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Child Custody Rights for Fathers

13 January 2010 14 Comments

By Dr. Reena Sommer

In the past when a couple divorced, a father’s role was limited to financial support and the occasional visitation with his children. Until the changes in the divorce laws during the 1970’s, this state of affairs prevailed and for the most part, was accepted as the norm. Custody battles were almost unheard of and the status of fathers as “weekend Dads” went virtually unchallenged.

In the 1970’s divorce laws in many western countries underwent a major overhaul. One of the most significant changes was making both parents responsible for the care of children following divorce. This single change had tremendous implications for people with children getting divorced. While the financial implications of shared parental responsibility were overtly obvious, there were also important considerations regarding how children would be parented post divorce. For the first time, the courts recognized “joint custody” as a symbol of parents’ shared responsibility toward the care of their children. With this change, it became apparent that fathers were now recognized as “functional” parents and not just a source of financial support.

An important fall-out of the changes to the divorce laws that formally recognized fathers as real parents, was the emergence of custody battles. As noted previously, they were uncommon up until this point. However, with the changes to the divorce laws, disputes over custody became a growing phenomenon. While children are generally the focus of these very nasty fights over custody, in most cases, it is money that is at its root.

Many would argue that this simply is not so - those battles over custody have to do with the respective abilities of each parent to provide safe and nurturing care for their children. However, a closer look at the dynamics of custody battles reveals that sadly, the children become a bartering mechanism where access time is traded for a financial settlement.

The most obvious question is “why” should money and children become the driving forces behind custody battles? The answer lies in these two related issues:

  • The provision for child support relies on the amount of residential time share each parent has. Thus, if the time-share is almost equal, theoretically little if any, child support is due. Similarly, if the primary breadwinner was to have a greater proportion of the time-share, then the same principle would apply. Finally, if a parent who had been a stay at home parent was no longer to have primary care and control of the children, then not only would child support be a limited issue, but so would the obligation to pay large amounts of spousal support.
  • The provision for differential joint parenting arrangements provides the impetus to negotiate an unequal division of assets. Whereas in the past, when mothers’ sole custody and/or status as the residential parent were rarely in dispute, opportunities to include property and asset issues in negotiations were almost non-existent. With the changes in the divorce laws, it is now possible for the parent with the larger share of assets to offset his or her divorce liability by using custody and access as factors in divorce negotiations.

Overall, the changes in the divorce laws have done much to recognize childrens’ right to have both parents in their lives. It has also come a far way in recognizing fathers as being more than a meal ticket by advancing fathers’ custodial rights. On the other hand, the downside of these advances is resistance to the change and opportunities to use children as pawns for financial purposes.

14 Comments »

  • Alen said:

    Are you seriously saying that fathers only began seeking, and continue to seek custody of their children because of money?!

  • diane said:

    some fathers yes, I believe it is more about money, then the children for some not all!

  • Mike said:

    Just wondering what my rights are as the stay at home parent. I cant stand my girlfriend, we have lived together for over 4 years and have a 2 year old. She tried to use our child as leverage on our relationship. I became an at home parent about a year and a half ago. I was making 16 an hour she started making 24 and we lost the sitter. With our daily commutes and lunches and gas prices rising, along with the cost of child care in my area we would have been going in the hole by at least 125 a week. So we decided to have me stay at home with our child. This little girl is my whole world. When the mother comes home I cant even get a break from watching my little girl. I watch her 24/7 literally. She is always trying to send our child to her mother for 3-4 days at a time. I cant stand letting her mom take our child. It sparks fight after fight with us. Even when we visit my family I cant get a breath of air in visiting my family because simply put, my gf will not watch our child and lets her get into everything. So I find myself chasing her around everywhere. If I start talking about being unhappy in this relationship and how she doesn’t take very good care of our child and mention ending our relationship she starts talking about child support and not letting me see my daughter. I have never been in trouble with the law, or with drugs or alcohol. I have given up my profession to be at home parent and basically I feel that my life is being wasted on a girl that doesn’t care about myself or our child. I cant stand the fact that she tries to use our child as leverage. I shouldn’t have to feel unhappy and hollow because of this. Being a parent is a great thing, but being forced to live in an environment that is constantly stressful and is over all pushing me to the verge of a mental breakdown, just cant be healthy. I do not want her to have custody of our child if we break up for two reasons. Number one, shes a bad parent and pawns our child off on everyone else. Number two she would only try to get me for child support out of spite. I have no problem buying my child things she needs. If my gf wins custody I feel she should pay for the food and things like that anyway because its the responsibility of being the custodial parent. If she needs anything else I would certainly buy it. If I was to have custody I wouldn’t ask for child support or anything. I wouldn’t keep her mother from seeing her when she decided to see her. I’m not like that. But I just do not know where to turn here. I need help please.

