A divorce can be a long, ugly, and emotionally painful process. So can a breakup between people who aren’t married, but do have children together. It’s understandable that you might be hesitant about going to court for visitation rights when everyone has just recently been through a painful and traumatic end of a relationship. Sometimes, parents who already don’t get to see their children very often (or at all) decide that it may be better just to let things be, rather than stirring up everyone’s emotions again. But visitation is important, and not just for you. Take a look at some of the reasons why your visitation rights are worth fighting for.
Your Child Needs You
The most important reason to fight for visitation rights is the simplest: your child needs you in their life. Over and over again, researchers find that children do best when both of their parents are involved in their lives on a consistent, ongoing basis.
Joint custody is not an option for every family. It doesn’t always work, particularly when parents live far apart from each other, or when there are so many hard feelings or negative history between parents that it’s impossible for them to effectively co-parent. But visitation c ould mean almost anything that works for your family. It could mean weekend visits or taking your child for a month during summer vacation or spending alternating holidays with your child and your friends and family. Whatever type of visitation works for you, your child will benefit both from the time they actually spend with you and from knowing that they can look forward to their next visit with their noncustodial parent. It’s important for children to know that the parent they don’t get to see every day still cares about them, is still interested in their lives, and still wants to support them and spend time with them.
Parents – especially noncustodial parents who don’t see their children every day – often don’t realize the profound effect that their presence or absence can have on their child’s life. But that influence is real. For example, research has found that children with involved fathers have better educational outcomes, better verbal skills, and more self-confidence. So if you’re a father who’s thinking about not fighting for visitation rights, it’s worth considering what your absence may cost your child in the long run.
You Probably Have More Rights Than You Think
Only a small percentage of custody cases are actually decided by family courts. In the overwhelming majority of cases, parents settle on a custody or visitation agreement between them either without ever going to court, or sometime during the court process.
Why is this important? Well, because fathers often believe that they’re at a disadvantage in family court. It’s a commonly-held belief that family courts favor mothers and are unlikely to grant fathers the custody or visitation that they’re asking for anyway. And this belief may lead fathers to simply give up without a fight.
But the belief that courts are prejudiced against fathers is inaccurate. How could it be true, when family courts only decide a tiny percentage of custody cases anyway? In reality, mothers more often end up with primary custody (or wind up deciding when and if fathers can see their children) because fathers mostly don’t go to court and ask for custody or visitation.
The truth is that while family courts were at one time predisposed to see women as the primary caretakers and nurturers, that kind of thinking is outdated and not applicable in today’s society. All other things being equal, mothers and fathers both have the same right to spend time with their children and participate in their upbringing, and courts don’t make decisions about custody or visitation based on gender. Courts do consider research into child development done by reputable researchers and institutions, and the research is pretty conclusive that children benefit from having both parents involved in their lives.
What this means for you is that getting visitation rights might not be as much of a fight as you’ve been led to expect. It might be as simple as going to court and stating your case. Unless your child’s other parent can show some legitimate reason why visitation would be more harmful than beneficial to your child, you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting some type of visitation schedule.
You’ll Benefit Too
Fighting for and exercising your rights to spend time with your child is good for your child, but it’s good for you, too. That’s right, parenting isn’t totally a one-way street. Your time with your children has important benefits for you as well.
Spending time with your kids helps you stay young. You’ll keep up with the latest trends, fashion, and slang – this means that it will be longer before you find yourself out of touch with the direction the culture is moving in. Spending time with small children often means physical activity – running around playgrounds, chasing them through amusement parks, trips to the pool or the beach – and that means that you get your exercise too. You’ll stay in better shape than you would if you only hung out with adults.
Most importantly, when you fight for visitation rights, you’ll get the chance to make memories that will last you for the rest of your life. You won’t ever get your child’s tenth birthday back if you miss it. Once they’ve learned to ride a bike, you won’t have the chance to teach them to ride a bike later. They’ll only have one first haircut, first loose tooth, first sleepover, first driving lesson, or first date. You want to be there for as many of those firsts and milestones and special memories as you can, and you want to have the kind of relationship with your child where they share those milestones with you if you’re not there for them. Regular visitation builds those relationships and gives you a chance to be part of those memories.
If you’re interested in finding out more about your visitation rights and how you can exercise them, a legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help.