After five years of seeking custody of his now, 7-year-old, daughter, after he and his mother became concerned about the child's living conditions, Hogan was finally reunited with his daughter on Friday—a process he says was strenuous and complicated.

Both parents should have the right to develop a close and loving bond with their children. Unfortunately for June Hogan, he claims he didn’t have that right.

After five years of seeking custody of his now, 7-year-old, daughter, after he and his mother became concerned about the child’s living conditions, Hogan was finally reunited with his daughter on Friday—a process he says was strenuous and complicated.

Hogan’s mother, Leatrice Alexander, said her son had been trying to see his daughter since 2016.

Until 2019, Arkansas law automatically awarded custody to the mother if the child was born out of wedlock. Unmarried fathers did not automatically have that right under family law.

“A father has rights to see his child just like a mother has rights to see her child,” said Alexander who said her granddaughter never returned from a visit as a toddler.

Legislation filed in Little Rock last year aimed to do away with what parental equality advocates call "gender discrimination" when it comes to custody battles surrounding children born outside of marriage in 2019.

A biological father provided he has established paternity in a court of competent jurisdiction, may petition the circuit court in the county where the child resides for custody of the child.

“We’ve been going to court since 2016,” said Alexander. “My granddaughter had a lawyer, I had a lawyer, my son had a lawyer and we had a mediator. We spent all this money all these years to get her.”

Though Alexander can’t pinpoint what took so long, she suggests various scenarios including family law.

Alexander said as time progressed, visits with her granddaughter became non-existent for her son and that’s when she decided to get a lawyer.

“As a grandmother, I also had rights,” said Alexander. “I was to have my granddaughter every other weekend and every Wednesday of the week. That was the court-ordered agreement.”

Both Hogan and Alexander believe a new relationship that the mother started began to interfere with their arrangement.

“I was hurt when I couldn’t see my baby anymore, especially not knowing why the mom took her and never brought her back,” said Hogan.

Alexander said her son’s battle for custody dragged on for five years. She alleges the mother was in a relationship with another man that was unfit for her granddaughter which teachers also became aware of.

Court documents obtained by the Pine Bluff Commercial states on March 17, the final hearing to establish custody, the mother did not show up.

“She would purposely not show up to court on a number of cases,” said Alexander. “My son was given temporary custody then but was never able to get his child.”

Hogan believes it is because there were two different counties involved resulting in a back in forth confusion on his part.

“The first time I was told there was nothing they could do about it because it was in Jefferson County but the papers were signed for Arkansas County,” said Hogan.

Alexander said her son became discouraged but she stayed in the fight for him. She said months went by to no avail and then when COVID-19 hit Arkansas, it put a delay in the progress due to limited to no court access.

“I had court-ordered docs and made phone calls to different law enforcement agencies for months in Pine Bluff and Arkansas County--no one could help,” said Alexander. “I got in my feelings and I said I’m going to call until I get some help. I called all day and night.”

Alexander said she finally got in touch with a law official in Pine Bluff who directed her to have her lawyer resend her court documents.

“We didn’t receive an order until Friday, May 15th,’ said Sherriff’s Office Civil/Warrants Sergeant Kashonda Thompkins. “It is possible that COVID-19 delayed the process due to courts being closed. Once the order was received from Attorney Christopher W. Hayes, it was served 15 minutes later.”

Hogan said when he got the phone call Friday he left work immediately to Pine Bluff.

“I was full of joy when I saw my baby,” said Hogan. “Once they brought her out and she got in the car, she talked me all the way from Pine Bluff to Stuttgart.”

Alexander said that night, they made up for lost time staying up all night talking.

“She stayed up all night with her sisters and brothers and was glad to be home,” said Alexander.

Alexander states their story is important and to never give up on the fight, no matter how hard the journey is.

Led to believe her granddaughter would one day come home, Alexander said she worried over the years but thankful God kept her granddaughter safe, despite the living conditions.

“We were one of the blessed families,” said Alexander. “There was a father with a similar situation and the system failed him. His daughter ended up dead by the mom’s boyfriend. I thank God for allowing us to get her back.”

Hogan adds for fathers who want to be active in their child’s life, it can be a complicated matter, but the payoff will be worth it.

“Having my daughter home with me is the best thing that has happened to me right now,” said Hogan. “Fathers have rights too.”