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As a father, you may be lying awake at night wondering “Is the court going to be prejudiced against me, when it comes to the custody of my kids, because I am a man?”
The answer is “no.”
Divorce courts are not gender-biased when making child custody decisions. To the contrary, in today’s society, judge’s need to bend over backwards not to profile or be prejudiced against anyone for any reason. That includes male parents.
Custody decisions are based on evidence. Judges must determine custody issues based on what they believe is in the best interest of the children who are the subject of that case. That determination is required to be based on evidence. Evidence is tangible. It is the opposite of speculation and feelings. Evidence usually comes in the form of testimony from people who are familiar with your parenting (e.g., friends, family members, teachers) and expert witnesses (psychologists, social workers).
If divorce and custody judges are prejudiced against anyone, it might be that they are prejudiced against clients who have bad lawyers (or no lawyers). Though a shame, that has nothing to do with gender.
This article details what matters to judges when they are asked to make a custody decision. These same questions apply whether there are two moms, two dads, or a dad and a mom.
QUESTIONS THAT ALL JUDGES ASK IN CONTESTED CUSTODY CASES
- Emotional connection. Who is the parent with whom the children currently have a deeper emotional connection?
- Daily caretaking. Who is the parent that consistently takes a bigger role in the children’s daily caretaking needs?
- Daily details. Who is the parent that knows and keeps track of the children’s schedules, appointments, medical history, and developmental milestones?
- Academics, extracurriculars, and friends. Who is the parent that is most involved with the children’s schooling, extracurricular activities, and friends?
It is typical that only one parent can answer “yes” to most of these parental caretaking questions. If your home is the exception, and both you and your child’s other parent share your children’s caretaking equally, you will not have a problem with wining at least 50/50 custody.
However, if your home looks more like most people’s homes, and there is a mom in the mix, chances are that she is the more involved parent. That is not prejudiced against dads. That is just how things usually work out. That does NOT mean, however, that this is a fatal blow to you, as a dad, in terms of winning at custody.
In a custody dispute, the courts are looking for evidence of both parenting skills and the level of bondedness between parent and child. If the mom is more involved, she simply has more evidence at her fingertips. This is particularly true if she is out and about in the community with the kids. Dad’s often need to work harder on their custody cases because courts require evidence … and dad’s often have less of that. That is not prejudicial. That is just factual … but it can be corrected.
If you smell a custody battle brewing, start building evidence.
- Be seen with your kids by people who you think would be willing to testify in court, if necessary.
- Get to know your children’s teachers, doctors, scout leaders, parents of their friends.
- Put yourself in a position to let trusted members of the community see what a good dad you are.
Get involved. If you want a good shot at winning a custody battle in court, you need to be able to show that you are involved with your children’s lives. That includes their school, healthcare, extracurricular activities, and friends. You may not feel that these things are important when it comes to your relationship with your child, but relationships are a lot about feelings … which is hard to prove. Remember: You need evidence.
You can always try again. If you are not super-involved with your children’s lives right now, you can always work on that for a future hearing. The courthouse doors are always open for a modification of a custody order if there has been a change in circumstances -- such as a previously less-involved parent becoming a more-involved parent.
What about 50%/50% custody? If it is a tie between mom and dad, custody is usually decided at 50%/50%. This can be a very nice arrangement for children. See the section, below, dedicated to 50/50 custody.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Judges error on the side of caution and will choose the parent who has a proven track-record of providing the most care for the children based on hard evidence.
THREE ACTIONS TO WIN CUSTODY OF YOUR CHILDREN IN COURT
If you are about to enter a custody battle with your soon-to-be-ex, and you want to win -- or at least ensure that your children gets to spend a lot of time with you -- here are the three simple things that you must do:
SPEND TIME WITH YOUR CHILDREN
- Time=Bonding. You have to spend time with your children to really know what your children are about and to build and maintain a bond with your children.
- Take advantage of parenting time. Never skip time with your children except in an emergency. Take advantage of every possible opportunity to spend time with them. It doesn’t have to be “fun” time; just quality time.
- When do you need a lawyer or mediator? If the other parent is preventing you from spending time with your children, you need an attorney or mediator to work on that problem. Right away! The more time you spend not seeing your children, the more evidence that your children’s mother can provide to that court (whether actually true or not), that you are not interested.
- Alienation of affection. If the other parent is preventing you from being in your children’s life, that is called “alienation of affection.” Judges hate this. If you are a fairly decent parent, and a judge learns that the other parent is preventing you from having any sort of relationship with your children, that judge will come down hard on the other parent.
KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON IN YOUR CHILDREN’S LIVES
- Be involved with the people and places where your children spend the most time. You need to be involved in your children’s lives outside of family life. This includes school/daycare, extracurricular activities, friends, parents of friends, and medical/therapeutic professionals.
- Communication platforms. Get yourself on all the list services, Facebook groups, Sign-Up Genius lists, and other platforms that are necessary in order for you to know what is going on in your children’s lives.
- Birthday parties. Be the parent who shops for gifts and attends birthday parties where your children are invited guests. That is also a great way to get to know the parents of your children’s friends.
- Chauffeer. Volunteer to be the chauffer whenever possible. That is a great way to get to know your children’s friends.
BE A ROLE MODEL.
- Meaningful, enjoyable, and useful activities. Involve your children in activities and adventures that will be meaningful, memorable, and enjoyable.
- Help your children feel a part of your life (and vice versa). Choose activities with your children that feel special to both of you and help them feel like a real part of your life (and vice-versa).
- Teaching moments. Take the time to teach your children things that mean something to you and will be helpful in developing them into kind, productive, and involved members of society.
- Sports. Playing sports with your kids and attending games is a fun way to spend time with your kids.
- Extended family. Spending time with your parents and other relatives -- and encouraging your relatives to tell family stories to your children -- is something that only you can provide.
- Cultural traditions. Going to festivals, museums, and parties where your children can learn about your family’s cultural traditions will help them feel like they belong to a special heritage that is unique to your side of the family. If both parents have the same background, enhancing your children’s appreciation of their heritage is still a good use of your parenting time.
- Great outdoors. Camping and hiking is always a great bonding activity and provides plenty of material for a rich collection of family stories.
- Money skills. Take opportunities to teach your children about money management (if that is something you are good at). Make these lessons age appropriate and use plenty of examples that are interesting and fun.
- Relationship skills. Use every opportunity to role model good relationship skills and problem-solving techniques. When you are with your kids, behave in a way that demonstrates how you think people should treat each other.
- Fix-it skills. Encourage your children to help you fix things around the house. That gives them “ownership” in your home, is a valuable skill lesson, and gives you something to talk about before, during, and after the project is complete.
- Cooking. Prepare a meal with your children and make it a special dinner.
- Say nice things about your children’s other parent. Saying bad things will get back to the other parent and make you look bad. Not only that, but it makes your children feel bad about themselves. Saying nice things about your children’s mom is always a positive.
KEY TAKEAWAY: To win in court, you need to show, with specificity, what your children will be missing if you are not a big part of their life. Your goals should be to leave a huge, positive impact on your children’s life through your words, your actions, and by showing how more time with you will make them happier now and better off in the long.