For Divorced Dads: 3 Tips For Getting Custody of Your Kids
Good news for divorced dads: family courts no longer presume that mothers should be the primary parent. Instead of favoring gender, judges look for the following factors when determining a parent’s fitness for custody:
- Ability to provide appropriate housing.
- Ability to communicate effectively with co-parent.
- Age of child.
- Quality of your relationship with your child.
- Proximity to school.
- Parental issues that may compromise a child’s safety, i.e. mental illness, addiction, and abuse.
- Parental involvement in a child’s life.
- Anyone residing in the home that endangers a child’s well-being.
- A parent’s employment and earning capacity.
- A child’s special needs.
In cases where mothers have been the primary caregivers of infants and preschool-aged children, parenting agreements often outline a “step-up plan” allowing for increased visitation time with fathers in accordance with a child’s developmental milestones.
Bottom line: fathers who want shared custody are likely to get it, as long as they can demonstrate this arrangement is in their child’s best interest. Here are 3 tips for getting custody of your kids, and what you should do if shared custody is your goal:
1. Ask for shared custody from the beginning. If you wait till the kids are older to ask for increased parenting time, you will have to prove a change in circumstance that justifies your request. This means more legal fees, conflict with your co-parent, and upheaval for your child. When small children are involved, ask for a step-up plan that will accommodate your child’s ability to tolerate longer absences from the mother or primary caregiver.
2. Show an active involvement in your child’s life. If you had a traditional marriage in which you earned the money and your ex wrangled child-rearing tasks, now is the time to step up your parenting game. Familiarize yourself with your children’s daily routine. Get to know their doctors and teachers. Schedule play-dates so you develop relationships with their friends’ parents. Supervise homework. If your kid has special needs, you must demonstrate the ability to take on a challenging parenting role: interface with all medical, mental health and academic professionals and learn appropriate interventions to manage your child’s behaviors.
3. Demonstrate ability to co-parent effectively with your ex. It’s time to put your grievances with your STBX aside and focus on your job as a co-parent: to support his or her relationship with your child. Family court professionals frown on behaviors that obstruct this relationship: bad-mouthing the other parent, interfering with visitation, a pattern of hostile written and/or verbal correspondence with an ex. An acrimonious co-parenting relationship ultimately will hurt your kids more than your ex, so be sure to conduct yourself appropriately.