“The Center gave me a chance to be a father.”

Lucas* always wanted to be a part of his daughter Mia’s* life. But, Mia’s mother and her family did not share his plan. Starting from her birth, they tried at every turn to keep Lucas out of her life. Driven by his love for Mia, Lucas sought help from the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law. Now, Lucas shares custody of his daughter and spends every weekend with her, building a family bond that was previously denied to both of them.

Shattered Dreams

While Lucas and his girlfriend were in high school, she became pregnant. Lucas was thrilled and went to the doctor’s appointments when she allowed him to go. After school hours, Lucas worked to save money to buy formula and diapers when the baby was born. Although Lucas was present at Mia’s birth, his girlfriend would not let him sign the voluntary declaration of paternity which would have established Lucas as the legal father. For months after her birth, Lucas saw his infant daughter for a few hours each week when her mother permitted it. Lucas worried that he would be shut out of Mia’s life and vowed to be the father to her that he never had. A caseworker from a program he participated in suggested he call the Harriett Buhai Center.

Establishing His Parental Rights

The Center began work on his parentage case, but Mia’s mother, with an attorney, filed for a restraining order against Lucas alleging that he wanted to take Mia away. The Center’s pro bono attorney, Liz Lopez, represented Lucas, and the court denied their request. The Center’s volunteer lawyer helped him obtain an order for  joint legal custody and a graduated supervised visitation plan. Lucas did his best to complete the plan, but he could not afford the costs of supervised visits nor always have a family member present as the judge required. Mia’s mother and her family did not answer his pleas to compromise. Then, Covid stopped everything.

Creating Family Bonds

After Lucas got on his feet and the courts reopened, the Center found another pro bono attorney, Randi Akasaki, to finish his case. Lucas’ second pro bono attorney provided by the Center helped him obtain a court order to put his name on Mia’s birth certificate and for a new, more flexible visitation plan after Lucas fulfilled certain  orders from  the judge.  

“I was alone at 17, with no help, thinking I would never have a relationship with my daughter,” Lucas says. “The Center gave me a chance to be a father. I will always be grateful for that.”

*Names have been changed to protect client privacy.

June 2022