Monday, September 19, 2005

Truce for custody battles - Pennsylvania

Truce for custody battles -


In their fight for increased access to their children, Fisher and many other noncustodial parents, mostly fathers, have received legal help from the Fathers Collaborative, a new joint venture of University of Pittsburgh's School of Law and Goodwill Industries of Pittsburgh.

Since June 2004, the collaborative has helped 370 parents to calm down and talk, reach agreements with each other and gain greater access to or even custody of their children. The effort is sponsored by a grant from the state Department of Public Welfare's Bureau of Child Support Enforcement.

Parents seeking help are evaluated by a specialist at Goodwill regarding their income, employment and family situations. Only those individuals who make less than $22,500 annually can qualify for help.

The parents also must agree to have child support deducted from their paychecks.

Gruener emphasized that by law parents are allowed to see their children even if they owe child support.

"Although the law doesn't make that connection," said Gruener, "people connect those two all the time."

"When you go in and you're a father, the court has two stereotypes of you: You want to get even with (the mother) by taking away the kid, or you want to pay less child support," said Kevin Sheahen, who heads the local chapter of the National Congress for Fathers and Children. "It's not on the court's horizon that you want to be a dad."

The courts don't track the proportion of mothers who have custody, but "it's safe to say the vast majority of the custodial parents are mothers," Gruener said.

With the collaborative's help, Anthony Gan, of the East End, gained primary custody of his 15-year-old son within a year. He tried for a decade before with no success.

"It does a lot for my self-esteem and his self-esteem," Gan said. "Now he has a role model."

Although it took one mediation session for Fisher and his wife to agree on joint custody of David, Fisher said the legal backing he got from the collaborative also helped assure his wife that he would play by the rules.

"It brings us some closure so we didn't have to argue over how many days 'Tiger' gets to spend with me," said Lorena Walker, who is in divorce proceedings with Fisher. "It made us come to an agreement."

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