When it comes to child custody and visitation, fathers often feel outmatched and outnumbered. It’s a common assumption that mothers are the parents who have the most rights to the child and that they’re the ones who are most likely to end up with primary custody, decision-making power, and a lot of say over how much visitation the father has, absent some very unusual circumstances.
Historically, mothers have been the parents who most often end up with custody, but not for the reasons that you may think. It’s not because mothers are inherently superior parents, but because stereotypes about male and female traits often led people to think that women were more capable of nurturing a child. However, modern parenting experts agree that both men and women are capable of nurturing their children, and while they may have different parenting styles, the presence of both parents is important for a child’s wellbeing and development. Under the law, both parents generally have equal rights to the child as long as neither parent is unfit, and family courts generally prefer to award parents some type of joint custody. However, mothers still often wind up with the lion’s share of parenting time. Why? Because fathers often fail to fight for – or even ask for – equal time with their children, often because they don’t believe they’ll win. But fathers can assert their rights in family court. Take a look at some of the things you can do to make sure that your rights are upheld in court.
Stay Involved With Your Children
Often, parents are separated for some time before they go to court to finalize the divorce and custody arrangements, and it’s common for fathers to separate from their children during this time as well. However, this is a mistake.
When you were served with divorce papers, you may have been also served with a temporary custody order and visitation schedule as well. Often, the temporary arrangement becomes the permanent arrangement if the court doesn’t hear any objections to it, so if you were served with a temporary custody order that doesn’t give you enough time with your child, or if you believe that your children would be better off living with you, it’s important to make that clear as soon as possible. You can always petition the court to change a custody order.
In the meantime, show that you’re an involved dad by abiding by the terms of the custody and visitation order in effect. You shouldn’t try to keep your children past your scheduled visitation time or take them on days when you’re not scheduled to have them, but you should show up for every single scheduled visit. Spend as much time with your children as you possibly can – not only to show the court that you’re an involved parent but also to preserve the relationship with your children. If you moved out of the house, your children may feel sad, confused, or abandoned. Taking full advantage of the time you have is the best way to show them that you’re still there for them and still plan to be an important part of their lives. Parental separation is even more difficult for children than it is for parents since they have no control over the situation. Make your children your number one priority.
Consider Your Child’s Best Interests
Family courts have to consider the best interests of the child when they make custody decisions, and parents should do so as well. Divorce can bring up a lot of anger and negative feelings toward your ex, but it’s important to remember that custody isn’t about you, or about your ex. It’s about your kids.
That means that it’s important to make sure that what you’re asking for in court is what will work best for your children. If you’re asking for more visitation, be sure that you’re asking for time that you’ll actually be spending with your kids, not time when you’ll be dropping them off with a babysitter to go to work. If you’re asking for physical custody, make sure that you’re offering adequate visitation time with their mother. Be ready and willing to collaborate on a parenting plan that meets everyone’s needs, even if your ex is not. Show that you’re putting your child’s needs ahead of everything else.
This also applies to the time that you spend with your kids. When you’re with them, focus on them and on your time together. Don’t bash your ex, complain about child support payments, or ask your children to take sides.
Understand Your Custody Options
There are several different types of custody. Legal custody refers to the right to make important decisions for your child, such as religious, medical, or educational decisions. Physical custody is what it sounds like – it refers to having physical access to your child, including having them in your home. Sole custody means that one parent has both legal and physical custody all of the time, though the other parent might have visitation. Joint custody means that parents share physical and legal custody – not necessarily 50/50, but ideally, the split should be roughly even.
As a father, you have the right to pursue joint custody. Fathers can also pursue sole custody if they have reason to believe that the other parent is unfit or can’t provide a safe environment for the children. You can petition for a change to the custody or visitation order already in place, and you can do so even after a permanent custody order is in place. If you’ve been granted joint custody, you have the right to pursue more parenting time if you feel that the split is unequal, and if your ex refuses to release the kids to you on days when you’re scheduled to have them, you have the right to ask the court to take steps to enforce the custody order and parenting plan in place.
Understanding your rights and how to navigate the family court system is crucial to ensuring that your rights to parent your children are upheld. A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you prepare documents and testimony for court so that you can fight for your father’s rights in family court.