It would be a mistake to assume that minor children always remain with the mother when a marriage breaks down. Fathers can, and do, win custody of their children. However, most cases are unique in light of the facts involved. To find out about your specific rights, you should consult an attorney who is experienced in custody cases. There are, however, a few general rights that any father should be aware of.
State Laws Prohibit Gender Discrimination
Most states have laws in place that assert that the gender of a parent shall not be considered in custody cases. Some fathers may feel that a court will automatically side with a child's mother. As a result, fathers may reluctantly agree to parenting plans and custody schedules that are not in their best interests. Do not let this happen. As a father, you are still a parent, and you have as much parental rights to your children as their mother does.
How Judges Decide Custody Issues
If a couple isn't able to negotiate a child custody arrangement themselves, the matter is put on a hearing list for a judge to make a decision. The judge will first consider what is in a child's best interest. The primary question judges consider is who is the child's primary caregiver? To determine this, courts will often ask questions like:
- Which parent was responsible for helping the child get ready for the day's activities (selecting clothing, dressing, brushing teeth, etc.)?
- Which parent is home to tuck the child in at night?
- Who takes the child to medical and other appointments?
- Who accompanies the child to activities?
- Who plays with the child?
- Which parent cares for the child when he is ill?
Most judges will award custody to the parent that they believe the child has the closest bond with, unless that parent has a flaw that makes them unfit. The wishes of the parents are considered in determining custody and if the child is old enough, he may have a say in custody arrangements.
Asking for Type of Custody
Fathers may enter into custody cases hoping for a specific type of custody. While the right to a specific type of custody is not a guaranteed right for either parent, you do have the right to ask a court for the type of custody you want. For example, if you want sole custody, you have the right to ask for it. However, keep in mind that any final custody decision will be decided based upon the child's best interests.
Know What Type of Custody You Want
When thinking about how you can get custody of your child or children in a divorce, it's important to note that there are several different types of custody you can ask for:
- Physical custody refers to the actual care and residence of a child.
- Legal custody pertains to the authority to make important decisions regarding a child (e.g., medical and educational decisions).
- Joint physical custody is when both parents are able to actively participate in the physical care of their child, and they share the child in a manner that allows them to have frequent and ongoing contact with the child. Parents don't have to divide their time equally to share joint physical custody.
- Sole custody is when a child lives with only one parent, and that parent is the child's predominant caregiver. In this case, the primary caregiver of the child is referred to as the sole custodian of the child. The other parent may have visitation rights.
As a father seeking custody of his child or children, it is extremely important to consider what type of custody you want. A father should consider the situation, and try to decide what is best for him and his child.
Fathers' Rights Regarding Visitation
If sole custody of a child is awarded to the child's mother, then the father may have visitation rights. These rights are ultimately up to the court to decide and are, once again, dependent upon the child's best interest. However, a father should keep in mind that his visitation rights could include the rights to:
- Visit the child at appointed dates and times
- Plan and perform activities with the child during allotted visitation times
- Be free from the control of the mother during visitation times
- Petition for a modification of visitation and custody orders
Prepare to Get More Time with Your Child
Fathers who want to get the maximum time with their child in a child custody proceeding need to be proactive and prepared. The truth is that fathers may have to fight for custody rights. They need to be focused, organized, and current. Use the list below to help sweeten the pot and find favor in the courtroom.
- Learn the terminology associated with child custody
- Provide an emotionally stable and safe environment
- Avoid unpredictable behavior patterns
- Stay calm and confident
- Avoid violent outbursts if provoked
- Always keep your child's best interests at heart
Fathers Can Win Custody
When the way becomes hard and shrouded with doubt, don't give up. Child custody cases can be emotional and heartbreaking. The key is to stay focused and to remember what is at stake. Child custody is about you and your child. Be true to yourself and ask yourself if this is what you truly want? If it is, go after it with passion and zeal.