4 Essentials in Proving Your Custody CaseThe social injustices lurking in Fathers' Rights issues cause many Dads to give up before they try.
There are no GENERAL fixes for the biases of society, but there are INDIVIDUAL, powerful methods for ensuring that a father has fair access to the courts and to his children.
Father's Rights Checklist:Further answers are provided below, but here are the basics:
- First, provide evidence of good parenting skills. Parenting skills are easily proven in court, and proof that a father has good parenting skills ALWAYS has an impact on the judge.
- Second, evidence of a strong relationship with the children, or the eagerness to work on that relationship, is often difficult, but is essential.
- Third, evidence of sobriety and good mental health, or proof of progress toward improving mental health issues and getting sober, will influence the judge, the kids, and most moms. If a father needs to prove he is correcting issues such as drug or alcohol abuse, anger, depression, bi-polar mood swings, aloofness, anxiety, or personality disorders, etc., showing a willingness to voluntarily make changes up front, instead of waiting for orders, is crucial.
- Fourth, a father must make time for the kids, and his willingness to make enough time -- as perceived by the children -- should be proven in every contested custody case. Yes, busy moms often get a pass, but busy dads are usually perceived as lesser parents. Not fair, but real world. A written schedule showing real time for child activities, and a demonstrated willingness to turn the cell phone off for specific "me" times with the kids, is hard for the judge to ignore.
Plan Your Proof Early:The answer to any father's rights strategy session in a high conflict case is to plan for an attack before filing court paperwork. Fathers can use a time-tested, successful approach for improving their cases.
STEP 1: Parenting Skills are Essential
A father battling for rights to custody, who feels he is being unfairly denied parenting time, must prove to the judge that he is not the father his former companion says he is. Women may often make broad statements about a father’s alleged poor parenting skills. These statements feed into the basic, socialized prejudices of judges who have not been young in several decades. Today's fathers, not realizing in advance that their parenting skills will be challenged, often fail to take steps to prove they know what to do with the kids.
If a dad knows his skills will be attacked, he should, at minimum, prove that he has read books on three topics: "Raising Teens" (or babies, or toddlers, etc.); "Helping kids cope with a breakup;" and "Becoming a better single parent." There are 100s of books on each topic, and a search on Amazon or Barnes and Noble websites will yield digital versions that can be downloaded. A father (or any parent) seeking parenting skills information does not have to leave his home or office to get the information he needs. A list of books, even a stack of books taken to court, with the ability to discuss more than the chapter headings when questioned, will be one building block in proving a father’s case. (A lawyer might ask his client, "..and what did you learn to do about Johnny's nightmares?" Etc.)
Next, if a father cannot prove actual parenting skills by use of witnesses, etc., he should immediately acquire the skills he needs. He should go to a parenting class, which he does not need a court order for, just the will to do it. There are often inexpensive city college, parks and recreation, community center, religious center, or adult school classes available to anyone who applies.
There are also many online parenting classes for the single parent, some geared specifically toward fathers. WARNING: Internet ("online") parenting classes still carry the stigma of being honors based, and too quick to certify the students. So, in tough cases, on-campus courses of a minimum of 8 weeks (in this jurisdiction) will be needed. Vitally, any parenting skills course will provide the all-important certificate of completion. This should be provided to court in a declaration, and brought the day of the hearing.
Many fathers go into court trying to make a general argument that all men should have more rights to raise their kids. This is not usually persuasive because it does not show the judge that the specific father in court that morning can actually do the job. A father willing to improve his parenting skills for the sake of his kids, and willing to bring the proof to court, will be able to demonstrate good parenting skills that the judge will be more likely to reward.
STEP 2: Gathering Evidence of a Strong Father-Child Relationship
Fathers who are gruff, who are under pressure, who always left the parenting to the other parent, who have recovered from addictions, who have been away due to military service or out-of-town employment, etc., may find they have a weak bond with their children.
