Group seeks equal rights for dads

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 30, 2003

As an attorney, Robert Blair always felt a little ambivalent about the divorce cases he handled. “I was never comfortable with the winner-take-all mentality that surrounds so many divorce cases,” he explained.

Then Blair went through a divorce himself.

The vague feelings of ambivalence he had experienced began to crystallize into well defined feelings of anger at a judicial system that appeared to blatantly disregard the interests of fathers in most divorce cases.

Blair and his ex-wife share joint custody of their daughter, Alyson, 9. But shortly after the divorce, his ex-wife moved away from Selma, making it difficult for Blair to maintain the level of contact with his daughter that he formerly enjoyed.

“Although I’ve done nothing wrong, I’ve lost the ability to have a truly personal relationship with my own daughter,” Blair said, measuring his words carefully. “I no longer have the ability to do homework with her. I no longer have the ability to eat lunch with her at school.

“Certainly children need a primary residence, a place to put their toys. But at the same time children still need to be involved with both parents, and both parents need to continue to be involved with the child.”

Roused to action by what he saw as the fundamental unfairness of the judicial system, Blair began to organize AlaDads, a group of mostly disaffected fathers who found themselves in the same situation. Then he learned of the Alabama Family Rights Association, a statewide organization pursuing similar goals.

“They started out, in essence, as a bunch of mad dads,” Blair said. “But they quickly found out there were grandparents who were upset at losing contact with their grandchildren following a divorce. And there were mothers, as well as dads, who were losing custody of their children.

“Just because two folks can’t live together doesn’t mean that these moms and dads and grandmothers and grandfathers are willing to lose contact with their children and their grandchildren.”

Blair currently serves as state public policy chairman for AFRA. The group is championing a legislative package known as the Alabama Parent-Child Relationship Protection Act of 2003.

The proposed bill would require the custodial parent to file notification of any intention to relocate with the non-custodial parent and to provide proof that such a move is in the best interests of the child.

Blair said the group is based upon the premise that children need both parents, even after divorce.

“There is a growing interest in that whole idea on the part of dads who love their children and who want to be more than just a paycheck,” he said. “We’re part of our children’s lives. We’re part of our family’s lives.”

He added that the group also seeks to educate both parents about ways to protect the interests of children in a divorce, such as the importance of not using children as a weapon to get back at a former spouse.

“All too often parents try to alienate children against the other parent – to the point that the children feel they have to take sides,” he said. “That’s not healthy for the child and it’s not healthy for the parents.”

Blair said the local chapter of AFRA meets the first and third Tuesdays of each month at 6 p.m. at Cooper Memorial Church, 102 Cooper Drive.

“We’re non-denominational, non-race, non-income – it doesn’t matter. All you gotta be in interested in your children.”