Dear Mrs Macaulay:
I am a 23-year-old living in Canada where I attend university for my degree in criminology. I have two children; my son is seven and my daughter is six. My son lives with me and my daughter lives with her dad in Jamaica. I am currently the sole provider for my son because his father died a few years ago; both children have different fathers. I send J$6,000 each month to maintain my daughter. I also send her clothes, food and whatever else she might ask for from here once every year. I pay for her trips and such whenever [her father] calls for money as well. I sent him $6,000 as usual on April 3 for her to go to school. He later called and told me that her registration fee is $5,000. I paid it. He called again and said that her graduation fee is another $5,000 and so I [got] curious as to how there are so many fees all of a sudden. [I learnt later] that the graduation fee was actually $4,000 and it covered everything; I had to call the school to find that out.
On my son's birthday — the last day of April — [my daughter's father] called me and told me that he didn't have any money to send my daughter to school. I told him that I didn't have any money so I was going to borrow the money from my mom because I didn't want her to miss school. I started getting curious [again] because the month hadn't even finished yet and he was already broke. I told him that he had to send her to school from his pocket for the next month (May) because I didn't have any money. The week of Labour Day, he called and told me that she only went to school for the first two days and she wouldn't be going again because I am not maintaining her.
I have been here for five years and I have sent so much money down there. [The more] I send money, the more he calls and tells me that something else is wrong. He has another child that will be starting high school in September. He does not live with him because his mom took him to live with her; they are now in court for child support. To my understanding, I am maintaining both him and his other child. He lives in an extended family home with his mother and he doesn't have a job. Each time I call, he tells me that there is nothing for him to do because nobody is able to babysit my daughter. Can you advise me on my legal rights?
I must urge you to try and make it possible for your daughter to join you and her half-brother in Canada. I am very concerned for your little girl's safety and welfare.
If he is taking all and at times some of the monies you send him for her support, which has already resulted in her education being disrupted, this is very serious. What else is he doing which is or are adverse to her overall development? I do not like the sound of this man. I do not think a girl-child, or a boy-child for that matter, should be left in his hands; I am reluctant to say 'in his care'.
No sensible person will accept that he cannot work because there is no-one to babysit your daughter. His excuse is so spurious. Do you really believe that he is actually staying at home to take care of her? In any event, if he ensures that she attends school, he can at least work part-time during those hours she is at school; that is if he really is a responsible father, which it is clear he is not. He could also engage in some form of independent business or trading in goods.
It seems to me, from the little you have said about his home situation, that it is highly likely that he is also living off his mother. Since he says there is no-one to babysit your daughter, it is reasonable to conclude that she goes out to work while he is idle. You have concluded that he is using the money you send for your daughter to provide for his other child. It may be so, but I doubt this. He is too selfish and adept at pushing his responsibility on others and he is dishonest in his handling of your daughter's money, which you entrust to him as your contribution for her care. Anyway, you say his other child's mother has care and control of her son and that she has applied to the court for him to contribute to the maintenance of his son.
If and when the court makes an order for him to contribute to his other child's maintenance, he will be sorely pressed to find whatever specific sum the court orders him to provide for that child, so that he is not in default and consequently in danger of being imprisoned. What then do you think will happen to the monies you send for your daughter? When he did not have the pressure of a court order, her money was not safe with him. Will it or any part of it be safely spent for her needs, with such a court order over his head?
Based on all the above, I am seriously advising you to apply for custody, care and control of your six-year-old daughter, so that you can have her with you in Canada and you can then be sure that you are doing everything yourself for her wholesome development. You should also apply for him to contribute to her maintenance. Then he can have access as is reasonable in yours, his and your daughter's circumstances.
You owe this to your daughter. Do not abandon her to the 'care' of someone who is patently acting against her best interests. Since you made enquiries and you know what you found out, you must act in your child's best interests by assuming her custody, care and control.
You can have your application prepared and filed here on your behalf and it can be fixed for hearing at a time when you can be here to attend court for the hearing. If it is not concluded then for whatever reason, you can ask the court to excuse your further attendance by explaining why you cannot return and ask for a trusted family member or other close trusted person to attend on your behalf. You should take such a person to the initial hearing with you, so that the court can call her or him in and vet them and get their consent to be there for you.
Please, act quickly. Do not leave your little girl with such a father. He is not a fit and proper person to be in charge of your child. He is letting her down and you must not do so the same. You have a duty to protect her from harm. You must, therefore, exercise your right to have custody, care and control of your child, and meet your obligation to her to always act in her best interests.
Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. Mrs Macaulay cannot give personal advice outside of this column.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your attorney.