It’s widely believed that fathers are inherently disadvantaged when it comes to family court matters, particularly child support and child custody. While the family court system in the US has historically skewed in favor of mothers obtaining majority custody, this is not always the case, nor is it always in the best interests of the children involved in a divorce.
Fathers who are divorcing and concerned about their future parenting rights should have a firm understanding of their rights in the family court system. An experienced family law attorney can help a father facing divorce build a strong case for custody and break down many of the persistent misconceptions about fathers’ parental rights.
Giving Up Too Soon Is a Huge Mistake
One of the biggest errors fathers make during the divorce process is resigning themselves to failure before ever really trying to make a custody case. Historically in the US, the family court systems have heavily favored mothers when it comes to determining child custody. This is primarily due to the social role of mothers as nurturers and caregivers. In the not too distant past, fathers’ parental responsibilities were generally accepted to boil down to earning money to support the family.
Fathers must not allow these social roles to influence their individual situations. Today, it’s much more common for fathers to be present in their children’s lives to the same degree as their mothers. More fathers are working from home and assuming active parenting roles. As you start building your custody case, remember that the norm of the mother always winning custody is no longer the most likely outcome for your case. Be confident in your ability as a parent as you start working with your attorney and preparing for child custody negotiations.
Child Support Is Not Payment for Visitation
Many fathers perceive their child support obligations as payment for seeing their children. This extends to the misconception that falling behind in child support payments means losing visitation rights. A custodial parent does not have the right to withhold court-ordered visitation time with the noncustodial parent due to nonpayment of child support. However, failure to pay child support as required can have significant legal consequences, up to and including jail time.
If a custodial mother refuses to let a noncustodial father see his children when there is a court order instructing her to do so, the father can seek a legal remedy to the situation by consulting with his attorney. If there is a good reason for nonpayment of child support, such as loss of a job or a significant change in income, the father can seek a post-judgment motion to adjust his child support obligation with the help of an attorney as well. Child support issues are separate from visitation issues so long as the father is not abusive to the children and provides for their needs during visitation.
Mom Can’t Just Move Away and Take the Kids
When parents are bound by a child custody order, they must notify the court of significant changes to their lifestyles, such as relocation. Many fathers’ greatest fear in divorce is the mother obtaining full custody and moving away with the kids. Unless the father has lost or surrendered all their parental rights, the mother must prove that her intended move is in the best interests of the children for the court to approve it.
Every state has different statutes when it comes to relocation in child custody cases. A custodial parent must inform a noncustodial parent of their intention to move, and the issue will likely lead to a court hearing. If you are concerned about your children’s mother moving away with your kids, or if she has outright told you she plans to do so, speak to your attorney about your concerns as soon as possible.
Children Might Play Favorites, but They Don’t Make Legal Decisions
It’s natural for children to cling to their mothers during their younger years, and some fathers may feel alienated by their children’s mothers’ positions as their kids’ primary caregivers. However, this is not always the case, and a child’s preference for one parent over the other typically has little to no bearing in a court’s decision concerning child custody. While some judges will typically want to hear from children older than 12 or 13, the court has a duty to rule in favor of the children’s best interests. Today, most judges accept the fact that children tend to have better outcomes when they have equal access to both parents.
If you are worried that your children will “choose” to live with their mother, consider that the law is on your side regardless. As long as you have never had any history of abusing or neglecting them and are capable of providing a safe, nurturing environment in which to raise them, you have just as much right to argue for custody as your ex-wife.
You Cannot Trade Visitation for Support Obligations
Some fathers mistakenly believe they can avoid large child support payments if they are willing to concede custody, but this creates the opposite effect in most cases. If the children will be spending most of their time with their father, the mother is responsible for a greater share of the children’s everyday needs. She therefore has a stronger position for arguing for more extensive child support. Surrendering your parental rights and your right to partial custody will not lower your child support payment. In fact, it will more likely increase it.
Ultimately, it is understandable that many fathers feel defeated before they even begin the child custody negotiation process. Mothers continue to win custody more regularly and to a greater extent than fathers on average, but every child custody case is different. Today, the family court systems of the United States recognize the value that fathers provide as parents, not just breadwinners, and award child custody accordingly.
Fathers who want to have the best chance of obtaining custody should consult experienced family law attorneys as soon as possible to start building their cases for custody and to clarify their misunderstandings about fathers’ rights in modern family law.