BANGKOK — In tears, the elfin face of celeb singer and actor Pirat “Mike” Nitipaisakul spoke to the press about how he had to resort to waiting at airports, condo lobbies, and in front of his son’s school – just to see his own child.
Over the past week, Mike has been fighting in court for the custody of his 6-year-old son Maxwell, who is currently in full custody of the mother, celeb Sarah Casinghini. The case has spilled into the public attention and raised a rare spotlight on the paternal rights under Thai laws, which value a mother over a father by default.
“I discussed sharing the costs, but I never got an answer. To this day, I still don’t know what school my son goes to,” Mike said in an interview with Channel 3 on Thursday.
Mike said he wholly funded his child’s upbringing, yet Sarah prevented him from having a full relationship with his son. Sarah, on the other hand, has said that she thinks Maxwell will have the most stable childhood under her care.
Wirot Poonsuwan, a practicing attorney and contributor on Khaosod English, explained why in Thailand family cases default to the mother often having full custody, like in Mike and Sarah’s case.
The crucial point is that Mike and Sarah actually never registered their marriage. According to Article 1546 of the Civil and Commercial Code, a child born to an unmarried woman is deemed to be the woman’s legitimate child.
“The Thai law has a lot of pity and is very protective of the child,” Wirot said. “If the parents didn’t register the marriage, then by default the mother has custody. The law really trusts the mother.”
He continued, “Thai people might be afraid that the father might not take care of the child as well as the mother, causing the child to suffer.”
The father can only have custody and legalized fatherhood of the child if he and the mother formally registered their marriage. Wirot said this was unlike the United States of America, where proof of cohabitation is sufficient to count towards both parents receiving guardianship of the child.
Article 1548 of the same code says that if the father applies for legitimization, both the mother and child must give their consent. If they do not respond to the request or are unable to give consent, then their consent is not given and his fatherhood is not legitimized.
Usually, local courts interpret this broad law by saying that a child over 7 is able to give their consent as to who their father should be. Maxwell is currently 6.
In his case, Mike can file for enforced visitation rights, legalization of his fatherhood, and joint child custody.
Not only that, Article 25 of the Act on Juvenile and Family Court states that in family cases involving children, one of the four judges must be a woman over 35 years old who is or has been a mother, or have worked in childcare or child welfare for at least three years.
Mike said that he paid around 1.7 million baht a year to Sarah to raise Maxwell, which included international school tuition, a private driver, full-time nanny, living costs, and a condo in Bangkok.
Sarah’s lawyer said Thursday that Sarah had six demands for Mike, which included funding Maxwell until he finished his doctorate and not using Maxwell to make money.
Wirot says cases where the father fights for custody is quite uncommon in Thailand. In many cases, the unmarried father abandons the family, or the minor wife sues the father, demanding that the father legitimize fatherhood over his child.
Mike first rose to fame in the 2000s as a member of pop duo “Golf Mike,” together with his brother Pitchaya “Golf” Nitipaisalkul. He also had a successful career in acting; his fanbase includes those from China.
However, Mike said in the Channel 3 interview that he had had to take large financial cuts this year due to the coronavirus.
Mike’s manager posted a video of him Thursday hugging his brother Golf after opening up about his custody battles on Channel 3.
“My brother almost never cries. I’ve never seen him like this in my entire life, especially now that we are grown. It hurts so much. Stop hurting someone who is trying their best for their child,” Golf tweeted on Thursday.
But if Mike hopes to co-opt the press to build sympathy for his case, there’s little he can achieve. Article 153 of the Act on Juvenile and Family Court outlaws media publication of family court cases “to aid the proceedings of family cases.”