Child support cases and custody battles in the United States, at one point, were very straightforward. Mothers were given custody of the child or children because they were deemed better suited to provide stability. The fathers were ordered to pay child support and provided with visitation. But more recently, the topic of child support, custody and family has become more and more complex. While many Black men continue to combat and disprove the myth that they are all abandoning their children, the narrative remains the same. On top of that, many have stepped up to reclaim and reimagine what it means to be a Black father in this country. But for some, despite such efforts, the courts are unyielding when it comes to primary custody and what’s in the best interest of the child.
A friend of mine is in the midst of a court battle to be the custodial parent of his child. He doesn’t have a good relationship with his child’s mother, which has made co-parenting arrangements extremely difficult for him. But in terms of being a great caregiver, he’s stepped up and assumed that responsibility. As a single working father, he’s provided for his child. He’s covered medical expenses, childcare services, food, and clothing. He has a beautiful relationship with his daughter, and he wants to have her with him as primary guardian. But my friend is struggling with a biased court system that believes his child should be with the mother because she has been her from the very beginning. He feels this is unfair and has pleaded his case, stating that the child’s mother has proven herself to be unfit on more than one occasion. However, his pleas have gone unheard. This story and fight are more common than you think.
In 2014, a Texas man was sentenced to six months in prison for overpaying in child support after trying to cover payments he missed due to a clerical error in the automated withdrawals for support through his job. Come to find out, the automatic withdrawals were only happening sporadically, which Clifford Hall wasn’t aware of. When he received a notice of past-due support, he paid what he owed, and provided an additional $1,000 to ensure that he would stay in the clear. But it wasn’t enough. This story sparked outrage when Hall was sentenced, despite catching up on all his payments before his court date. Hall was eventually released in July of last year on a suspended sentence and placed on probation. This very bizarre situation brings to light that even when a single Black father is doing right by his child, there are still stereotypes in place that tell a narrative of his shortcomings, and laws in place that make him out to be the villain.
According to a report done by the CDC, Black fathers are 82 percent more likely to play with their children on a daily basis. They are 67 percent more likely to talk to their children about their day on a daily basis, and they are also 40 percent more likely to provide homework help to their children on a daily basis. So with these statistics that should be celebrated, and men like Hall and my friend, why then is the prevailing belief and only stories being shared that Black men are absent in their child’s life? Who is writing their narratives and shedding light on their presence in the Black community as fathers and role models?