Perhaps the single toughest issue facing fathers going through a high-conflict divorce matter – is managing to obtain meaningful time with the children in the aftermath. Obtaining significant parenting time (custody) of their children is frequently a difficult objective to achieve for a whole host of reasons.
Throughout history, legal presumptions about child custody for fathers have changed dramatically, and infrequently for the better for either the father or the children. Before the twentieth century, children were regarded as the property of their father. Therefore, under common law, child custody for fathers was the norm. After this period in history, a major shift occurred. Family courts came to favor mothers in child custody cases and this presumption has continue unabated. It was presumed that under normal circumstances, children did better when placed in the sole custody of their mothers. Now, a wealth of reliable information exists that shows the significant detrimental outcomes for children who come from fatherless homes and homes where frequent time spent with father is lacking. It’s bad for the fathers, it’s bad for the mothers, it’s terrible for the children and a problem for society in general.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that children benefit most by having both parents involved in their lives growing, even after a divorce, the “mother as primary custodian” bias still is pervasive. This is demonstrated by the reality that mothers are still awarded primary physical custody of the children in the large majority of cases. The family court system hasn’t responded effectively to the benefits to children in having meaningful access to both parents after the family unit has broken. They continue to hold tight to the the belief that the alleged “primary caregiver” during a marriage should remain the primary caregiver after a divorce. This diminishes the role that fathers typically have in the marriage as something other than “primary caregiving,” if it’s considered caregiving at all. It also presumes that fathers are incapable (or less capable) of day-to-day care and nurturing of children simply because they may not have had a primary or even equal part of doing so during the marriage. This is simply not true.
As a result of this distorted view regarding custody for fathers and mothers, moms are still awarded custody in more than 70% of all child custody cases. Joint custody for between both parents is awarded approximately 20% of the time. Other family law statistics demonstrate that sole custody for fathers is awarded in less than 10% of all cases.
There are a number of factors that the family courts are supposed to consider in determining the parenting arrangement for fathers and mothers. The court may consider hearing the testimony of children at any age, though it is done infrequently with children at younger ages. Additionally, the court will hear testimony from “experts” such as psychologists, psychiatrists, guardians ad litem, custody evaluator, and others during a contested child custody case. Judges will give serious consideration to their findings, regardless of whether or not we agree that they’ve spent enough time or otherwise should have the authority to so influence such a significant decision which affects the lives of so many so profoundly. These “experts” will base their recommendations on some or all of the following (not all-inclusive): any history of abuse or neglect, proximity of the parents to one another, past parenting history, household stability, time available to dedicate to raising children, personal behaviors, and/or other relevant factors.
Custody for fathers is too often a substantial uphill battle when the family court system favors maternal custody rights. This is why we are proponents of shared parenting. The result should be a 50/50 custodial arrangement (or close to it) when it’s logistically feasible and there are no provable issues of abuse, neglect, and where both parents are ready, willing, and able to retain their rights and responsibilities to parent their children.
Please always be on the lookout for shared-parenting initiatives on the docket in your state’s legislature. Spread the word and take action in the form of letters, emails, faxes, phone calls to your legislators and voice your support for a rebuttal presumption of shared custody.