Splitsville: Why I Never Took My Daughter’s Father To Court
Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.
It was 2 o’clock in the morning and I had been in the hospital for 7 hours so far. My labor had been pretty easy. I was getting ready to push. Within the hour, I would have my beautiful daughter Brenna to hold. Before I started pushing, I grabbed one of my pillows, chucked it across the room and screamed, “Someone get that piece of shit out of my room!”
My daughter’s father had been asleep on the couch in my hospital room for hours. He couldn’t be bothered to wake up and hold me through my epidural. He didn’t bat an eye when my mother tried to inform him that my water had broke. I was so furious with him that I just wanted him gone. In the end, my mother and sister were with me through the delivery.
After our daughter was born, her father was the one who contacted everyone to tell them the good news. He gushed to his family about our beautiful daughter. He smoked cigars with all the friends who came to visit us in the hospital. He shared the story of labor that he hadn’t actually witnessed. He was thrilled with the birth of our daughter and he told everyone he could how magical that birth, the one he missed, was. Needless to say, our relationship didn’t last far beyond the delivery room.
I’m sharing this story because it was very indicative of the type of parent my daughter’s father would become. He talks a lot about fatherhood and how important it is, but he rarely steps up to do the actual parenting. He makes a lot of big promises that he doesn’t often deliver on. In his mind, he’s a father. In his actions, he’s an uncle who pops up once a month to spend a couple hours with his favorite niece.
When we first broke up, I was a struggling, single mother. I didn’t have the money to hire an attorney and go through the proper procedure. My daughter’s father was paying me support on a fairly regular basis. Even better, he was so busy with his own life that he rarely bothered me. As the years have gone by, he’s less frequent with both the support and the visitation.
I realize that this is sad for my daughter. I honestly wish that she could have a closer relationship with her father. But at the same time, she has an amazing and loving family who care about her. She has a stepfather who thinks of her as his own. My husband’s family has embraced her with open arms. It helps that she’s the only female grandchild in a sea of boys. My daughter is a loved child.
I never took my daughter’s father to court. I never established a visitation schedule. Or support. I spoke with a lawyer and as it stands, I’m her sole legal and physical guardian. I may not be guaranteed money, but I don’t have to ask her father’s opinion on what pre-school I sign her up for. I don’t have to check and see what his holiday schedule looks like. I normally do ask him these things out of courtesy, but the decisions are mine to make.
Most importantly, my daughter and her father have exactly the relationship he wants them to. He’s not forced to see her every other weekend or keep her overnight. I’m not forced to consider the opinion of a man who doesn’t know the size of my daughter’s shoes or her favorite food or what stuffed animal she needs to fall asleep. In his mind, this man is a father. So in a black-and-white court system, he would never give up his parental rights. He would say, “Of course I’m her dad. Of course I want joint custody.” But in real life, where actions matter more than labels, I get to have sole custody. With no lawyer fees or court dates, I got the exact outcome I wanted.
Maybe someday I’ll change my mind. Maybe someday her father will decide that he wants to be a bigger part of her life. I’ll welcome that decision, if he actually plans on following through with it. But until then, I’m happy that we never went to court to establish a relationship that doesn’t exist.