Single fathers seek compromise during pandemic

President of the Single Fathers' Association Rhondell Feeles. -
President of the Single Fathers' Association Rhondell Feeles. -

IF THERE was ever a time for parents in dispute to put their pride aside and work together in the interest of their children's welfare, it's now, says president of the Single Fathers' Association of TT, Rhondell Feeles.

It may even mean both parents not fully complying with court orders, at least temporarily, Feeles suggested, in a recent address to the association's membership.

The association held discussions with the judiciary recently where its members expressed concerns about custody and child maintenance matters, in the midst of the covid19 pandemic. The judiciary said all current orders remain in place.

Feeles said, "I encourage custodial parents, if you knew honestly that the non-custodial parent (poses) a lesser risk (to the child), although we cannot really determine the risk sometimes, I think now is the time for parents to really co-parent.

The unusual circumstances, he said, call for parents to use their common sense instead of "court order sense," as it was "inevitable" that issues would arise, given that some parents would be forced to remain at home, from Monday, while others are expected to work if they are providing an essential service.

"From our perspective, we believe parents would use their discretion," he said.

The elephant in the room, however, is the issue of child maintenance.

"It is critical," Feeles added, "that even during this pandemic, that children are maintained and financially supported."

But he said there are major concerns about the ability to pay maintenance to the courts, given the restrictions on movement, and in many cases, a considerable loss of jobs and income, making it difficult for a parent to pay the required amount.

"Because, we know a warrant can be taken out for your arrest (for not paying maintenance) and you can be sent to prison."

Addressing maintenance, he encouraged all affected to use the Courtpay system, a remote electronic payment system for the courts.

"The genesis of us lobbying for this (Courtpay system), was that men and women...did not have to face the long lines, waste work time, for payment and collection," Feeles said.

Information on how to register can be found on the association's social media pages and on the judiciary's website.

Feeles said when the association met with the judiciary he noted that some parents with court orders would have been or will be gravely impacted by covid19 itself, if not the restrictions being enforced by government, as it pertains to people working.

"We spoke with the judiciary because we understand that this (non-payment of maintenance) is an arrestable offence...I must say, the representatives from the judiciary, they did understand that sentiment and they had already been working to put something in place," he said.

Feeles admitted to agreeing with the judiciary's view that it would be difficult to make a blanket exception in the case of payment of maintenance.

"It could lead to a lot of problems, which we understand. (But) what we understood also, is that there must be way for cases to be heard when someone gets themselves into this issue that they didn't plan for," he said, citing taxi drivers and self-employed people as examples.

"What they have been working on," Feeles said,"is getting a virtual and remote court system."

On Friday, the judiciary announced the temporary closure of all courts effective the same day as in order to "reconfigure its operations" but remains open for emergency cases.

The judiciary said further guidance will be provided on Tuesday.


"Single fathers seek compromise during pandemic"

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