Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Men do make claims in courts

Published:Monday | June 22, 2015 | 6:00 AM

Based on my experiences in the family courts in Jamaica, when men appear before the courts they are usually defendants. Without the benefit of statistics, I have tried to place in order of popularity the most common claims that are made against Jamaican men in the family courts:

1 Child maintenance must hold pride of place as being first in this group. The usual allegation is that no financial provision is being made for the children or the amount that is being contributed is inadequate.

2 Not to be outdone, however, claims for spousal support may come a close second, since the failure to maintain the child usually also means that no contribution is being made towards household expenses.

3 The mother's reaction to that state of affairs is to seek sole custody of the children on allegation that the father is not fulfilling his role in any other respect by participating in decisions related to their welfare.

4 Declarations of paternity are also common, particularly as many children who are born out of wedlock are unlikely to have their father's names on their birth certificate; and that fact must be proven in order for a child maintenance claim to be pursued.

 

claims men file

 

Men do file claims in the family courts at times, and the typical claims are:

1 Applications for access to children. More often than not when a couple separates, the children remain with the mother and problems usually arise because the father feels aggrieved that he has lost the freedom to interact with his children. In fact, mothers often refuse to allow the children (especially younger ones) to have overnight visits with the father.

2 Declarations of paternity are common applications made by fathers. For the most part, these applications are made in response to claims for child maintenance when the father feels compelled to settle niggling doubts about whether the child is really his. The sad reality is that in far too many cases, the doubts and suspicions prove to be justified.

3 Some fathers seek sole custody of their children, but it is not common. For the fathers I have interviewed, they still feel that the family courts are inherently biased against men and will not make custody orders in their favour or determine that the children should live with them, rather than with the mother.

Of course, the law clearly states that there is no presumption that the mother is the better parent, but the reality is that the father does not often succeed. For that reason, although men are entitled to claim spousal and child maintenance, I am yet to receive instructions to make such a claim.

Although far too many men have earned the title 'Deadbeat dads'. In my little corner of the world, I know too many wonderful fathers to conclude that it is true for most men. Instead, I empathise with them when concerted efforts are made to exclude them from their children's lives. I also appreciate their anxieties about taking a stand in court, when they fear that they will not get justice.

For all the men who have not earned the right to be called fathers, I say, "Step up, and stop giving your brothers a bad name!" Unless more men clean up their acts and change the prevailing perception that the man's job ends when the child is conceived, the fight to get justice in the courts will not become any easier.

To both parents, endless court battles can only harm the children. As Lord Justice Black said in T v T [2010] EWCA Civ 1366:

The parents must put aside their differences ... if the adults do not manage to resolve things by communicating with each other, the children inevitably suffer and the adults may also pay the price when the children are old enough to be aware of what has been going on. ... It is a tremendous privilege to be involved in bringing up a child. Childhood is over all too quickly and, whilst I appreciate that both sides think that they are motivated by concern for the children, it is still very sad to see it being allowed to slip away whilst energy is devoted to wrangles and to litigation. What is particularly unfair is that the legacy of a childhood tainted in that way is likely to remain with the children into their own adult lives.

• Sherry Ann McGregor is a partner and mediator in the firm of Nunes, Scholefield, DeLeon & Co. Please send questions and comments to lawsofeve@gmail.com..