As a father, it is important to know your rights when it comes to getting custody of your child during a divorce or separation. While in decades past, many children would automatically go to live with their mothers and see their fathers occasionally, that is no longer the case. In many cases now, fathers and mothers are able to share custody of their children. There are many benefits to these types of arrangements. Read on to learn about what your rights are as well as how you can work with your child’s mother to create a parenting plan.
Why Fathers Are Important
Dads are just as important as moms when it comes to raising children. When children are young, fathers often offer a more physical play experience and encourage their kids to take safe risks that they might not when they are with their mothers. As children get older, the ones who have involved fathers tend to do better in school. During the teen years, adolescents with loving dads tend to have healthier relationships as well as more school success. This can even lead to a more fulfilled adulthood.
If you were under the impression that your contribution to your child ended at your child support payment, you could not be more mistaken! It is in your child’s best interest for you to be as involved as you can be, depending on your personal circumstances.
Your Rights for Custody
Most of the time, fathers are eligible for custody of their children. There are two types of custody: legal and physical. When you think of having custody, you probably envision your child spending nights at your house, going on vacation with you, and doing fun things together on the weekends. That is what physical custody is about: residing in the same house part of the time and simply living life together. It might not be exactly 50/50 (though it can be), but joint physical custody means that your child will spend a lot of his or her time with you. If you have sole physical custody, then the child will live with you and might have visitation with his or her mom.
Legal custody has to do with all of the decisions that parents make for their children. If you have sole or joint legal custody, it means that you can take your child to the doctor for checkups and vaccinations. You’ll also be able to request parent-teacher meetings and decide which religion, if any, is best for your child to be brought up in. When you have sole legal custody, you will make these decisions on your own. When you have joint legal custody, you and your child’s mother will make these decisions together.
Your Rights for Visitation
Even if you do not get physical custody of your child for any reason, you will normally still be able to have visitation. Visitation can range from a few hours per week in a social worker’s office to every other weekend spent at your house with your child. You will usually also have the right to attend school performances and sports games and to spend some holidays with your child. If you live far away, you might have visitation with your child during his or her spring break and also for a week or two (or more) during the summer. The specific arrangements will depend on a lot of factors.
Some fathers have extenuating circumstances and need to have supervised visitation. If this is the arrangement you are awarded, you might have a list of things you need to do to gain unsupervised visitation. For example, if you have an addiction to alcohol, you might need to go through a rehabilitation program and stay sober for 6 months. Do what you can to stick to whatever plan you are given. In the meantime, attend your visitation, which will often take place at a social worker’s office.
How to Create a Parenting Plan
Working with your child’s mother to create a parenting plan is the ideal way to ensure that you have the custody arrangements you want. A parenting plan allows both of you to sit down and work out where the child will stay when, who will have the child for holidays and vacations, and who will care for the child when the parent in charge at that time cannot.
There are many resources you can find online that will help you remember everything that you need to consider when creating a parenting plan. If you and your ex are not amicable, you might need to go through the mediation process. Another option is to use a legal advocacy group to walk you through the process. If you can come up with a parenting plan on your own, there is a better chance that you will be able to keep your legal fees low and stay out of the courtroom.
There are some extenuating circumstances that might make it difficult or unlikely for a father to get custody. There are also some that might make it impossible to get visitation. Here are some of them:
- A history of abuse. If you have abused your child, you might not be eligible for custody or unsupervised visitation. Depending on the circumstances, you also might not be able to get supervised visitation.
- Drug or alcohol addiction. If you have an active addiction, it might not be safe for your child to be with you unsupervised. While you are getting clean, you might not be able to have custody or overnight visitation.
- Homelessness. You need to have a safe place to house or visit with your child. If you are currently homeless or staying somewhere that is unsafe, you will probably not be able to have custody or overnight visits.
- Untreated mental illness. Again, the primary concern is to keep your child safe. If you have severe mental illness and you are not being treated, this could impact your custody arrangement.
Contact National Family Solutions if you have questions or concerns about your rights. We offer services that are substantially less expensive than a private attorney. Contact us today!