SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - The fight for parenthood can be a brutal one, especially after divorce or separation. Most divorces put children in the middle of a fight over who will have primary custody. If the split isn't amicable, a child custody battle can brew for years and years.
During this fight, fathers are often left in the trenches, fending for themselves. Some fathers are given a bad reputation and labeled "Dead Beat Dads" when they aren't seen as being involved in the child's day to day activities. But, is it a case of not wanting to be in their child's life or not being allowed to enter it in the first place?
That's the case for 33 year old Conrad James.
James, who has four children, says three of his children are from his now ex-wife. He also has an older daughter from a previous relationship. Since his divorce, James has only been able to see two of his children successfully.
He says seeing his oldest daughter has been a challenge since she was born- 13 years ago. He believes her mother's hesitations sparked from his absence when his daughter was born.
"At that age, I was not mature. As the baby aged, I still neglected," James said. "When the baby turned eight months old, I stepped up and became a father. From then on, I've been there in the baby's life, trying to be apart of her life."
"Now, I am still part of it. I just have to go around her mother," he added.
It's a problem Sharron Jarmon with Faith in Fathers says she hears far too often. Young fathers who want a chance at fatherhood are often blocked by mothers or circumstance.
"Mothers, even if they're paying child support, won't let them see their children because they're upset because they're no longer in a relationship with them," Jarmon said.
Jarmon says the grant program started after noticing a high number of juveniles in court with absentee fathers. She says in 2011 the numbers reached as high as 80 percent. President Obama initiated the Responsible Fatherhood Grant Program, that grant led to Faith in Fathers in Caddo Parish.
Jarmon says they've had success in helping low-income fathers and non-custodial mothers reconnect with their children. Since the organization's beginning, she has seen fathers as young as 16-years-old come to them for help.
"We know that fathers are significant and play a large role in the development of children. When fathers are there, children are better in school, girls do better in math, there is less truancy, less teenage pregnancy, less drug use," Jarmon said.
Program participants attend parenting classes to gain better parenting skills or to improve the skills they already have. They also provide opportunities for both mother and father to spend time with their children. The program also offers legal advice and coaches parents on how to handle themselves in court.
It also supplies a mediator for the couple if they can't come to terms on how to handle joint custody of a child. Dr. Bruce McCormick says often the grudge held between two parents can lead to turmoil for the child.
"Anger, hurt and hate is viewed by the mother as overwhelming evidence that the father is the lowest form of life and just doesn't have any right to be with the child, and that it would be detrimental for the child, McCormick said. "Often times those fears are exaggerated."
He says often times, the problem between two adults put the children at risk. But, when mothers or fathers attempt to keep their children away from the other parent, it typically backfires.
"Kids just do better when they have two parents. We are, I think, biologically programmed," McCormick said.
"It may not be politically desired, but the fact is kids do best in a family where the parents love each other, love their children and take care of that. Anything short of that is less than optimal," he said.
But seeing the child is often a matter that is left to the courts, especially in cases of divorce. Sherry Palmer and Ron Palmer, Strategic Parental Rights Coach and co-author of "Not in the Child's Best Interest," believe the courts shouldn't intrude on the rights of families.
"The courts assume that divorce gives them all of these rights to take away the rights of fit parents, the rights of children, the right of this judge to substitute their personal or private opinion, their biased opinion for those of the fit parents," the Palmers said.
Through their new book called "Protecting Parent/Child Bonds," they believe there should be a constitutional amendment setting the standard on when the courts can intervene.
"What they're trying to do is to say that your rights to your children belong to the state, and the state can issue those out to anybody they choose and that's just plain false," they said.
"They automatically assume that one parent is not going to support their child and they issue child support for one of the parents to pay to the other parent. That deprives that parent that is having to pay the child support the ability to have the control and the custody time with that child just like the other parent, and it deprives that child from that parent's influence," the couple said.
So what happens when the parent does pay child support and is in line with the courts but is still deprived of their rights as a parent? That's when Private Investigators Robert Weltz and Richard Brooks are called. Weltz says usually if they are investigating a custody case, they try to find things that are not in the best interest in the child.
"One of the parents smoking around the child, does one of the parents leave the child when they're supposed to have the custody during that week, are they having multiple sexual relationships, those kinds of things," Weltz said.
James, who now attends Faith in Fathers, says though the justice system does not seem to work in his favor, he will continue to pursue the fight all while learning his legal rights as a father.
"As fathers, we need to take the initiative, we don't need to sit around and wait for the court systems. We still have to deal with it, but we need to go above and beyond because the children will have to deal with it, they will see it," James said. "When they get older they will be able to know, 'My daddy actually fought for me. He didn't have to fight physically but he fought; he made kind of attempt.'"