In my practice as a divorce lawyer, the vast majority of the fathers whom I have represented want to remain actively involved as parents after their divorce has been settled. Very few want to sever ties with their children, even when they cannot stand the sight of their ex-wives.
In fact, I am seeing an increasing number who are fighting to be named the primary conservator -- or the parent who determines where the children live and has majority of the access. This is especially true when both spouses are working full-time.
I am a working mom, and I benefit from a marriage in which parenting duties are truly split 50/50. However, having worked with over 600 divorcing clients, I can say that our relationship is an exception to the rule.
Even in dual income households, one spouse typically bears a disproportionate level of the parenting responsibilities. During divorce proceedings, the level of past parental involvement is the most critical factor in determining both the level of access that each spouse will receive and the amount of child support that will be provided, if any.
From my perspective, the courts should not arbitrarily favor mothers over fathers. I believe firmly that the spouse who has served as the primary parental figure should remain in that role after the divorce has been finalized. And as such, they should receive a corresponding amount of the post-divorce estate. This is the case regardless of the gender of the primary conservator.
As a marketing ploy, some family law firms tout themselves as "father's rights" firms. The truth is that, while some judges may arbitrarily favor the traditional model of a family with the mother as the primary caretaker and the father as the sole breadwinner, their decision of who will serve as primary managing conservator generally rests on the level of each spouse's involvement in the children's lives. If both spouses were working full-time and they shared parenting duties 50/50, then the father has just as solid an opportunity to be named the primary managing conservator as the mother.
The key consideration is whether the father was equally (or more) involved in the children's lives and took a vested interest on a daily basis in parenting. Examples include the following: taking the children to school, attending PTA meetings, making meals for the children, managing doctor appointments, choosing extracurricular activities and the like. Here, the court seeks to maintain what is closest to continuity for the children.
And as a divorcing parent, you should also seek to maintain as much strength in the foundation of your children's lives as possible. The worst behavior that I see in my practice is when divorcing spouses treat their children like property rather than people. Fighting over them is not the same as arguing over who gets the house or the car or the timeshare: when it comes to determining conservatorship, access and child support, your primary focus should be to build the most effective co-parenting relationship possible.
As I often tell my clients, "You can love your kids or hate your ex-spouse; but you cannot do both at the same time."
And now, for my fellow mothers who are reading this article:
I understand that we share a special bond with the children who grew within us for nine months before they met their fathers. However, when it comes to deciding their future, we truly need to focus on what is best for them (and which, at heart, is truly what is best for us). That could very well be having the father named as the primary conservator. You are no less of a mother to that child just because they now live with their father more than with you. In parenting, what matters most is the quality of the time that children receive from both of their parents.
This article neither constitutes nor is intended to be legal advice. Please be advised that if you need legal counsel, you should consult an attorney regarding your individual situation.