“The law in most states starts with a presumption that both parents are entitled to equal custody but the reality feels somewhat different for many fathers.”
Let’s talk stereotypes for a minute. The man financially supports the family and the woman takes care of the kids. That’s not reality anymore (was it ever?) but yet courts seem to forget that more times than not.
Do dads get a bad rap when it comes to divorce and custody?
For the record, I’m a happily married man and father of a beautiful little girl. I hope I never find myself getting divorced, but this article is for those dads who are in a divorce right now, or might be in the future. You never know what the future may hold, so you might as well prepare as best you can now.
Even though the law in most states starts with a presumption that both parents are entitled to equal custody, the reality feels somewhat different for many fathers going through the divorce process.
As a divorce attorney, I’ve had the opportunity to witness how courts treat dads compared to the moms when it comes to custody. The law is neutral, however the people who apply the law…not always the case. This is not going to be a rant on Judges. Like everything else in life, there are good and bad ones. Think of it this way:
Judges are just people who wear black robes, sit higher than everyone else and have a gavel.
Oh, and they get to make decisions that permanently affect your life. Like the rest of us, Judges have their own biases that either consciously or subconsciously come into play when they are making decisions regarding which parent has custody of the children.
When I’m in court, I notice that the fathers, whether they are model parents, or deadbeat dads, seem to have a tougher time convincing Judges that they are entitled to equal custody. In cases where fathers are seeking primary custody, that’s even tougher. I’m not saying dads never get custody, but I think it’s harder for them than moms.
If that’s the case, then us fathers have to do more and go above and beyond so that if we ever find ourselves in the unenviable position of fighting for custody of our children, we are in the best position to convince a Judge that we deserve it. And when I say fight for custody, I mean equal custody, not primary. From my perspective as a divorce attorney, dads seem to have a higher standard to prove in court in order to get what the law presumes we all have right now.
As a father, it bothers me that I can live a good life, be a good dad and still have to worry about not getting equal physical custody of my daughter in a divorce. I’ve played an active role in my daughter’s life since she was born and have cared for her just as much as her mother. (Mom may disagree at times when she feels like sweeping the floor and dad just wants to watch the game…but I digress).
I can think of nothing more gut wrenching than a father who is a daily active participant in his child’s life dealing with the new reality that a court is going to give him less than equal time because there is a divorce.
The harsh reality of divorce is that one marital household is now splitting into two separate households. The children can only be at one house at a time. Parties getting divorced are forced to negotiate a parenting time schedule and if they can’t agree, the court will create one.
While most parties do eventually agree on a parenting schedule, if you find yourself faced with the court choosing it for you, you need to be able to have ammunition (proofs) ready and available to convince the court to grant you the parenting schedule you are requesting.
That being said, here are five pieces of fatherly/lawyerly advice to keep in mind:
- Keep a log of the duties you take care of at home. For example, do you feed the baby (how often), do you do laundry, make meals, read stories, play one on one? Call it a man diary, but keeping records can pay dividends if you go to court.
- Don’t get into frequent yelling matches with your spouse or ex in front of the children. First, and most importantly, it’s not good for them to see, but second, it opens up the opportunity for her to record you and use it against you in court. Just not worth it, but easier said than done…so be mindful.
- Don’t open yourself up to being on the wrong end of a domestic violence complaint. This is a touchy subject that I could spend hours on , but do what you can not to put yourself in a bad spot. This coincides with number 2.
- Love your children. When they get older and if you are still dealing with custody issues with your ex (unfortunately, this happens) a court may choose to speak with the children about the home environment and your relationship. Typically, courts lean toward not including children in custody matters, but if the child is a teenager, it’s possible they will because a child will most likely give the most honest answer to the Judge’s questions about the home environment and your parenting style.
Always spend money on the children. What do I mean by this? If you pay child support and your ex asks you to contribute to summer camp, or an extra-curricular activity, which was not contemplated or included in the child support calculations, then do it if you can afford to. Keep records of all payments you make. Courts don’t like to see father’s who refuse to pay for their kids when they are able to do so. See number 4.
Following these rules may seem like common sense, but believe me, a lot of fathers out there ignore them, or just don’t care. If you are dealing with custody and you care about your kids, these rules will put you in the best position to get what you want in a custody hearing.
It basically comes down to being a good dad and putting your children first. Of course, if you get a biased Judge with an agenda…I’ll write about that in another article.