This can be purely temporary, even if the other spouse is coaching the children against a strong father-child relationship. However, the relationship will not get stronger unless the child’s feelings are considered, and steps are taken to improve the child's attitude toward Dad in a healthy way. Trying to force a child, barricade a child, punish a child, or threaten a child into improving his or her feelings about Dad (or in some cases an absent Mom) will just about guarantee the opposite reaction, and will cause long-term harm to both the child and the relationship.
Kids are not lifeless possessions, treasured baseball cards, or even cuddly puppies! They cannot suddenly be moved into a new situation without advance preparation. If they are scared of Dad, yelling at them to "get over it," or forcing them to be away from the only parent they currently trust, will end unhappily. In fact, in this author’s opinion, one reason there is so much distrust of the so-called reunification process in general is because of the outliers, those 'experts' who are extremely vocal on the internet, who convince Dads that the only way to get the kids to like Dad is to isolate the kids from their safe haven, Mom. Baloney! If kids didn’t like candy they would not eat it. If they learn to like Dad, they will want to be with him more, regardless of their relationship to Mom.
A good method to repair a weak bond is to get help from the counselors who regularly provide therapy in this arena. It may be called family therapy, conjoint therapy, child-focused counseling, fathers and kids together class, etc. Whatever the name, the help provided is focused on helping the kids know they are being listened to, and that they can begin trusting the therapist/counselor. Once the kids trust the therapist, and usually see that the therapist also knows the other parent (Mom), they can finally be more interested in getting to know, like, and love their dad. WARNING: Sneaking the kids to therapy just does not work. Openness is how to repair the relationship.
Good news — Family therapy (or the other therapies mentioned above) is so much less expensive than paying two attorneys to fight in court about whether counseling should occur, that many couples see the benefit of trying a round of therapy rather than fighting about it.
STEP 3: Evidence of sobriety and good mental health
Proof of a healthy mental state that is drug and alcohol free may be in the form of voluntary urine tests for drug abuse, breathalyzers, other random testing, proof that a person is being prescribed bi-polar meds, or has taken anger management, or has been accepted back at work after a stint at Betty Ford, etc.… Those who are getting help for addictions or mental health issues can easily get the right reports to prove their progress. Get the proof, get it into a form useful in court, get it before the judge.
Many fathers in this category, who are in a battle over custodial rights, find the mother of the child wants to 'protect' the child from dad long after dad has corrected his problem. If a father has proof that he has changed these types of negatives in his life, he definitely needs to bring that proof to court. Witnesses, documents, reports, tests, a full evidentiary hearing, whatever it takes.
STEP 4: Making Time for the Children
As every father who has watched other cases in court knows, the guys who are the coaches, or teach the kids to swim at a public pool, or who go to Back to School Night or to their children’s plays, recitals, dances, etc., these are the Dads who are smiled upon by the judge. These are the ‘involved’ dads. These are the winners.
Yes, taking the kids to the movies and going out into the lobby to make cell phone calls, etc., may be all a Dad feels he can do, but he should consider that he could also make necessary phone calls from the little league field. The idea here is that a Dad who feels he is getting an unfair reaction in court must prove his involvement. Teams, or recitals, or religious communities, etc., where other parents are witnesses, or where there are pictures of a dad in a team shirt, are evidence of involvement. Merely testifying that the kids were fine while they stayed with dad and watched TV in his home yields little positive effect. CAUTION: A dad who only has the kids 8 days a month yet hires a babysitter so he can go out with a new friend DURING his precious custodial time will NOT score points with the judge. If you need to prove involvement, go out on dates on your own time, not on the days you have the kids.
Sometimes a father can get the first three steps right but this last step of actually making time for the kids has him stumped. If a Father does not make time for the kids he will often lose the battle to have significant parenting time.
Presenting Your Case
Carefully addressing each of the four steps in the Father's Rights Checklist in the written declarations, with the court mediator, with any evaluator, and in the evidentiary hearing will guarantee a better outcome for the involved Dad.