Father's Rights

As an experienced family law practitioner, I am often asked "what are a father's rights?" This question is a bit of a misnomer in this day and age. As the question should not be what is a "father's" rights, but what is a parent's rights to a child. Huh? That question caught you off guard didn't it? I mean, your the child's parent, so of course you have rights. Barring unusual circumstances such as drugs, alcohol, or mental health concerns, a parent - of any gender - has the right to have regular routine custodial time with your child. You have the right to know all about your child's life: their doctors appointments, school records and going ons, and you have the right to instruct your child in your religious beliefs.

What is most often meant by this question is really: "How much time and access to my child am I entitled to?' That's the better question and quite frankly, the primary question in any battle over access to a child.

The family law courts were once viewed as woman skewed. Meaning, if a couple is in a custody battle (now referred to as Parenting Decision Making Responsibility); the woman "automatically" wins primary custody (primary parenting responsibilities), right? Not necessarily so.

The courts' views, and seeming bias on gender in the family law court room are definitely changing. Moreover, so are our family laws. We now have joint child support. Joint custody is now the norm. And a father's every other weekend rotation is articulated by most family law judges as the "bare minimum" which is a place to start to build a father's parenting time or visitation with his child, not a baseline assumption of all that he can hope to get in court.

So, how does a father get "rights" in a family law court? The better question is: how does a father get treated equally as the mother in family law court? To that end, I have three suggestions to my clients that are fathers who are seeking to be equal parents:

1.) Step up. This sounds like a basic no brainer, and you might be thinking, "well, yeah." But no really: step up to the plate and not quietly! If you are wanting to be a 50/50 parent and your request for such is not being recognized, you must step up. That means, you must ask your ex to take on additional responsibilities (and document, document, document, said efforts) and insist on being treated equally where the child is concerned.

2.) Logistics. It matters. When you have children who are growing and are involved in this that and the other activities and friendship developments, etc. where you are located in proximity to the child's school and community matters. That's a reality and you need to embrace it. So, if your current living arrangements and/or employment logistically make it problematic to be a 50/50 parent, explore your options aggressively so that you can position yourself physically and logistically such that you are convenient to be a 50/50 parent and thus, there is no rational reason for you not to be so in the eyes of the court.

I had one client who bought a home in the same subdivision as his ex and you know what? He got to be a 50/50 parent! He made logistics a priority, so his access to his children was a priority. And the result? Near 50/50 custody (parenting responsibilities).

Now, that does not mean that if you are not in the same neighborhood you can not hope to expect near equal or at least generous visitation time with your child. Experienced family law practitioners have a wealth of experience in building you creative solutions which maximizes your ability to have access and time with your child. For example: do you live in a different state? That's actually not a problem. An experienced practitioner can create parenting time plans which work for your child's schedule and get court ordered transportation burden sharing to maximize your time. I have even had one court who allocated ALL, yes ALL of a child's potential child support solely for the child's regular unaccompanied minor airfare ticket between both parents!

Let's face it, we are a global society. We move - a LOT. In our communities, in our jobs, and in exploring our world. Doesn't it make sense then, that the family law courts can be creative to making equal time with both parents happen? Of course they can!

3.) Put your money (and your time) where your mouth is. If your ex is unwilling to facilitate equal access to the child and you desire such, you must not only step up, but lawyer up. Courts will absolutely back you up in your efforts and most any reasonable request for access to your child. Meaning, if you are having a problem with getting information regarding your child, having trouble enforcing your visitation time, etc. our family law courts take a dim view of the offending parent and are often ready willing and able to start throwing down orders to curb such alienating behavior. However, you will save yourself a lot of time, stress, grief, and quite frankly money in the long run, if you retain the services of an experienced family law attorney who can take the time to figure out where the real issue is and suggest long term solutions, and is experienced in getting court orders to back it up.