In August of last year I wrote about my belief that parents should be forced to take an equal division of time in their children’s care. I don’t think it’s fair or equitable that the lion’s share of child rearing falls to the mother. Fathers should be required by law to take their children 50 percent of the time.
Those Republican poster-children, Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston, had a child out of wedlock, and are now going through the negotiation process of how much access Levi is to have with his son. He says that Bristol, she of the “Family Values” family, wont let him take his son. We see this type of controlling behavior all too often in our practice, and it is a detriment to the father/child bonding.
I understand that the Johnston child is only a few months old, but that is no excuse in this day and age for a father to be denied solo parenting time. Frequently the mom claims that the father is not a good parent, or too immature, or too uneducated on how to provide for a newborn. I think those are weak arguments at best and disingenuous at worst. If a man is old enough to father a child, to be required to pay child support, then he should be old enough to take up the mantel of parenting.
Today, as it stands, fathers who want to obtain, or increase, their visitation and custody orders need to keep in mind the following — proximity, paperwork and persistence. They can make or break your chances of getting the orders issued by the judge. Most fathers start out a custody case at a disadvantage. When dad moves out, the children are left with mom, and that becomes the way the court is inclined to keep the situation. The moment that dad moves out of the family home, is the moment that mom gains an advantage in child custody hearings.
Here’s why, the courts don’t want to upset the children’s living environment. They focus on keeping the child stable, and that means in their historical home.
So how then does a man recover from the mistake of moving out of the house? He must show to the court that he can effectively parent the child, with as little disruption to the child’s routine as possible.
This means how far or close dad lives to the child’s home and school. This is a major factor in increasing, or acquiring, custody and visitation. The closer dad is to the home and school, the more easily he can be present for the child, and the courts give this great weight. If the choice is for a child to be in a car for five minutes getting from mom’s home to school or a 25 minute drive from dad’s home, the court is going to prefer mom’s home. It is also more likely that the child’s friends and social network are close to the school they attend, which is a factor for the court.
Cases are won or lost on documentation. Dads should keep a calendar or a diary of all the time that they are with their child. In any contested case, mom has something that she will use to show the court how little time dad spends with the kids.
A simple calendar which shows the days that dad took his child, and what they did on those days can make all the difference for a change in custody. If dad keeps the receipts for what he did with his child, it will allow his lawyer to prove that he took the child to see the movie “Cars” on a day when mom says he didn’t visit. This is a crucial credibility issue, and one that with a little bit of work by dad, can yield big gains. The court will see that dad is truthful, and he’s come a long way towards winning the credibility wars, and that can lead to more time with his child.
The biggest factor that effects whether or not a dad will win more visitation or even equal custody, is his ability to come back, time and time again. The successful dad in family court is the dad who never gave up, and was willing to do whatever it takes, no matter how difficult it was, or how long it took, to prove to the court that he wants and is capable of being a loving, attentive and present father.
The successful dad who wants to increase his custody and visitation, will live close to his child, keep good records, and never give up when dealt a bad hand.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.