Here we go again.
I’m due at Pennsylvania’s Northampton County Domestic Relations for a custody conference tomorrow morning. I failed to raise enough money to pay an attorney so I’m going pro se.
When I received notice of the conference two weeks ago, I had a strong reaction. I thought “Oh my God! I have no lawyer, no money and no hope! They’re going to take my kids!” I’m not afraid to say that I panicked, but what’s interesting is the source of the panic.
I’ve done nothing egregious since the outset of the divorce process or during the marriage for that matter. I need not fear that bad behavior has come back to haunt me. The panic comes from knowing that, in court, whether I’ve been fatherhood’s Derek Jeter won’t necessarily matter.
I have no confidence in Northampton County Courts. The reasons why litter this blog. Still, I will go there tomorrow morning and deal with this because my relationships with my kids are at stake. All I can bring with me is the truth.
The countless hearings I’ve endured thus far have prepared me for this conference. I know that I will be looser, better focused and more observant. I have studied procedure and though I don’t claim to know the nuances of the law, I believe I’ve grasped the spirit. I will listen closely to every utterance by the other side, take notes and rebut when appropriate. Though I am still likely to take a shellacking, I will walk away from the conference better educated as I have after each prior proceeding.
The real concern is the outcome. What will become of my visitation and/or custodial rights?
Research indicates that only in rare cases do courts revoke custody or visitation and we can imagine what that might involve. That makes me feel better, but what changes can I expect? Isn’t it enough that the court almost automatically denied me primary physical custody? How can I be sure they won’t make another arbitrary decision tomorrow?
There will be no guarantees. Well, maybe three:
- I will be compelled to abide by a stranger’s decision on when and how I can see the children I fathered, nurtured, tutored, supported, learned from and continue to love;
- I will continue to watch them grow from a distance like an out-of-state relative;
- A significant portion of my income will continue to be snatched from my grasp before I see it and handed to someone I don’t even know; and
- People will go on encouraging me to “co-parent” because it’s best for the kids and trumpeting successful examples of this. What they won’t do is acknowledge their own complicity in the erosion of the nuclear family and what that means for future generations.
There is no telling how my children will view marriage or the prospects of having their own children when they come of age. Having to go to court time and again when I’ve done nothing wrong doesn’t bother me half as much as that.