How to Reestablish a Relationship with your Child
So you’ve dropped the ball. You let a day slip to a week, a week to a month, and now maybe it’s been years since you exercised your parenting time. Your absence from your child’s life may due to your workaholic nature, a new relationship out of state, abuse of some vice in your life that lead to an addiction or jail time, or the other parent’s poisonous attitude forcing you to stay away or influencing your child to reject you. Regardless of the reason, your child deserves to be parented by you. Children need leaders in their lives and certainly they look to their parents to act as such. Parents have the paramount right to parent their children. It’s a right you should not abdicate.
I recommend that before you run to court and scribble some allegations on a pleading, you earnestly self reflect on what lead you down this pathway. Self reflectivity and acceptance are not pleasant but they are important so that you can understand the cause(s) of your separation so you can correct it (them).
A court pleading is not a correction, but a reaction to the correction. If you aren’t willing to remedy the cause (and accept professional help when necessary) then you are wasting your time. Even if the reason was out of your hands, you’ll need to accept that you acquiesced and enabled its outcome. Correct the issue; if you drink, stop drinking and complete a medically approved treatment program; if you live far away from your child, consider moving; if you got yourself locked up, lead an uneventful and stable life, etc.
See it through
Once you start this process you need to see it through for your child. You are not taking on this challenge for yourself. You are making changes to improve the quality of life of your child. Your child cannot control you and it is not fair to them that you place an expectation on them to respond in any particular way as a source of encouragement to you. Allow your child to be a child and not build up a self loathing parent. They can only react to your actions.
When you are ready to dive in, seek an attorney experienced and dedicated to help you achieve your goals and willing to communicate with you often. If you followed the guidance of the prior paragraphs, you can well describe your legal goals to your prospective attorney. The more specific you can explain your goals with your attorney, the better chances that he/she can indicate their ability to assist you.
Imagine you meet with a prospective attorney and you tell him/her,
“I haven’t seen my children in one year. They just don’t understand that I need to drink on bad days. I want to resume my weekends again.”
Now imagine you meet with your attorney and you tell him/her,
“I haven’t seen my child in one year because I lost my job and slipped into the bottle for six months. I stopped drinking with the help of a medically accepted alcohol treatment program which has greatly aided my sobriety, which is now at six months. Here are six months of negative alcohol test results. My child will not return my calls. I want to start off meeting him/her for lunch and try to grow the relationship from there.”
The latter would be much more productive and indicate to your attorney that you are dedicated to this process. The pleadings for the latter example would be more convincing to the judge reviewing them.
When you seek the assistance from an attorney, keep in mind that he/she cannot control you. They can only react to your behaviors. Once you’ve established a trusting relationship with your attorney, your job is to give your attorney a lot of brag about which may include your ongoing sobriety, a series of negative drug tests, the new apartment with the additional bedroom, the new job you landed in the city near your child, the anger management class you signed up for and completed, etc.
Do not be afraid to ask a prospective attorney what steps they will take to help you achieve your goals. Do not assume that they are all equipped with the skill set for such a task because they accept your case and retainer fee. Visit with multiple attorneys before you hire one. Plenty attorneys offer free initial consultations. Making a good decision on an attorney in the beginning will avoid delays and expenses later on if you have to jump ship. Ill-equipped attorneys may not understand the nuances of custody rules but also cannot advise their clients of the most efficient means of gaining approval of the judge. In Ohio, an attorney can be discharged without cause by a client. A polite request for your file and final bill is all that is needed to move onto another attorney.
Start off simply when getting to know your child again. A fun lunch is much more meaningful to a child as a first meeting than a weekend alone with a parent that the child may not trust. It’s much better to expand parenting time than go heavy too early and have it turn out terribly and dig the hole deeper.
Think about your child’s likes and plan activities geared to them; such as read their favorite book with them, bring them their favorite toy as a gift for them to keep, take pictures with them and then bring them the prints next time, etc. You be the one to make suggestions on activities. On that note, do not bring your mobile phone with you to visits. If you do so to take pictures, put it on airplane mode. Give your child your undivided attention. Ask your friends and family to allow you the free time and unhindered emotional support to enjoy your time with your child. If spending time with your child offends other aspects of your life then you need to reconsider if you can commit to this process.
Be gracious to the court, guardian ad litem (GAL), and even opposing party(ies). After you start the litigation process, you may be looked down upon and doubted. You may be admonished for past poor choices. If so, be accepting with what you are offered, even if you feel demeaned. Remember that you are not going through this case for your benefit. The court’s charge is to protect the safety of your child, not make you feel good about yourself. Show the court, the GAL, and opposing party that you respect yourself by dressing and presenting professionally for all court dates and meetings with the GAL and other parties. All you need is a toe hold to get the ball rolling.
Be prepared for the expenses. Attorneys cost money. GALs cost money. Filing fees cost money. Child support cost money. The daily needs of children cost money. The costs add up but they are not insurmountable. Set aside money each month for this process is if it were a monthly bill.
Chip away at the iceberg. If the court allows you supervised visits, chances are, they want to see how you react and make the most of it so you can migrate to unsupervised parenting time. Supervised parenting time may lead to unsupervised parenting time, which may lead to extended visits, which may lead to the chance to modify custody.
Alter your goals depending on the circumstances. At first you may be happy with parenting time with your child. If you are successful and your child responds, you may want more involvement. If so, discuss with your attorney on how to gain custody (authority to make parenting decisions for your child).
You may be in an anxious situation caught between the love for your children and feeling lost on how to prepare your life for a successful litigation run. The efforts that you may need to expend will be great, but so are the rewards. Your child(ren) deserve(s) to feel the love of both their parents and be raised with your good influences upon them too. In my practice I have found these suggestions to be successful for helping clients save their children from the perils of a childhood without a parent.
Best, John M. Stryker, Esq.
I am licensed in Ohio, practicing in Greater Cleveland in the area of child custody. Although born and raised in Ohio, I’ve lived around the country. Prior to becoming an attorney, I had a great career as a molecular biologist researching the mechanisms of gene control. This position trained me in the art of understanding the minutia of a fact pattern, being thorough in ones work, and the importance of good writing. I was recently married to my wonderful wife, Kimberly. We reside in Rocky River, Ohio.
Stryker Law ltd
20006 Detroit Road, Suite 310
Rocky River, Ohio 44116
216 338 2295 mobile
216 777 2064 fax
Juris Doctor, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland, Ohio
Master of Science, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio
Bachelor of Science, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio
West Shore Bar Association, Rocky River, Ohio
Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, Cleveland, Ohio
Practice Licensure, Jurisdictions, and Forums
Practice of law in all courts within The State of Ohio,
United States District Court Northern District of Ohio,
and United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Honorary Member of the National Academy of Inventors
CALI Award for Excellence
Multiple peer reviewed publications
Reoccurring speaking engagements on legal issues