When it comes to child custody and parenting time, Father’s Rights is a topic that has been generating much discussion. There are law firms and attorneys who present themselves exclusively as a lawyer for men though you may be better off with an attorney who understands the perspectives of both parties because he or she has been representing either party in property, custody and parenting disputes.
In the past, mothers may have been presumed to be the better choice in awarding sole custody or as the custodial parent in custody disputes, but family roles are not as static as they once were. More men are staying at home and caring for the children or working part-time while the wife or female partner is the primary wage earner so that men’s rights in divorce matters have forced the courts to look at these situations with a different perspective. This can also affect men’s rights in traditional marriages as well.
In recent decades, courts have increasingly come to understand the necessity of having both parents involved in a child’s care and upbringing. Statistics show that not having a father involved in a child’s life can lead to:
- Higher risk of delinquency
- More likely to use drugs or alcohol
- Increased risk of dropping out of school
- Increased risk of engaging in domestic violence
Consequently, it is vital that as a father you know your rights and have an experienced lawyer for men who will vigorously advocate for your father’s rights.
Still, if you are in a traditional relationship where you are the primary income earner and the mother is the primary caretaker, you will be at a disadvantage in a custody and support dispute. Talk to your attorney about alternate dispute resolution options if you and your spouse are unable to compromise or agree on these issues.
Protecting Your Rights
As a father, do not assume that the court will automatically award custody to the mother along with child support, and divide the property so that the mother receives a share you feel is not equitable. There are some measures to take to protect your rights:
Documentation and Financial Information
You need to document everything, from your expenses to all communications with your wife or the mother regarding the children. List all of your assets and liabilities since you will need to do so when completing a required financial statement. It is a huge mistake to omit anything on the form, thinking that it will not be uncovered. Further, keep receipts and documents pertaining to all your monthly expenses. Keeping complete and accurate records can impact a court’s determination on spousal support, child support, property division and attorney’s fees.
Information that you will need for financial disclosure include:
- Pay-stubs and income statements
- Bank statements for at least the past 6-months
- Mortgage statements
- Calculation of overtime, bonus and commission payments per month
- Report on investment income
- Retirement plan information
- Costs of entertainment and recreational activities
- Stocks, bonds, bank accounts, money market accounts, CDs, etc.
- All other assets and their values
- All monthly expenses
- Receipts of expenses for your children, such as day care costs, extra-curricular costs, summer camp expenses, and dental and medical care expenses
This can take considerable time and you may have to consult with a financial adviser or expert in assessing some of these assets.
The Marital Home
If you are the primary earner in the family but your wife is a housewife and/or primary caretaker, it is likely the court will make a temporary order allowing the mother and children to remain in the home during the divorce proceeding, while you may or may not decide to seek residence elsewhere. Even if you feel the parenting duties are equal, a court will generally not want to disrupt the routine of the mother who more often than not wakes the children, makes them breakfast, lunches and dinner, buys them clothes, shops and prepares them for school.
But if there is a custody dispute and you unilaterally decide to move out of the home, this creates a status quo situation that a court often upholds. A judge will then issue a temporary order so that only the mother and children may continue to reside in the home while you continue paying the mortgage, utilities and other bills. Your possessions are at risk of being lost and if you have certain financial documents there, they may be lost as well since you may be denied re-entry. Further, you will likely be ordered to pay child support and alimony until custody and spousal maintenance is decided.
If you stay until ordered to leave, then you have time to retrieve all necessary documents and to remove your own possessions from the home as well as have time to find a suitable residence. In any case, consult with a your attorney about your father’s rights when it comes to the marital home.
Maintain Your Own Residence
If you are ordered to move out, it is vital to rent and maintain a clean and ordered apartment or unit where your children can stay with you. Be sure it is within their school district. If custody is disputed, an investigator or a court-appointed Guardian ad Litem for the children will visit both homes as part of a report to be made to the court. Make the home as similar as possible to the marital home so that the children can maintain their routine and feel equally at home with you.
If you wish to be the custodial parent, recognize these factors that a court uses in deciding the issue if you are unable to reach an agreement with your spouse:
- The mental and physical health of you and your spouse
- Your child’s adjustment to school and community
- If you or your spouse has a history of violence, alcohol or drug abuse
- The relationship between you and child
- Your home environment
- Recommendations by the GAL and other experts
- Wishes of your child if old and mature enough
Being on good terms with your children is obvious as is maintaining your steady employment. If you will need care-taking while you work, find a reputable daycare facility. Make sure you will have significant parenting time with the child and that you are very familiar with your child’s interests, teachers, coaches, health, doctors, special needs, and anyone or anything else relevant to the child’s welfare.
Dealing with False Accusations
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for one partner or spouse to accuse the other of violence, abuse, sexual misconduct or hiding assets. A party can easily obtain a restraining order based on an allegation of domestic violence since the evidentiary threshold is low. If you are served with a protective or restraining order, you are entitled to a hearing on whether a permanent order should be issued, so it is essential that you take a proactive approach and fully advise your attorney of any circumstances that might have prompted the accusation.
You may have to have family, friends or doctors testify on your behalf to counter any allegations that, if accepted by the court, can have serious consequences on how custody, support and parenting time is determined.
Consult Father’s Rights Lawyer Heather M. Ward
Heather M. Ward is a Boston family law attorney who has been a lawyer for men in divorce and custody matters. Having represented both sides in divorce and domestic disputes, she can offer you experience, knowledge, empathy and perspective in how to approach your case and resolve the issues involved in a reasonable and satisfactory manner.
Call her office today at (617) 903-8955 for a consultation on how your men’s rights can be protected in a divorce or custody dispute.