  • Evie said:

    Mike,

    I’m so sorry to hear that you are in such pain about your situation. I can’t imagine how awful you must feel about the stress of having to decide about custody, finances etc. It sounds like however, that your problem could be easily solved.

    Listen, we all know that you can’t change another person. However, what concerns me is that you specifically opened with “I can’t stand my girlfriend.” The reason this concerns me, is because I wonder have you ever told her this? If so, can you explain to me how and why she would feel good to be a great mom and a great girlfriend when the father of her child can not stand her? Have you wondered why she would not want to spend much time with her child? It sounds to me like instead of paying attention to your daughter…you might pay some attention to your girlfriend. I believe that if you were able to solve that problem you might be enlightened to find out that her desire to be a better mom might develop right before your eyes.
    You see…you are the one and only person that has the ability to make her feel wonderful, loved, needed, like she is the best mother to ever walk the face of the earth! After all, you are her parenting partner! If she isn’t meeting your expectations for a good mom, then who are you to criticize and punish her? Do you think treating her as if you can not stand her is going to make her feel more like nurturing her little girl?
    The reality is…you loved her enough at one time to make a child with her. I truly believe it is your responsibility to HELP her become a better mother. If you walk away from that responsibility, you are doing a great disservice to your daughter. If you can soften your heart and not criticize and really listen to your girlfriend, you may find that the real source of the problem is you. This might sound harsh, but just think how different it could be for your daughter if you showed her how much you really cared for and loved her mother. You loved her and her mom, enough to help her mom take better care of the wonderful little girl she is. That would be any daughter’s knight in shining armor.

    What if you planned time for just the two of you, away from your daughter? Do you think you could try and remember how important your girlfriend was to you at one time? It might be hard at first but give it some time and you might discover something you never realized was there. The loving mother of your little girl. It can all start with you. Just remember…control your anger, be soft loving and kind. Listen and really listen to what your girlfriend needs from you. Take the time to really listen to her and ask her what she needs from you. Think of it as helping your daughter! Be her hero!

    Good Luck

  • Paula said:

    I praise the fathers who see their kids or even have custody. I have been divorced from my ex husband for 10 yrs. We have 3 children who are now 23, 19 and 15. While going through our divorce he saw the kids sparingly and it grew less and less when he became involved with another woman. The kids went once to his place for Christmas and met this woman and her kids. She said some HORRIBLE things to our children and they told their dad they did not want to see her again, however, he continued seeing her. Four months into dating she became pregnant and they just got married last year. (Their child is now 5). We went to mediation over reducing his child support when the oldest turned 18 and he was ordered to add the kids to his benefits (which he said his girlfriend would be angry if he did that and he never did). He tried the Parent Alienation cry over visitation and I could have slapped him.. I have NEVER kept the kids from him but as they grew older he would call on Birthdays and Christmas (he was then living 25 mins from our house). In the last year, I was diagnosed with cancer, he called on Christmas had our 15 yr old daughter in tears as he bashed me over and over. (I told him this past week of my illness and that I had just had surgery a few weeks ago). He now lives 6 hours from the kids and their will be NO way of visits. He isnt allowed to see them unless she is present and they dont want her there. Is this not child abadonment?
    My issue now is my 15 yr old is almost regressing back to where she was 10 yrs ago.. Crying for her dad.. mourning something that can never be.
    The kids are not welcome at their home.. they dont even have an address or home number. They last time they received any gift from him was the first year these two got together.
    How do I help my daughter get passed this and realize the daddy she remembers isnt the daddy he is?

