children now live in single-parent homes. Only 3.5 percent of these children live with their fathers. That means we have 17.4 Illinois children growing up without full-time fathers or who are completely fatherless. The bottom line is fathers are vanishing from the social landscape and as demonstrated by the following facts outlined in my new book, “Fathers’ Rights”, the importance of pro-child legislation is necessary to protect our society.

+ Children who live apart from their fathers experience more accidents and higher rate of chronic asthma and speech defects;
+ Seventy-two percent of all teenage murderers grew up without fathers;
+ Eight percent of the adolescents in psychiatric hospitals come from fatherless homes;
+ Three of four teen suicides occur in single-parent homes;
+ The absence of a biological father increases by 900 percent a daughter’s vulnerability to rape and sexual abuse. (Often these assaults are committed by stepfathers or the boyfriends of custodial mothers).

Too many children are effectively cut off from relationships with their fathers due to causes beyond their control and understanding. It is to be hoped that these causes are not beyond the control of our legislature.

Any measure that strengthens the father-child relationship or that enhances a child’s God-given right to two natural parents is a step in the right direction.

I applaud House Bill 2491 and all that it stands for.

Loop-based attorney Jeffery M. Leving, a specialist in asserting the legal rights of fathers, is also the author of “Fathers’ Rights” (Basic Books).

March 4, 2009 at 10:18 pm Leave a comment


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