The common perception, whether it’s right or wrong, is that wives, mothers, and women have the upper hand when it comes to divorce and child custody. It’s possible to throw around all manner of statistics and cite various expert opinions on the subject, but the fact of the matter is that, when it comes to dissolution of marriage and guardianship, many men feel like they get the short end of the metaphorical stick, and that fathers’ rights get trampled in the process.
From a legal standpoint, mothers and fathers have the exact same claims, which should give them an equal chance of being awarded primary custody. That’s on paper. In reality, we’re all well aware that humans, which includes judges, can make emotional decisions that may be biased in one way or another.
If you’re a father going through a divorce or custody battle, it’s important to know your rights and how to safeguard your interests and those of your children.
What Are A Father’s Rights?
As we said, legally speaking, fathers have the exact same claims as mothers when it comes to child custody. Barring extreme circumstances, you have the right and responsibility to be a part of your child’s life on a regular basis and in a meaningful way. Basically, should you and your spouse divorce, if there are minor children involved, both parties are equally entitled to remain fixtures for their kids.
Just like a mother, a father has the right to request primary guardianship of his child or children in a divorce. If he does receive custody, he also retains the right to petition the court for appropriate child support from his former spouse, which may be used to help provide for expenses like food, clothing, and shelter.
If you are a father who is not granted custody, you still have the right to see your children. This visitation will be reasonable and regular. In this scenario, you are also entitled to spend time with your kids free from interference by the custodial parent, better known as your former spouse.
Custody exchanges can be tense times, especially if you and your ex are not on the best terms. There are ways to make these swaps easier for everyone. You can make the trade at school, or at daycare or a babysitter’s, meet in a public place where you both may be less inclined to make a scene, or bring a third party along for the encounter. It can even be as simple as making sure everything is packed up and ready to go in advance to cut down the amount of face time involved. It’s important to keep things civil in these situations, if not for yourself, then for your kids. If you can prevent emotions from running wild, it will only benefit them.
How To Ensure Your Rights As A Father
As the years pass by, there has been an increased emphasis, publicly and in the courts, on making sure that both parents play an integral part in a child’s life after divorce or separation. It’s important that you remain involved in the upbringing of your kids, but you may have to take steps to ensure this happens.
As already stated, you are equally entitled to custody during the divorce process. If you actively want primary child custody, you have every right to pursue this goal. You may need to prepare and file a petition for custody, provide information about the parents and child, and ultimately wait for the court to decide on your request. Oregon law also requires that all such petitions include a parenting plan.
When awarding custody, the court is charged with determining what is in the best interest of the child. To establish this, the judge will examine a number of factors. This may include your abilities as a parent, the pre-existing relationship you have with your kids, stability, physical and emotional health and safety, and more. If kids are old enough to have a preference, the court may take their testimony into account, though if their wishes are deemed as being opposed to what is best for them, they may be ignored.
In short, don’t be passive. If you want child custody of your children or significant visitation rights, you may have to take an active approach. It may be in your best interest to hire an attorney with experience working child custody cases. A lawyer will have insight into the process, as well as advice, both legal and practical, that may lead to an optimal outcome for your case.
The Rights Of Unmarried Fathers
In some cases, it may be trickier to assert your rights as a father if you and your child’s mother weren’t married. In Oregon, however, unmarried parents have the same rights as their legally bound counterparts. If your paternity is established, and if your name is on the child’s birth certificate, you will most likely be recognized as the legal father.
As such, just like if you were married, you and the mother have equal legal standing in the eyes of the law. You have just as much right to pursue primary child custody as your ex, regardless of marital status. Should you be awarded guardianship of your kids, you also have the right to petition for child support. Similar to divorced or divorcing couples, factors like income, ability to pay, the custody schedule, and need will all figure into the amount. If you are not awarded custody, you may still be entitled to regular visitation and will likely be ordered to provide child support.
Again, it may be in your best interest to be proactive in this regard. If you want custody, file the appropriate paperwork and go after it. If you believe you are the best parent, this is something you may have to prove. There may be a discovery schedule established, where the court will look into the parenting abilities of each party and potentially talk to witnesses to get a feel for the situation.
It’s possible to work out a visitation schedule with the child’s mother, or you can leave it up to the court to decide. Either way, the judge will turn that into a custody and visitation order that lays out who gets the kids when, child support, and the like, and by which you and your ex must abide.
Make The Most Of The Time You Have
Being involved in your child’s life can have a huge impact. It may be difficult to remain an influential presence after a divorce or split, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Regardless of which spouse gets primary child custody, it’s vital to make the most of the time you do get to spend with your kids. Whether this winds up being almost every night, or just a few days a month, you can continue to exert a positive influence as they grow up.
Make sure to adhere to the custody agreement. If you’re ordered to pay child support, do it to the best of your ability. Don’t let petty squabbles and hurt feelings between you and your ex get in the way of your relationship with your kids. Lingering bitterness may prove to be a waste of energy. Keep the best interest and well-being of your children in mind at all times.
If you’re going through a custody battle, or one looms on the horizon, it may be the smart move to consult an attorney. If you have any questions about your situation, feel free to contact the Portland offices of Goldberg Jones and we’ll be happy to discuss your case.