Organization helps fathers with legal aid during custody battles

Centennial Hills resident Josh Chesley plans to spend Father’s Day with his kids.

This time last year, that wasn’t possible.

“I had been put under a restraining order,” the 29-year-old construction project manager said. “I ended up with primary custody, but my ex-wife basically accused me of being a pedophile.

“She got a restraining order, did all that stuff. So I went a few weeks without seeing them — no phone calls, nothing. I missed my daughter’s birthday . Missed it all.”

The restraining order was thrown out a month later, but for Chesley — then embroiled in the second year of a battle for custody of his 4- and 8-year-old daughters — the move counts as one of many court-ordered invitations to give up.

Despite a near-daily 104-mile commute of two trips each way between his home on West Cheyenne Avenue and his daughters’ school in Henderson, not to mention hundreds of dollars in monthly child support, Chesley is glad he didn’t.

He sees his girls every Sunday through Wednesday and every other Saturday . He is one of more than 24,000 single fathers in the Las Vegas Valley, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“It was a nightmare,” Chesley said. “There were times where it would have been easier not to fight anymore, easier to just fall over and not see them, but I wanted to be there for my kids.

“It’s worth it . Every day, it’s worth it.”

Chesley said his brother is going through a similarly protracted divorce and describes his experience as “fairly typical.”

Las Vegas-based attorney Ed Miley, who said he has handled thousands of divorce separation cases, agreed.

“There’s plenty of abuse,” Miley said. “One of the games that’s played involves domestic violence: ‘Oh, he hit me, he’s an abuser,’ and if convicted, the presumption of custody would lie with the other party.

“There’s exaggerations on both sides in these situations — and the truth is probably somewhere in between — but a poor man’s divorce often comes in the form of those types of accusations.”

The latest census figures show fathers with joint custody agreements pay 90 percent of court-ordered child support in the U.S. while winning fewer than one in five sole custody disputes.

Miley remains optimistic that those numbers are beginning to level off.

“It’s not as bad as it used to be,” he said. “Actually, Nevada’s one of the better states because the (legal) presumption is joint physical custody. That’s not true everywhere.”

Decades of legislative tweaks, coupled with Nevada Supreme Court decisions in Rivero vs. Rivero and Osborn vs. Wright, have helped refine that legal presumption, making custody battles easier for Miley and other fathers’ rights attorneys.

But with single-father households on the rise by 126 percent statewide, business at Equal Rights for Divorced Fathers, a legal aid group at 23 N. Mojave Road, remains brisk.

The Las Vegas Valley claims the most single fathers per capita in the nation, a fact that Ernest del Casal, the group’s executive director, chalks up to the area’s high divorce rate and non traditional jobs.

“You have a situation now where women are involved in things they traditionally weren’t: drugs and alcohol, night shifts, a party lifestyle that wasn’t around before,” del Casal said. “What remains the same is the traditional adversary position in this state of, ‘He’s a drunk, she’s a tramp,’ and by the time we get to shared custody status, we’ve done so much name calling its hard to take it back.

“Don’t get me wrong. There are cases where a parent absolutely does not deserve joint custody, but if there are so many deadbeat dads, how is it we see between 35 and 50 dads every day who went to spend the time and the money to be with their kids?”

Del Casal, a vocal advocate for custody reforms for the better part of three decades, counts as something of a local fathers’ rights pioneer.

Del Casal took an interest in custody issues after fighting and winning a decades-long struggle for legal visitation rights to see his son.

Del Casal suggested that fathers have gained a lot of ground in the decades since the group was founded in 1982, but he stopped short of saying mothers had lost footing.

After all, he added, no one wins in a custody dispute.

“You can be pro-dad without being anti-mom,” del Casal said.

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at jdehaven@viewnews.com or 702-477-3839.

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