When a couple announces that they’re getting divorced, it’s not uncommon for people to assume that their children will be spending the bulk of their time with their mother. Even though Dad might have been an involved and capable parent before the divorce, it’s sometimes just automatically assumed that he’ll step back to an every-other-weekend or occasional visitation role after the parents separate.
But that doesn’t have to be the case. Even if other people assume that kids will remain with their mothers full-time following a divorce, the good news is that family courts don’t assume that. Fathers have rights, and what’s more, children have a right to have a relationship with their father. Take a look at what you need to know about a father’s rights, why they matter, and how to make sure that yours are protected.
The Importance and Role of Fathers in Child Development
Generally speaking, children do best when both parents are consistently involved in their upbringing. But fathers specifically play a very important role in their child’s development. Children with involved fathers tend to score higher on intelligence tests, and they’re less likely to drop out of school or be involved in the juvenile justice system.
A father’s involvement and support can also lead to increased confidence in children. Children who grow up with active, involved fathers have more self-confidence and more tolerance for stressful situations. They’re also less likely to be fearful of new challenges and situations, and more likely to resist peer pressure.
Fathers provide their children with a different perspective on life, simply by being there. Mothers and fathers both share their worldviews with their children and teach them about problem-solving and various life issues, but they often approach their children’s questions and problems differently.
That’s not a bad thing. Being exposed to different ways of thinking about the world gives children a more varied and nuanced perspective on the world that can help them in many ways. What’s more, a father is a child’s first and most significant male role model.
Little boys learn how to be men from their fathers, and little girls learn how men should behave toward them from their fathers. Involved, caring fathers set a good example for their children to carry them into adulthood.
What Are a Father’s Rights in a Custody Case?
It’s important for fathers to be aware that they have the same rights to custody of their children as their ex-partner does. In no state does the law give automatic preference to mothers in custody cases just on the basis of gender. In fact, in most cases, family courts encourage some type of joint or shared custody because they know that children do better when they have the involvement of both parents.
Because it’s common to see mothers doing the lion’s share of the parenting after a divorce, it’s easy to believe that moms are more likely to be awarded custody in family court. But that’s not necessarily the case. Statistics suggest that the vast majority of custody cases don’t go all the way to a completed trial, which means that the decision for a mother to take on the majority of the parenting duties is made by the couple at some point along the way, sometimes with the help of a mediator or other third party.
This means that it’s not the family courts that are deciding in favor of the mother. It’s the parents themselves. In some cases, fathers may believe that they won’t be treated fairly in court, so don’t bother fighting for custody of their children. But the numbers don’t back up that belief.
If you’re a father who wants to establish full or shared custody after a divorce, or if you already have a custody agreement but want more involvement, the best solution is to ask for it. And, if your former partner doesn’t agree, be willing to go to court to ask for it. You actually have a high likelihood of at least sharing equal custody with your ex. You’ll be happier for it and your children will benefit as well.
How Fathers Can Assert Their Parental Rights
The process for filing for custody varies depending on your location. But if you’re going through a divorce, making a decision on custody should be part of the procedure. You may be asked to create a parenting plan with your child’s other parent. This is a plan for who will spend time with the children when, and what each parent’s rights and responsibilities will be.
If you and your child’s other parent cannot agree, the court may ask you to try to work it out with a mediator, and if you still can’t agree, the court will make the decision. It’s good to be flexible and willing to work with your child’s other parent. After all, you’ll still need to work together in some ways as you raise your children. But that doesn’t mean that you should give in on being an involved parent.
If your child’s other parent won’t agree to share parenting time in a fair way, stand your ground and let the court decide. This doesn’t have to be expensive. While some complex custody cases may require you to get the help of an attorney, in many cases parents are able to represent themselves in family court.
A legal resource group, like National Family Solutions, can help you fill out documents, prepare testimony, find witnesses, and generally prepare your case so that you’re ready to speak up for yourself in court. This can be a much more affordable option than hiring a family law attorney, and it allows you to advocate for your own rights as a father as well as advocate for your children’s right to spend time with their father.
Even after the custody case is settled, a legal resource group can help with document storage, so that if you need to refer back to something, or if you ever need to go to family court again, you’ll be able to find it easily. A legal resource group can be your ally in asserting your rights as a father.