Joseph Fernandez, 47, of Warwick, along with a growing number of men, feel like they are at a disadvantage as fathers when it comes to custody over their child. Together, they are the Rhode Island Fathers' Rights Movement and advocating
Joseph Fernandez, 47, of Warwick, along with a growing number of men, feel like they are at a disadvantage as fathers when it comes to custody over their child. Together, they are the Rhode Island Fathers’ Rights Movement and advocating for family court reform as well as for equal parenting to be the standard in custody cases.
“Sometimes I feel there is this assumption within the court that as a dad I don’t want to be in the picture,” Fernandez said. “We love our children, we want to be in their lives, we shouldn’t have to beg to be parents.”
Fernandez has been fighting for more time with his 4-year-old daughter since 2012 and, finding he wasn’t the only one struggling with custody issues, began the Rhode Island Fathers’ Rights Movement, which has connected with likeminded groups from across the country, a movement that is now “38 states strong.”
The group acts as a supportive community for fathers to discuss their own experiences as well as sharing best practices and advice. The group has helped to reunite some fathers with their children
The initiative is not trying to “bash women” or take children away from mothers – they even have female members. Rather, the group wants their fair share of parenthood, with equal custody being the norm without “extraneous circumstances” and reform in family court, Fernandez said.
“If there isn’t a history of criminal activity, violence, substance abuse or mental illness, why shouldn’t a father have the right to see their child? We shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars in court just to be in our children’s lives,” he said. “It’s hard to go up against the courts alone, but together we are advocating for change. All we want is time with our children.”
Even when a court decision falls in the favor of the father, it often takes months, possibly years, to reach it and throughout that time a parent is being alienated from their child, and the father is missing out on being a part of their child’s life. All the while, Fernandez argues that lawyers and the court are making a profit.
Many fathers may not be able to afford a lawyer and the costs associated with going to court, but the movement questions if a father should be denied his “human right to father their children.”
He said that invested parents and the court are all working towards the same goal, to do what is in the best interest of the children. From his own experiences, Fernandez said the court should be focusing on fathers running away from their responsibility, not the one’s who are embracing it and want to be a regular part of their children’s lives.
“We are dads, not visitors,” Fernandez said.
Everyone in the group wants to be involved in their children’s lives, to share the responsibility of rearing a child with their respective mothers equally. They are against “alienating a loving parent or guardian.”
“We provide support and compassion. We want to steer people in the right direction instead of going towards a downhill road. We keep their heads up; remind others to keep fighting even when these issues leave them downtrodden, Fernandez said. “We are doing this for fathers, mothers and grandparents. This could happen to anyone, to you, your sister, brother, maybe even your own child one day. We just want to see our kids. It helps to know you’re not alone.”
For more information, reach out to the Rhode Island Fathers’ Rights Movement’s Facebook Page, “Rhode Island’s Fathers’ Rights.” The page has about 600 followers.