If you are a father who is going through a breakup or divorce from the mother of your child, you might be worried that you will lose your rights as a father. The good news is that in many cases, fathers’ rights are respected and seen as just as important as mothers’ rights. There are steps you can take to ensure that you do not lose your rights to be present in your child’s life and to be a great dad. Read on to learn about these steps and also for advice on how to maintain a close relationship with your child.
Understand the Different Types of Custody
Your rights as a father depend on the type of custody arrangement that you have with your child’s mother. Ideally, both parents will have joint physical and legal custody of their child. Joint physical custody means that the child spends roughly equal (it might not be exactly 50/50) time with each parent. Joint legal custody means that both parents can make decisions regarding where the child goes to school, which religion (if any) the child is brought up with, which doctors to see, and so on. If you and your ex have an amicable relationship and you are both looking out for your child’s best interest, joint legal and physical custody would be a common outcome.
In some cases, however, one parent has sole physical or legal custody. This means that only the parent with sole custody will be making legal decisions for the child and the child will spend the bulk of his or her time with the custodial parent. Many times, the non-custodial parent will still have visitation rights. This means that even if your child’s mother has sole custody of your son or daughter, you can still see him or her on a regular schedule. The reverse is also true; if you have sole custody of your child, then your ex might have the right to visitation. In some cases, that visitation might be supervised, and in other cases, generally when there are extenuating circumstances such as child abuse or a substance abuse issue, there is no visitation granted to the noncustodial parent.
Think About Your Child’s Best Interest
As a caring dad, you undoubtedly want the best for your child. Evidence has shown that in most cases, it is best for a child to have a relationship with both parents. This is not necessarily the case when a parent has been abusive or when a parent is unable to safely be around the child, but in most cases, children do better when they are able to bond with their mothers and their fathers.
As far as custody and living arrangements are concerned, think about what is in your child’s best interest before you approach the court. For example, if your child’s mother is homeless or suffers from untreated severe mental illness, it might be in your child’s best interest to live with you and this is what you should consider asking for. In the opposite situation, if you are struggling with these problems, it is likely in your child’s best interest to live with his or her mother. Spend some time thinking about what would be healthiest for your child and be ready to petition the court for that outcome.
Work With Your Ex to Develop a Parenting Plan
When two separated parents work together to raise their shared child, it is called co-parenting. The best way to co-parent is to start with a parenting plan. This is a document that will detail where the child will live on which days or weeks, who will provide transportation, who will make which decisions, and other details of raising the child. Putting all of this in writing acts as protection later if a “he said/she said” situation develops. It also gives you a starting point for the times when disagreements occur. You can begin with what you’ve agreed to and make changes from there.
What to Do If You Have Supervised Visitation
Many dads feel demoralized if they start off being awarded supervised visitation. Try not to think this way! Supervised visitation means that you get to spend time and cultivate a relationship with your child. While you cannot have overnight visits at your house or take your child on vacation, you can still talk, play games, show physical affection to your child, and get to know him or her.
In some cases, supervised visitation can turn into unsupervised visitation. You might have been given a case plan or a list of conditions that must be met in order for you to see your child without a social worker or third party present. Look through this list and do your best to stick to the plan. Depending on your circumstances, you might have to spend some time in a rehabilitation center, take parenting or anger management courses, or work with a social worker to obtain adequate housing or mental health care. Following this plan can be challenging, but keep in mind that the end goal is a closer relationship with your child.
Make the Most of Your Relationship
Whether you have limited visitation, shared custody, or sole custody of your child, learning how to be a great dad will help you achieve a lifelong relationship with your son or daughter. Here are some tips on improving or maintaining your relationship:
- Learn what is important to your child. Respect and get to know more about your child’s interests. Attend his or her games, ask questions about hobbies, and play with the toys that your child loves.
- Create rituals. When your child is with you, create some routines that you always or frequently follow. It could be anything from what you have for dessert to where you go on Saturday afternoons to a special handshake that you use to greet each other.
- Respect your child’s mother. Yes, the two of you have broken up and there have likely been frustrations and disappointments along the way. All of that should be water under the bridge, however. Do not badmouth her in front of your child or treat her disrespectfully.
If you are not sure how you can save your rights as a father, contact National Family Solutions for help.