How to Win Child Custody for Fathers Who Deserve More Parenting Time
There are proven ways to help fathers win equal or primary child custody
How to Win Child Custody for Fathers
The question is how to win child custody for fathers. The answer is by focusing on the child’s or children’s best interest and showing the court why you, the father, are equally fit or better fit for parenting.
Before we dive further into this answer, we will explore the concept of “winning.”
We know what fathers mean when they talk about "winning" child custody
When a father thinks about “winning” a child custody case, he already makes a mistake of how he looks at child custody in California.
Good fathers mean getting a child custody order they believe to be in the child's best interest. Poorly intentioned fathers mean using the child as leverage for child support or getting some foolish revenge against the mother. That is exactly why the word “winning” is incorrect. A victory in a child custody case can mean completely different things to different fathers.
We tailor the “winning” child custody concept toward a child’s best interest
We will refer to the concept of winning but we will tailor it so you understand what it may mean for a good father. We will focus on a father winning equal custody or primary custody.
Ultimately, however, I want you to get that word out of your head when it comes to custody and instead rephrase it with something like this: "how can I get a court order consistent with my child's [or children’s] best interest?"
How to win “equal” child custody and parenting time for fathers
Child custody includes legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody is the label attached to the amount of parenting time. The amount of parenting time is what matters, not the label.
Winning joint legal custody is common
Courts usually grant joint legal custody to both parents unless the court believes one parent is not fit to share in the decision-making process concerning the child's health, safety or education. Examples of parents losing legal custody include those situations that involve documented domestic violence, child abuse, serious substance abuse, serious child neglect, etc.
Read our guide on how a mother can lose custody of her child
Winning joint physical custody for fathers requires courage and a child focused strategy
For a father to win joint physical custody and equal parenting time requires the father to show the court such a schedule is in the child's best interest.
Fathers mistakenly believe they have a higher burden than the mother does. They sometimes believe the court will award primary custody to the mother unless the father can show the court why it should do something different. That is not California law.
Both the father and the mother start in the same place unless some of the issues we discussed above apply. Absent those, neither parent really has a burden of proof to overcome anything.
Both parents should prepare to advocate their position to the court and show the court why the parenting plan they propose is in the child's best interest.
The four ways fathers can win joint physical custody and equal parenting time
Here are some facts a father can show to help him obtain equal parenting time.
- The father has the same or similar amount of time to care for the child,
- The father has the same or similar parenting skills as the mother,
- The father is able to dedicate the same or similar amount of time to the child's education and extracurricular activities, and/or
- Neither the mother nor the father have a history that would evidence one or both of them are a danger to the child.
Did you notice the common theme? The theme is there is nothing consistent with the child's best interest that gives the mother a distinct advantage over parenting and therefore parenting time.
Status quo during the relationship is not the most important factor
Some mother argue they were the primary custodial parent during the marriage and that is how it should stay. That is not what California family law states.
While stability and continuity is a factor when a court determines parenting time, is not the only factor or even the most important factor.
Our laws recognize fathers and mothers may have had a different arrangement during the relationship and neither is bound for the rest of the child's minority to that arrangement, as if it was some kind of contract.
It is normal for a parent who was the primary custodial parent to remain the primary custodial parent in the short term after separation. However, if the father is capable of caring for the child on an equal parenting schedule, there is no reason for that temporary arrangement to become a permanent one.
How to win primary custody for fathers
I use the word "primary" instead of "sole" custody because parents sometimes think sole custody means 100% parenting time to one parent and therefore 0% parenting time to the other parent. That is not what sole physical custody means in family law. Regardless, we will use the word primary because most people understand “primary custody” better.
Read our guide on how to get full custody as a father
Does the father have to show a significant change of circumstances to win primary custody?
If the father has equal parenting time now because of a court order and wants to win primary custody, he will likely need to show a significant change of circumstances since the last court order that awarded equal parenting time. That however depends on how much primary custody the father wants. Let us use percentages as an example.
If the father has 50% parenting time now and wants to increase his parenting time to 60%, that may not be significant enough to require an actual showing of a significant change of circumstances. In that situation, the father may only need to show the additional parenting time is in the child's best interest.
However, if the father wants to go to 80% parenting time, that is a significant jump and the father will need to show a significant change in circumstances from the last court order.
All of this assumes the last court order is a judgment or post judgment final child custody order. Temporary orders while the divorce or parentage case is pending require a “best interest” showing and without the need to show a significant change of circumstances.
What does significant change of circumstances mean?
Fathers often ask what a significant change in circumstances actually means. There is no specific definition for it. However, an easy way to think about it is this.
- Something significant that occurred after the last court order,
- That significant event justifies coming to court and telling the court the situation today is very different from the situation that existed when the last court order went into effect, and
- The court should modify custody or parenting time as a result.
That may be an event that provides one parent a greater ability to spend time with the child, that significantly limits a parent's ability to spend time with the child, an action by a parent that significantly affects the child's health, safety, education or general welfare, etc.
Custody terms and laws are written to give the judge significant discretion
By now, you may realize words like "best interest," "significant change of circumstances," and health, safety, education and general welfare are broad. Fathers who want to win a child custody battle must have the facts that support their position and an attorney who can advocate it well.
They therefore need a great attorney to represent them.
When a court has broad discretion and the issues before the court are not black or white, your choice of advocate matters more than you may realize.
We hope you enjoyed this article. Our family law firm has offices in Orange County and Los Angeles. Follow the link to learn more about our affordable strategy sessions designed to answer your questions and give you advice about your specific situation.