5 Fears That Keep Divorcing Dads Up At Night
Divorce is difficult enough, but when you are a dad going through a divorce, get ready for even more worries and concerns…
What if your custody agreement doesn’t give you enough time with your children? How will you respond if your hostile ex digs in for a custody battle? What are your rights as a father — and what can you do to make sure the courts respect them?
If thoughts like these keeping you up at night, here are some facts to counter custody fears and smart steps you can take to protect your relationships with your children.
Fear: Fathers don’t have the same rights as mothers
Dads often labor under the assumption that fathers just can’t win when it comes to child custody. As a result, fathers are often reluctant to pursue their true custody wishes amidst fears they don’t have equal rights in the courts.
It’s time to dispel this myth. Decades ago, it was certainly true that most states subscribed to the idea that children, especially very young children, needed to be exclusively in the custody of their mothers. However, this outdated view has long since been abandoned.
Child custody and visitation laws differ from state to state, but in every state, the laws are now gender neutral. This means that neither the mother nor the father begins with a greater right than the other parent to custody of the children. It also acknowledges modern families with two dads (or two moms) where gender is a moot point.
The bottom line? In all states, fathers have the right to be treated equally in a custody dispute.
Fear: You won’t get enough time with your kids
Psychological experts and judges understand and support the notion that it is in the best interests of children to have extensive contact with both their parents, whenever possible. In most situations, the courts will strive to arrive at a shared custody agreement between parents in which the child spends nearly equal time with each parent.
Driven by their fears, however, some dads act hastily to demand sole or full custody because the name sounds appealing. After all, you want as much time with your children as possible, and this may seem like the best way to achieve this goal.
Here is the problem with putting all your chips down on sole custody: unless your ex is absent or unfit, demanding sole custody often only results in a huge custody battle…one that you may lose. The same is true if your ex is the one demanding sole custody! As noted above, the courts see the child maintaining healthy and close relationships with each parent as being in their best interests whenever possible. In custody terms, this usually results in a shared custody arrangement.
What kind of custody and parenting time plan should you advocate for? For your best options, talk to a family law attorney who can help you understand how to work with relevant factors — e.g., the kids’ school schedule, your work schedule, their time with their other parent, travel and transportation needs, any special medical or educational needs, and holidays and other special days — to come up with custody arrangement that will support you and your child having ample time to enjoy a strong and loving bond.
Fear: Your bad relationship with your ex will make custody negotiations impossible
This is one fear you’ll need to face head on. Bitter feelings towards your ex (and vice versa) wastes a lot of time and energy in divorce, especially when it comes to highly sensitive issues like deciding child custody. Your ability to work together and cooperate is key to ensuring that your agreement is one that will serve your relationship with your children, and not damage it.
To lower conflict, be the role model for taking a calm, child-centered approach to negotiations. Keep all communication brief and neutral. Don’t hit send on that angry text, no matter how your ex acted. Don’t argue in front of your kids, and don’t trash your ex to your kids when you have them alone. When you take oxygen away from high conflict divorce fires, you may be surprised by how quickly the flames are extinguished.
Divorcing parents can also agree to certain ground rules in the divorce and custody process, such as agreeing to try low conflict methods first to resolve their custody issues before going to court. Collaborative methods are often successful for helping parents reach an agreement in a neutral, low stress setting, even when there is lingering conflict. Your family law attorney can help steer you towards low conflict methods to try.
One other tip? When you feel uncomfortable in the aftermath of deciding to divorce, you may think that moving out and getting your own apartment is the best option. For the sake of your kids, think twice before making a move! If you move out of the family home without a plan in place to see your kids, the courts might perceive the move as abandoning your responsibilities or your children. If moving out truly is the only option, get a custody agreement in place and IN WRITING before you move out and follow the agreement. Read more about how to weigh the decision to move out of the family home.
Fear: Your ex is trying to “run the show” in deciding agreements
Your ex may be aggressively sending you demands for what your custody arrangement will look like. Because you love your children, you might be tempted to agree to these subpar custody terms in order to avoid arguments and “just get it over with.”
This approach can maintain peace on the surface, but making custody decisions based on placating your ex is ultimately not helpful for you and your children. Always keep in central focus that regular contact with your children is what will sustain your bond with them. Don’t give up your right to spend an equal amount of time with your children, even if in the short term it feels like a move that can “keep the peace” with a controlling ex. If you find yourself in this situation, enlisting a family law attorney with experience dealing with this personality type can be pivotal in protecting your rights.
Did you already sign off on a poor custody agreement? You can always apply for a modification (change) to your custody order by providing evidence to the judge as to why you believe spending more time with your children is in their best interests.
Fear: Your children will be turned against you
Parental alienation is a distressing and widespread problem, especially as a side effect of high conflict divorce. Warning signs that your child is being turned against you include:
– Your child is angry with you or acts withdrawn around you for no apparent reason.
– Your child feels guilty after spending time with you.
– Your ex asks your child to “spy” on you during your parenting time.
– Your ex keeps your child away from you.
– Your ex gives your child the choice whether to see you or not during your scheduled time.
– Your ex asks your child to choose one parent.
– Your ex speaks negatively about you in front of the child.
Here’s what you need to know about your rights: when you do have time with your kids, you have a right to establish a relationship with your children that is independent of their relationship with the other parent and free from interference by the other parent. Interference includes not only direct interruption of your parenting time, but also more indirect actions, such as interfering with your communication with the children or subjecting the children to negative comments about you.
One major way to protect yourself and your relationship with your child is to keep meticulous records about your interactions with your children and your ex. Note conversations with the other parent, keep printouts of text messages and emails, call logs, and any disruptions to parenting time. Also document your relationship with your child, keeping a log of your parenting time with places you go and how you spend your time together. Save receipts and take photos during your time together. Write down the names of people who were around you when you spent time with your child, in case you need witnesses. If the alienating parent is claiming that you had a negative relationship with your children, showing up with evidence proving otherwise is very important.
In more extreme situations, you can also enlist an expert to perform a forensic (aka in-depth) evaluation of your child custody situation. The expert evaluator will conduct interviews of the parents and the child and possibly conduct psychological testing on all parties involved to determine if there are any issues. The expert will then issue a written report with their findings. A hearing can then takes place where the expert testifies about their report before a judge and can be cross-examined.
The good news is that family courts are very in tune with parental alienation issues and have the ability to issue certain remedies, including ordering reunification therapy and modifying the custody order.
And hopefully knowing all this can help you get some much needed sleep.
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