Online petition backs rights of fathers here in custody cases

Not just women face discrimination based on their sex, says the leader of a fathers’ rights group, Arcelio Hernández. The local lawyer who works on custody and child support court cases posted an online petition Monday morning intended to make Poder Judicial adjust Costa Rica’s child support law, Ley de Pensiones Alimentarias, so to avoid perceived patriarchal discrimination.

“With parental rights we are at a huge disadvantage,” Hernández said. “Usually it’s women that are claiming rights issues, but in custody cases it’s the man who faces prejudice.”

In pursuit of 5,000 signatures, Hernández and his group Equality of Rights for Men are petitioning because they deem stipulations in the law to be unconstitutional. According to the law, Ley 7654, indefinite detainments can be issued to those unable to come up with required child support payments even without prior conviction. The lawyer has filed a Sala IV appeal against this provision.

Hernández said this targets fathers, as currently 310 men are in La Reforma prison for failing to comply with child support laws, compared to only four mothers. Factors like illness or joblessness that used to play into the law are now viewed as excuses and overlooked by judicial rule. he said.

“These 310 men are victims of a system that does not provide them any chance to pay,” he said. “It’s not that they don’t want to pay. It’s that they can’t.”

In terms of custody battles he added that judges often rule for children to stay with their mother, citing reasons of customary belief over actual experience or law. “There’s a general attitude that kids are better off with their mother,” Hernández said.

This negative stereotype stuck to fathers in court puts many at risk

Man carries son in march Saturday and wears a shirt that says "Shared custody: a win-win solution."

Man carries son in march Saturday and wears
a shirt that says “Shared custody: a win-win solution.”

of having no access to see  their children or even facing prison sentences.

Many women have jumped aboard in support of these fathers, Hernández said, although some women’s rights advocates see it asan affront from the more dominant and privileged demographic group.

With concerns growing, protesters marched through Paseo Colón and Avenida Segunda Saturday in support of fathers marginalized by the court system. Another fathers’ rights group, Fundación Instituto de Apoyo al Hombre, contributed to the demonstration.

Hernández has been working to support divorcee father rights since 2001 and created Equality of Rights for Men 10 years later to bring to light what he said are repeated injustices facing fathers in the country.

“We were born men, and because of that we’re treated with prejudice by the court system,” he said. “It’s not an easy position to defend. But I’ve seen so many cases come through that I have to defend it.”

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