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“Government must do more to help left behind fathers”

WILLEMSTAD – When Jerry van Haagen comes home one day and sees that his ex-girlfriend’s and their daughter’s stuff (1) is gone, he immediately feels bad about it. His fear appears to be well-founded; two days later he finds her and their daughter at the airport. She moves back to the Netherlands without consulting him.

Coach Gwen Leuteria helps fathers like Jerry. She voluntarily gives courses to fathers about what the father role entails and that father entails his rights and duties. “The government should do more, for example offer courses,” says Leuteria. “Research is done into the father role, but no tools are given to fathers.”

Intensive and expensive
legal proceedings Jerry has an application for a pro bono lawyer to get his daughter back. But such a process is intensive, emotional and expensive, warns lawyer Achim Henriquez. It is exactly a year ago that Henriquez was able to hold his children in his arms again. A few months earlier, his children had moved to the Netherlands with their mother without his permission. Henriquez and his girlfriend Olga Kostrzewski, also a lawyer, know the law and knew how to quickly initiate a process to get the children back.

Henriquez and Kostrzewski have the knowledge and resources to start the process, but this does not apply to most fathers who end up in this situation.

Fathers not automatic custody
In both cases, despite the fact that both fathers did not give permission to mother to move the children to the Netherlands, there was no kidnapping. Henriquez and Van Haagen acknowledged the children at birth but did not apply for parental authority separately. According to the law, in the absence of a marriage, fathers do not automatically have parental authority over the children. And that is something that many fathers do not know, or something that many fathers have not (yet) requested out of good faith.

The parental authority of a father must be officially applied for through the court. It is arranged by law that as an unmarried mother you automatically get parental authority over your child, provided that the mother is of age, not under guardianship and has no mental disorder.

Despite no authority, but rights
Fathers often do not know what their rights are in a situation where the mother decides to move to the Netherlands with the child. “Taking care of your child and dealing with your child for many years means that even though you have no authority, there is a right to continue that situation in the best interests of the child,” says Henriquez.

In other words, if the parent charged with the custody alone decides to change the place of residence in such a way that the access arrangements are disrupted, this may not be in the best interests of the child.

In the case of both fathers, the mother was legally able to move to the Netherlands with the child, without needing written permission from the father. At customs they have no legal grounds to stop mother, but that does not mean that as a father you have no opportunity to challenge this. “The strange thing is, it is unlawful (so not legal) but you have to get right, you don’t have it automatically,” says Henriquez.

Day of the Man
This year 34 men attended lectures at Leuteria. November 19th it is the International Day of the Man. On this day she will organize a fundraising event to be able to officially set up her ‘Fathers of Curaçao’ foundation. The aim of the foundation is to help fathers in the emotional, educational and legal fields.

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