  • Paula said:

    I forgot to add to my post..
    When he moved away he never even said goodbye to his kids.. he never even told them he was moving.. he just up and left.. Apparently he has been gone for a couple of years. Like I said he doesnt keep regular contact. I told him my only condition to his “visits” is REGULAR.. you cant come in and out of their lives.
    The other day my 15 yr old asked him to call her once a week.. His reply.. I WILL TRY… I was so angry and still am.. I wanted to call him and tell him to drop dead.
    He calls from his cell phone and they have to leave messages as his now wife will not allow him to give them any other info. His lawyer told him during mediation to get some balls and tell her these kids are FIRST. I have told him that he is having an affair with his children and they are being cheated.

  • Ethan said:

    My ex wife has legal custody of my daughter. It specifies in the divorce papers I have visitations when it fits their schedule. I have always been able to have my daughter every Wednesday and every other weekend. My ex has now decided to put her in an after school latchkey program. She will no longer let me have her on my Wednesdays unless I come and get her after latchkey.This would cut back 3 hours of time I could be spending with her. Is there a way for me to legally come and pick her up on Wednesdays to spend time with her. Also the bus tried to drop her off from school one day and no one was home. The bus brought her back to school and she ended up sitting at school until almost 6 o’clock waiting for her mother to get home. If I had been on the emergency card at school they could have called me and I would have been there right away. My daughter is only 5. Can you imagine how she felt sitting there hoping someone would come and get her? Is there any thing I can do to get on the emergency card? What rights do dads have??

  • JEFF HANSEN said:

    WE HAVE TWO AWESOME KIDS. MY SON IS 8 AND MY DAUGHTER IS 10. HERES THE PROBLEM. MY EX IS A GOOD WOMAN BUT SCREWING UP REAL BAD. AND OUR CHILDREN ARE PAYING THE PRICE. I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO ANY MORE. I HAVE TAKEN HER TO COURT 6 TIMES AND THE JUDGE WON’T DO A DAMN THING. I HAVE PROVED THAT SHE WAS LIVING IN A DANGEROUS PLACE, WITH DANGEROUS PEOPLE. JUDGE DID NOTHING. SHE HAS MOVED 10 TIMES IN LESS THAT 2 YEARS. MY KIDS ARE TIRED OF UNPACKING. THEY DON’T HAVE FRIENDS BECAUSE OF THIS. HER TWO OLDEST BOYS ARE IN TROUBLE, STILL LIVING AT HOME. JUDGE SAYS NOTHING. MY SON WAS THROWN INTO A WALL BY HIS BROTHER WHEN HE WAS MAD. BROKE THE SHEETROCK WITH MY SONS HEAD. AGAIN NOTHING. SHE HAS NEVER, I MEAN NEVER FOLLOWED ONE SINGLE COURT ORDER. JUDGE SAYS NOTHING. WHAT CAN I DO. I AM DISABLED AND ON SSI. I DO NOT HAVE MONEY FOR A LAWYER. BUT I WILL NOT EVER GIVE UP ON MY KIDS. THEY DESERVE TO BE HAPPY AND FUN LOVING. SOMEONE OUT THERE PLEASE TELL ME WHAT I CAN DO TO WIN OVER A ARIZONA JUDGE WHO TAKES ON WOMENS RIGHTS ON THE SIDE NOT ME, MY CHILDREN NEED YOUR HELP.

  • randr said:

    I would like to know if a father has been paying his child support then lost his job for three months and is only two months behind on child support and now has a new job and trying to get caught up. Can x keep father from talking or see their children. I am not a dead beat dad just ran into the falling job market. And have been looking every day until I have finally found one but x has not allowed me tro talk or see. What can be done if anything Thanks everyone

  • Jeremy said:

