Child Custody for Fathers
Nothing in a divorce can be more paralyzing than the thought of losing your children or missing out on key moments in their life. As a father, you may be concerned that your wife will automatically receive primary custody of your children. This is not necessarily true. While it is true that women usually are awarded primary physical custody of children, ultimately, the courts try to act in the child’s best interest.
When determining what is in your child’s best interest, the question that is most often asked is: who is the child’s primary caregiver in the relationship? To determine this, courts will often ask questions like:
- Who puts the child to bed at night?
- Who is there when the child gets up in the morning?
- Who helps the child get ready for their day (bathing, clothing, grooming, etc.)?
- Who takes the child to the doctor?
- Who plans the child’s activities?
It is important that your child have some semblance of routine and order amidst the chaos and confusion of a divorce. That is why the court considers the issue of caregiver so heavily. These are not the only things the court will consider when determining child custody, they will also consider things such as how fit each parent is. Keep in mind that while the court is trying to determine what is in the best interest for your child, you should keep that at the forefront of your divorce proceeding as well (see Child’s Best Interest are What Matters).
When you are seeking custody of your child, it is important to be aware that there are two types of custody. There is physical custody and legal custody (these names vary in some states). Physical custody refers to a child’s living arrangement and legal custody refers to the authority to make decisions about major life issues for your child (i.e., religious training, educational training, healthcare, etc.).
If you are seeking joint physical custody, know that does not mean a 50/50 arrangement where your child will get to spend equal time with both parents. Joint physical custody can fall anywhere on a spectrum of what is in the child’s best interest. For example, it may be in the child’s best interest to live primarily with the parent that lives in the child’s current school district and visit the other parent on weekends. Even though the child is spending more time with one parent, this arrangement would still be considered joint custody. If you decide to seek joint legal custody, both parents must agree upon any major decisions about a child’s life equally. In other words, you both have equal say on major issues in your child’s life (see Parental Custody Is Sometimes Out Of Joint?).
Please be aware that there is no cut and dry formula for winning custody of your child. Therefore, it is important to discuss child custody issues with an experienced divorce attorney (see When Dads Need a Divorce Attorney). An attorney with experience in child custody cases should be able to make you aware of your rights as a father and tell you your likelihood of receiving full custody of your children. If it is not likely that you will receive full custody of your children, your attorney should be able to advise you on what you are entitled to. Your attorney should also be able to help you develop a plan to spend as much time as possible with your children (see Father Visitation Rights) and be the father that you desire to be to your son or daughter.