Going through a divorce or child custody fight can be a very difficult process and the frustration and emotional aspect of this type of legal battle is only exasperated because the custody of children is one of the biggest concerns of any parent. Historically, when deciding child custody cases, most courts have always leaned toward favoring the mother as the parent that should have primary physical custody of the child. This was based on a now outdated theory known as the “tender year’s doctrine.” But now, virtually every state currently has laws on the books specifically stating that fathers and mothers should be treated as though they are equal.
But, as gender roles have increasingly shifted, more and more fathers are seeking custody of their children – and winning. Some lawyers are now identifying themselves as “father’s rights specialists” and here are their top tips to help fathers win their child custody battles. Keep in mind that the court will make a decision based on what the judge believes is in the child’s best interests, not necessarily what either parent may want. Knowing what the “child’s best interests” standard entails is essential to proving your case.
Tips To Win Your Father’s Rights Case
1. Try to Negotiate – Before going to court for a lengthy and expensive custody battle, fathers will want to consider sitting down with the mother of the child and trying to negotiate a parenting agreement or parenting plan (also known as a custody judgment in some states). By coming to an agreement, which should include custody arrangements, visitation (also known as parenting time), decision making (such as education, religion, extracurricular activities, and health issues), and other factors, it can help both parents avoid the costs, frustrations and emotional stress that going to court can bring and help to create a co-parenting environment for the child or children to thrive in. A parenting agreement is always the end goal of all custody battles and courts normally insist on one being entered before concluding the custody issues of a family law case.
2. Be Present –Father’s rights lawyers suggest becoming a bit of a “helicopter” parent by being there for the child or children in abundance in such ways as picking them up from school or daycare on a regular basis, attending all school or parent/teacher meetings, attending doctor appointments, sports games and so on. The idea is to make the people also involved in the child’s life – teachers, caregivers, coaches and doctors – aware that the father is around and involved. A father can never spend too much time with his child. This shows the court that the father is an integral person in the child’s life as well as showing that the father has made and will continue to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to be an involved parent. So coach your child’s tee-ball team, tell your boss that you need to be present for the school concert, and
3. Use Earning Power – Men as a group have (on average) higher earning power than women in the current economy and fathers can use this to their advantage when trying to win custody of their child. Fathers should make sure it is clear to the court that they do earn more income which will make them a better provider of resources than the mother of the child. While flexing a financial arm may not feel good, it will definitely make a stronger case – money talks. Take for example one parent who earns just enough to afford a small apartment and relies on government assistance for things like insurance (Medicaid or a child medical card) or even food stamps. Contrast that with a parent who can easily afford a comfortable home, nice clothes for the child and a safe neighborhood with good schools. Which parent do you think a family court judge will believe can provide a better standard of living for the child? Go out there, make some money, save, and provide a great life for your family – and then show the judge that you do it to better your child’s life.
4. Get Good References – In addition to establishing financial stability, fathers will also want to establish they are a good parent through the eyes of others (see number 2 above!). Fathers should ask their friends, family members, and coworkers to write affidavits about them explaining their personality and expressing what a great parent they are. If the father is at all involved in a church or volunteer program, having affidavits from those colleagues will be an added benefit to the case. When a judge has the choice between which parent to believe and one parent has nothing but their word, and the other parent has a list of affidavits and potential witnesses ranging from coworkers, teachers, coaches, neighbors, or church leaders, which parent do you think the judge will believe? And when a judge won’t take affidavits, testimony from people with a good reputation in the community or who have made good impression on a (possible) court-appointed child representative, will influence his/her recommendation to the judge as well.
5. Getting Remarried is a Positive – Don’t do this solely as an attempt to win your case, but if you have a mistaken belief that you should not marry your new significant other because it will hurt your case, you should throw that idea out immediately. Even though the biological parents may be divorced or may have never been married to begin with, the courts will consider a new wife in a man’s life to be mother figures and having both a “mother” and father in the household is generally thought to be in the best interest of the child. Should you get remarried, having a wife, especially one that stays at home to help take care of the child, or is active in assisting in all aspect of your child’s life, will definitely help the case.
With those great tips, you should be on your way to preparing for your father’s rights custody case. However, it is also important that you understand that there are many other factors that go into obtaining custody or at least the visitation rights you deserve as a father – especially if you are a father that was never married to the mother of your child.
What You Should Know About Child Custody and Visitation as an Unmarried Father
Biological parents that are separated either as a result of a divorce or who have broke-up, have the right to seek custody and/or visitation for the children they share. The court will always rule in favor of what is best for the child when there is a dispute over custody or visitation between biological parents. In most cases, unless there is substantial evidence that says otherwise, officials will always lean in the direction of believing that significant involvement of both parents is in the child’s best interest. This is known as the “best interests of the child” standard, and it relies on various factors to determine what the court believes is best for the child.
Father Must Establish Paternity
One of the first steps that unmarried fathers must take in order to be granted custody or visitation is to establish paternity of the child or children involved. This is done in one of two ways:
- Both parents filing joint acknowledgement of paternity at the child’s birth
- Following a legal process that includes administering a DNA test to the child and the man in question
Once these processes have taken place and paternity has been established, the biological father has the ability to pursue joint or full custody and any visitation rights. In many states, the legal system makes it possible for fathers to file recognition of paternity and custody/visitation rights at the same time. This would be memorialized in a court order stating the names of the biological parents.
Child Custody and Visitation Agreements
Father’s must be willing to cooperate with the mother if possible as the deck is somewhat stacked in a mother’s favor, even though the courts have shifted to allowing fathers the same rights to custody as a mother. In order to help reduce the stress of fighting for custody or visitation in court, many parents will opt to sit down and negotiate a parenting plan or parenting agreement. This parenting agreement will often include a number of details including, but not limited to, the following:
- Which parent has primary custody
- Specific details on parent visitation periods/times
- Parent responsible for making decisions about the child’s health, education, and/or religion
- How to handle any potential changes to the parenting agreement
Court Orders for Child Custody and/or Visitation Agreements
Should the biological parents not be interested in negotiating or they cannot come to an agreement, either parent has the right to petition the court for help on gaining the custody or visitation he or she is seeking. Again, the court will consider what is in the best interest of the child when making a final decision but ideally will have both parents involved in the child’s upbringing. Should one of the parents show cause for the court to decide otherwise, such as evidence of drug/alcohol use or domestic violence, the court may choose to grant primary custody of the child or children to just one parent.
Father’s Rights to Custody and Visitation
Most states have now explicitly rejected the “tender years doctrine,” which stated that a child is best left with the mother for the first 4 years of the child’s life. Many states have also actually written their laws with express wording that states that a father has the same rights as a mother. By doing so, family law judges around the country have begun to make father’s the primary care takers of their children over mothers in some cases. No matter which parent a judge grants physical custody of a child to, a father will be given rights to significant amounts of visitation (parenting time) as well as the rights to attend and receive school information, make doctors’ appointments, and many other decisions in their child’s life. It is essential for all father’s to follow the advice found within this page as a starting point and expand on it by speaking with a father’s rights professional to guarantee the rights that a dad deserves. Speak to a local professional for a free father’r rights consultation today!