I started handling custody matters while I still had minor children of my own. Things have changed. They have changed rather dramatically. You won’t find this change in the statistical data of custody matters, at least not yet, but it will come.
The big wave I am seeing is with respect to fatherhood and custody of young children. Historically, preschool children have been in the care and custody of their mothers, and if not, quite often have been with grandparents or even in foster care.
A big part of the reason this shift is not visible in the statistics around custody, is that quite often it is occurring without a court order, but rather de facto, as the reality of the situation. Statistics haven’t been well maintained and are largely unreliable when it comes to cases that are being resolved away from court.
But what’s happening that is demonstrating this change is the number of fathers who are coming to me for advice on custody issues, even while their children are still very young. The other big change is that it is the fathers themselves who are making more and more of these calls. In the past, if there was an issue of contested custody and I heard from the father’s side of the case, it was most often a second wife, girlfriend or even the child’s grandmother who would call and often handle all of the communication relating to the case.
Not any more. Dads have been become much more pro-active and willing to take the initiative for their kids, and they seem to be doing so with great care and concern for their children. This really shouldn’t be surprising to anyone except someone who has spent a great deal of time litigating child custody matters on behalf of clients for a long time.
Dads in general are good parents, and act accordingly – until a custody fight ensues. Suddenly, traditional male and female roles are often turned on their head. Dads often become shy and passive, while mothers nearly always go on the offensive.
But in the last year or so, I have seen a trend emerging that is very different. Dads are ready to play the role of the primary custodial parent even when their children are very young.
That being the case, there are some important points to bear in mind in order to make the opportunities count for dad and the kids:
1. Stability is paramount. The child that has a regular place to live, goes to school daily, gets medical appointments as needed and has a parent with a steady income, is in the best position to succeed in the future. Courts recognize the value in enabling children in this way.
2. Long term stability counts. The ability to articulate the prospects of the future remaining stable, more so in Dad’s home than Mom’s is vitally important as well. It’s still true that most often it’s a mother’s own lifestyle choices that dictate that she does not or will not have custody of a child, but the factors that give rise to that reality are also factors in whether she will be facing a very long period of recovery or restoration. It’s my observation that once custody finally shifts to the father, it tends to remain with him for many years if not permanently.
3. Mom still has an advantage at this stage, but it is diminishing. I recently had occasion to see how a Judge who’s been on the bench for many years still views the preference for a mother. But he’s also a judge who’s seen how presumptions can lead to bad decisions regarding the child’s best interests. Nonetheless, the reality remains, the mother is the go to parent for most judges, especially in paternity cases and until the reasons become plain to the court that it should be otherwise.
4. Dad has some advantages that may go unnoticed. This is true and it’s worthwhile to subtly bring them to light. The biggest of these advantages may actually be the capacity for lowering the emotional temperature and drama that can and often does arise in unstable custody situations. While this does not show up as one of the factors impacting the best interests of the child under the law, in reality, as a custody case unfolds, it helps make the outcome easier to lean in favor of a father.
5. Emotional stability is probably as important as the other forms of stability, especially in dealing with the other parent. I mentioned drama in the last paragraph. In every case I have ever worked on, if there has been a moment of heightened public drama, it has been initiated by the mother rather than the father. This doesn’t mean that the father is a better parent. And just because I haven’t witnessed it the other way around, does not mean there aren’t situations when the father initiates the situation. With that said, it does mean that one thing a Dad can contribute that will help the child, the court and any other parties involved, is to show some grace in dealing with the tension that inevitably arises between parents in child exchanges and moments of conflict.
Any father who wants to be a part of his child’s life and cares enough to fight for what is best for that child should have his rights protected by sound legal counsel. Be prepared to count the true, legal cost of making this effort. If you are, please contact us at Landmark Legal Advisors today to discuss how we can assist you with your needs.