It’s a common belief that when parents get divorced, mothers take on the bulk of the childcare duties for their children. But while common, it’s an incorrect belief. Some people believe that mothers are just naturally better parents or better suited to parenting, while others may believe that legal custody proceedings are biased in favor of mothers. Neither belief is objectively true.
Research shows that outcomes for children are best when they have two parents actively involved in their lives, which means that fathers have an important role to play even after a divorce. And while at one time family courts ruled in favor of mothers, today’s courts treat both parents equally. Take a look at what fathers need to know about California child custody laws.
What Fathers Need to Know About Establishing Paternity in California
Fathers who are going to be pursuing custody will need to start by establishing paternity. Fathers who were married to their child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth are automatically presumed to be the father and don’t have to take any extra steps to establish paternity.
Unmarried fathers may have been asked to sign a voluntary declaration of paternity at the time of the birth or at some point after. If this was done, then the father should have been added to the birth certificate as the legal father and no further steps need to be taken to establish paternity.
Unmarried fathers who have not previously established paternity will need to do so in order to petition the court for custody or visitation. The court may order genetic testing in order to confirm paternity. Once paternity has been confirmed, the custody case can proceed.
Standards for California Child Custody and Visitation Rights
Under California child custody laws, fathers and mothers are considered equally eligible for custody or visitation. Family court judges make their decisions about custody based on the “best interests of the child” standard.
Generally, California courts favor custody and visitation arrangements that allow both parents to be involved in the child’s life. Unless one parent’s history or lifestyle poses some threat to the child’s health, safety, or well-being.
Often, custody decisions end with some type of joint custody arrangement that’s either agreed-upon by both parents and presented to the court for approval or that’s ordered by the court. This doesn’t necessarily mean that both parents equally share parenting time – much has to do with residence locations and schedules.
For example, if it takes several hours to drive from one parent’s home to the other’s. It may be more difficult to maintain a parenting schedule that gives both parents equal time (especially for school-aged children) than it would be if the parents only live 20 minutes apart.
Work schedules can factor in as well – a medical professional who is on-call may have difficulty keeping the kids overnight, although it may be more manageable with teenagers. Parent should try to come to an agreement that works for everybody outside of court.
Mediation services can be useful for this, or you can simply get together and work out a schedule. If you can agree on a child custody or visitation agreement, you can simply present it to the family court. Usually, a judge will approve an arrangement that both parents agree upon unless there’s some threat to the child’s well-being or it appears that one party has agreed under duress.
If parents can’t come to an agreement, the judge will decide. It’s important for fathers to know that most child custody cases settle out of court. While mothers are mostly granted primary custody, most couples agree upon it outside of court. If a fair custody arrangement can’t be settled outside of court, you may gain equal or primary custody by letting the judge make a decision instead.
Mistakes for Fathers to Avoid During a Child Custody Case
There’s nothing that’s more important to you than spending time with your children, and it’s important to approach a custody case with that in mind. Whether you’re looking for a generous visitation arrangement, equal parenting time, or primary custody, it’s important to avoid mistakes that could harm your case.
One such mistake is failing to show up for the time that you currently have to spend with your children. Life happens, and everyone misses an appointment or is late sometimes. But if you frequently fail to show up for your scheduled parenting plan and time, California courts will begin to wonder whether you really are interested in spending time with your children.
Especially during a California child custody case, you shouldn’t put anything ahead of spending what time you can with your children. This is not the time to cancel on your kids so that you can work overtime, go on dates, or hang out with friends. Another mistake is failing to respect your ex’s time with your children.
Maintain your scheduled parenting plan – don’t be late or early for pick-ups or drop-offs. If the court suspects that you’re likely to make a joint custody or visitation arrangement difficult by infringing on your ex’s parenting time, they may just limit your time with your children to avoid the problem in the first place.
Finally, don’t overspend on a lawyer. Child custody cases can take a long time and can get very expensive if you’re paying a high-priced lawyer. But in many cases, the legal issues in play are not complicated, and parents can save money on legal fees by representing themselves.
A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can evaluate your case, help you prepare documentation, and help you prepare to testify in court for far less than you’d spend to pay a family law attorney.