Tarice Sims: Michael Graehling says he's been fighting an uphill battle to maintain a relationship with his children. After he and his wife agreed on visitation and child support he says it's been an arrangement to keep. At one point he retained an attorney to help, but he's since been handling court issues pro se - that is documenting and recording events he claims have kept him from his children. Still, Graehling says the whole ordeal has lead to emotional problems.
Michael Graehling: Depression, you get in that cycle of depression you stay away. You think you're doing better for the kids because boy if I call again the kids are just going to hear us fight. Their gonna hear her screaming their gonna hear me yelling at her possibly if the kids are on your side and you think you're doing better for the kids keeping the whole big fight away from them.
TS: Graehling says caseworkers and court clerks have told him that judgments rarely go against the mother. He also says he's viewed court documents that negatively categorize him. But Graehling says he has to keep fighting to be an equal parent. He just joined Fathers and Mothers For Equal Rights, a non-profit organization that tries to restore equal rights for both parents. Neal Grossman is the director. Grossman came to the organization after a 5-year court battle with his wife ended with him and his ex-wife sharing joint custody of their kids.
Neal Grossman: I got out of the court system in 1999, mine started in '94. I spent five years, $56,000 to stay the parent to my children.
TS: Grossman is now a licensed mediator with Mediation Services of America. He adds he has a good relationship with his ex-wife, but it took some work and not every situation is the same. Grossman says one of the problems is there is a stereotype that estranged fathers are “deadbeat” dads. Grossman says he's studied the connection between visitation and child support that leads to that stigma.
NG: Because the parents who are involved to their child's life know that the money is important to the well being of their child. But when they're denied their visitation and they're short on money the first thing they're going to say is nobody's protecting my rights the heck with the money.
TS: But some legal experts say the system is fair to fathers. John Schoonover is chairperson of the Family Law section of the Cuyahoga County Bar Association. He says Ohio law mandates that both parents have equal right to maintain their parental roles unless there are circumstances that will prevent that. For example if one of parents is incarcerated they won't be accessible to care for the child.
John Schoonover: If it's just a normal father he's going to have substantial privileges and rights with respect to the child in almost every case. The problem comes about when those rights are violated by the other parent then the court is the mechanism used to enforce those orders.
TS: Schoonover admits the biggest problem is the fact that it is a very personal and emotional situation. He adds most fathers want a quick fix because it's personal when they are denied access to their children on their day. Still Schoonover maintains the system works.
JS: I think it's faster than other types of civil cases for example business disputes or personal injury action. The typical post decree domestic relations case involving the enforcing of visitation rights would take 6 to 9 months whereas a civil tort case or civil business case will likely take a year.
TS: Those who still unsatisfied with the current legal system and father's rights are trying to change things. The Ohio Child Support Reform Shareholders' Group met recently with a parents sub-committee to discuss ways to make the legal process more efficient for both parents. Members of the group interviewed 50 people last week to come up with long term realistic solutions to current problems. The group plans to take 40 recommendations on child support reform to the state legislature later this year. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN News.