    Ethan I feel your pain.. im 26 married with 3 kids.. but my soon to be 9 year old daughter doesn’t live with me she lives with her mother.. I’ve been paying child support since she was 1 and have never missed a payment except for short term unemployment. Everything as been going relitivly ok except for the last year or so.. she’s been almost going out of her way to make not see my daugter.. For example.. I have her the same days that you do on your agreement.. this summer she told me that she wanted my daughter to go to tootering classes during the summer.. this is after the girl made all A and B during the year.. and it just so happens that the that is suppose to going right in the time that I’m suppose to get her for a month during the summer.. I thought about it for a couple of day and told her NO.. as you can imagine that did set to well.. which I didn’t expect that it was. but I delt with it. Now here it is July the 1st the first day that im suppose to get her for a month.. and what happens.. My daughter calls me and tells me that she doesn’t want to see me.. and It kind of raises a red flag because every time I have gotten her in the past we talled about her being able to move in with me when she gets older if she wanted to.. I would never push her to do it but if she did she knows that my door is always open.. What concerns me is that I think that my ex is talking her in to staying with her.. I dont know if its through guilt or bribory.. but somethings not right.. How can you be excited about going to see someone for MONTHS even days up until to date then the last minuet seem like you dont want to go.. and as a side not I did go try to get her.. and I saw her.. she looked like sh#t.. she looked really bad..

    I dont know what to do.. I’m scared that if I try to get her.. I wont and It will make matters worse.. but I do nothing.. how can I call my self a father and let something happen to my daughter..

    Im stuck between a rock and a hard place..

  • Diane said:

    My sister has full custody of her children. She also was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago. She recently decided to move to the same city/state as her ex for various reasons — including having the kids closer to the ex and other family. Now her ex is challenging custody on the basis of her health. She is perfectly able to care for her teenage children. She is ready to discuss a new visitation schedule, but feels that her ex is edging on discrimination against her as a cancer patient. Anyone else facing a siminar situation?

  • Anon said:

    Pardon me but WHAT THE F*CK. How can someone just want their kid for the money? I know i want my kid because i know my wifey wouldnt do crap for him, she never gets him up in the morning, never gets him dressed, never changes his diapers, never hangs out with him. Her priorities are to hang out with her sister for 9 hours after work and come home late sometimes after he’s gone to bed, then get mad at me when i suggest she get him up and take him to daycare in the morning so i can have a “morning off” before i go to work.”

  • kevin said:

    can someone help me…i’m 21 yrs old…i have had bad work history but…i’ve been everyday to put in applications but can’t find a job…still lookin’… my wife is mad because i haven’t gotten her a place of our own yet because i can’t find a good paying job…we argue constantly and she gets mad and says she is going to take the 1 mon. and 13 day old baby boy away and never let him see me or my side of the family again…she is still a senior in high school and doesn’t work herself…i live with my mom and dad right now until i get a job…i get foodstamps, and my wife gets Wic for the baby she has my foodstamp card…but, at my moms house, he would be in one house all the time…the same one he is mostly lived in…she goes from sister to sister to mom and dads house constantly and lets each of her sisters watch him without her there…all the time, and i need help, advice and someone tell me wat to do that has been through this…i want full custody of my son, we are going to get a divorce and she is wanting me to meet her down to sign the papers, if i had him, i would let him see both sides of the family and i have everything here at my moms that i need to take care of him, i even go out and do jobs for cash almost everyday, even if it’s hauling metal or cuttin’ grass or cleaning gutters, i do everything i can to take care of him, she doesn’t do anything but go to school, this article said that they need a parent that can bond with their son, but if she is lettting other ppl watch him as much if not more than she does, do i have a pretty good chance of getting custody?…wat should i do, someone plz help :(

  • John Benbrook said:

    I am a divorced Dad and live in PA. My ex and 2 wonderful boys (6yrs & 4yrs) relocated to Idaho. For three years now I have visited the boys in Idaho averaging 4 visits per year. This is because their mother has not been “COMFORTABLE” with the boys coming back east. I have done everything I can navigate through her angst and yet still be with my boys. I have not and will not miss a support payment.

    I informed the mother that I would like to have the boys for 2 weeks net summer to visit me and my family at our cabin in Maine for a week and a week at my home outside of Philly.

    SHe immediately said no and that the boys are not ready for this. Mean while she has taken them with her new husband to California and Hawaii.

    She threatened me to go for more support if I pursued this further and she fails to realize this has nothing to do about money and everything to do with being with the boys and having them connect with my family.

    Since I am going to have to fight for this, I am thinking about asking for the entire summer or at least a month for the boys to be with me.

    Do I have any chance?

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