When you first read the title of this article and the question of how to get custody as a father, you may have thought that I was about to reveal some magical formula. There is none. Instead, this article will focus on the much needed dose of common sense and the law so that you do not allow yourself to get suckered in by those who oversell themselves as “fathers rights attorneys” as if they somehow have a special knowledge of the law or some secrets on how to get custody as a father.
What I hope you learn is that a father, like a mother, will get joint or sole custody when he is able to demonstrate to the court that such a custody order is consistent with the children’s best interest.
That is not to say fathers do not have certain issues that are sometimes, depending on the family structure, more unique to them. However, those issues must all be addressed within the context of the children’s best interest, because that is what family law judges are trained to focus on.
Let’s look at what you must know about how to get custody as a father.
How to get custody as a father? Your work schedule
The traditional American marriage still has a husband and father who works full-time and a wife and mother who either works less hours, earns less pay and/or does not work at all. While this is less common today compared to decades ago, it still pervades the majority of divorce cases that we see.
For fathers that have full-time jobs and young children who are not yet in school, the practical problem and fear of not getting quality time with the children is an issue near and dear to the dad’s heart. Thus, it is important that fathers with full-time or heavy work schedules obtain a custody and visitation schedule that maximizes the quality time with their children.
Quality time includes days that the father does not work such as weekends as well as evenings during the week. Vacation and holiday time is a critical part of a working father’s schedule. Depending on the age of the children, frequent and regular contact (even in short bursts of time) may be a must to continue the bonding process and ensure the child does not become distant from the father. This is where the Orange County parenting guidelines, which we reference and explain on this website, come in handy. We encourage you to read them. Even if your case is not in Orange County, we believe these guidelines will help you understand the different types of common parenting plans available.
In situations where both the father and mother work full-time and the children are equally bonded with both parents, no special preference should be given to the mother in the custody schedule. If two parents have very similar work schedules and it is otherwise in the children’s best interest to spend equal time with the parents, any day care or other childcare arrangements should be equally made between the parents so that both parents enjoy equal time with their children when they’re not working.
For fathers who travel extensively due to their work schedules, flexibility and make up time is an important part of any custody and visitation schedule. If a father is going to miss one or more weeks of time with their children, a custody and visitation order can layout how the time will be made up after the father returns from the business trip.
How to get custody as a father? Bonding with your children
A custody order with frequent and regular contact does not just happen because you want it. If, during your marriage, you have not spent very much time with your children and are not bonded with them, you face an uphill climb if you intend to suddenly, after separation, get 50/50 custody.
That however does not mean you should give up on your children and take whatever custody and visitation schedule is offered to you.
For fathers in such a situation, it is time that you make the choice. Are your children a priority in your life or not? If you answered yes to this question, you must start to act consistent with your answer.
How do you do this? You start by spending your actual visitation time with the children. That means you do not pawn off the children to your parents, daycare facilities or babysitters. That means that you keep the children’s routines or add to them so that the children not only feel comfortable at your home but also look forward to coming there.
In addition, so long as you intend to follow through, you must ask the children’s mother for additional time through a cooperative and reasonable tone. If the children’s mother refuses to agree to additional time, one of the worst things you can do is to do nothing. In such a situation, once you are able to establish that you spend time with your children and can handle the additional time, hiring an experienced Orange County child custody lawyer is a good idea so that you can bring to the courts attention all of these facts as well as the mother’s refusal to co-parent and act in the children’s best interest.
Remember that California Family Code 3020(b) specifically states that it is the public policy of this state:
The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage, or ended their relationship, and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy, except where the contact would not be in the best interest of the child, as provided in Section 3011.
How to get custody as a father? The alienating or uncooperative mother
This is the hardest thing a parent can go through. Unfortunately, although it is not necessarily gender specific, certain parents refuse to reasonably communicate, co-parent and even go as far as alienating the children from the other parent.
In such situations, your strategy may have to change if you intend to act with your children’s best interests in mind and it’s important that you know about a non custodial parent’s rights in such circumstances.
Any parent, including a mother, who refuses to co-parent and alienates the children (which can come in many forms including false allegations of abuse as well as psychological abuse), should not have joint custody of the children.
We believe that parents who engage in such conduct are a danger to the children and, if the conduct does not stop, it may escalate as a child gets older, thereby causing a greater division between the non-alienating parent and child relationship.
If you are a father who is facing a mother that engages in such conduct, the help of an Orange County custody attorney who is experienced and knowledgeable in handling such issues is a must. You have numerous options available to you including but not limited to using the family law discovery process to flesh out the mother’s allegations, requesting and having the court order a forensic psychological evaluation (often called a child custody 730 evaluation), having the court order a formal child custody investigation (called a CCI in Orange County Family Court), the appointment of a lawyer for the children as well as many other options.
It is important for you to know, as a father, that if you do nothing, the chances of you being able to ever get joint or primary custody of your children may reduce significantly. That is because children who are consistently alienated from one parent overtime may, as they get older, not want to spend time with that parent and, once the child reaches a certain age, California law does allow the child to have a voice in the family law process and allows the child to state a preference in custody cases.
How to get custody as a father? What is your next best step?
Contacting our family law lawyers is a good start to get your child custody case on the right track. Even if your case has already started and you believe is not going well, our attorneys can sit down with you, evaluate where you have been and help get your case in the right direction.
Call us today for an initial strategy session. We have three Orange County offices. The number for our central office is (714) 937-1193. If your matter is in the four counties we handle (Orange County, Los Angeles or the central courts of Riverside or San Bernardino), we will first speak with you by phone to better understand your case, how we can best help you get custody as a father and then set a time to have a strategy session. We are excellent communicators and if your matter is one we can help with, that strategy session is set up quickly and on a date and time convenient for you. To reach us by email, please complete the form at the end of this article.
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