How to Maintain Father’s Rights
Posted in Custody on March 15, 2017
Does a father not have equal rights to raise the children, spend time with the children, discipline the children and enjoy the minute by minute, 24/7 joy that raising children in this day and age brings? Should father’s jump on this “father’s rights bandwagon” being marketed by Florida divorce lawyers? The answers to those questions and more will be discussed in this article. Without question and judging from the volume of calls we get from irate, riled up fathers, the “movement” is growing. How much traction it gets in the form of change to the legal process remains to be seen; however, the numbers of true believers increases as we speak.
Let’s get one thing clear before embarking on our quest to for equal rights between mothers and fathers: where children are concerned, the court is concerned with one thing and one thing only: protecting the best interests of the children. When I say that to a father irate because he feels used and abused by the ex, his children, the system and perhaps his lawyer the question I invariably get is “aren’t the child’s best interests served by having both parents having equal rights?” More on that later. The so-called “father’s rights lawyers” have eliminated the lawyer frustration element by joining forces with their client in order to present a unified front: “yes, Mr. Client, you are correct, fathers’ are getting screwed (or not as the case may be) and we are going to fight this all the way to the courthouse.” The next thing they do is open the office window and scream “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore.” That exercise accomplishes a few things: (1) gets Mr. Client all fired up and loaded for bear (2) sets up a long case scenario that (3) makes dollar signs roll in the lawyer’s eyes – “cha-ching” – and (4) ignores what the lawyer knows – his “father’s rights” argument isn’t going to play that well in Peoria.
Family law judges are trained to look at many factors in making a best interests determination. This article assumes that both parents are decent people: mom’s not a crack whore and dad’s not been featured on an episode of “To Catch a Predator.” If so, that is an entirely different discussion that will be addressed another day. For now, let us focus on some of the factual issues faced by a judge when trying to fashion a schedule keeping in mind the only thing that drives him or her: the best interests of your children.
Coordinating Work Schedules for Timesharing
The days of Ozzie and Harriet, the Cleavers and the “traditional” family unit are long gone. Mothers are no longer relegated to the role of domestic servant charged with cooking, cleaning and making babies. That said and with no disrespect to working moms generally speaking, mothers work less hours than fathers. Why? Because they have children with needs (pick-up from school, soccer practice, piano lessons, doctors’ appointments, parent/teacher conferences to name a few). A working mothers’ day begins before the suns rises and last until it almost rises again when she finally finishes helping with homework, cleaning the kitchen, making sure the kids are clean, preparing lunches, “servicing” her spouse and perhaps reading a magazine for a few minutes before passing out. Not to mention, having to do a bit of work for her employer. Make no mistake about it, there are still traditional families – one income, mom stays at home with the kids, plays tennis during the day, takes a little lunch at the local bagel store and goes to a Pilates class before school gets out. Unfortunately, not the norm any longer. Though there are women who are absolutely compelled to have a career, many work out of necessity – the family cannot make ends meet on one income. When that occurs, there is additional stress placed on the family because mom, to some extent, resents the fact that she is not on the “tennis, bagel, Pilates” circuit and due to her motherly instincts, really wants to put those inherent skills to good use. On another note, it is absolutely imperative that all young women be able to sustain themselves without reliance on a man. Given the ridiculously high rate at which couples throw in the towel on their marriage and family, self-reliance is the mantra that all women must etch in their heads (or perhaps in one of the “tramp-stamp” tattoos).
So, what about dad and his work schedule? Well, not much has changed since the days of Ward Cleaver (probably not the best example because he worked in a bank with Fred Rutherford – but you get the idea). Dads get up early and work late. How late? Usually until way after school gets out, piano lessons are over, soccer practice is finished and mom is well on her way to getting dinner on the table and one of the kids in the bath. If dad works late, homework time has come and gone and he has missed out on the latest school controversy about the wardrobe issue the principal had with his teenage daughter. Does the fact that dad works hard to support his family so that they can pay for the lessons, sports, clothes and food make him a bad guy? Of course not; dads are heroes. No ifs, ands or buts about it. However, work schedules are one issue that the court will look at very carefully when analyzing the best interests of the children regarding implementation of a timesharing schedule.
One thing I hear from fathers on a daily basis is that they want equal time with their children. Once I calm them down a bit, we begin to discuss life, theirs, and how life would need to change if they got what they want. A father working a full-time job, regardless of whether it is manual labor or an office position, will need to figure out how to get kids to school on-time without being late for that early morning appointment or breakfast meeting with the boss. How many times a week can father tell his employer that he needs to leave a few hours early because the babysitter won’t be able to retrieve the kids at school. How many missed practices and after school activities does a child miss before they begin to resent father for not “doing it like mommy?”
The issue for working fathers should not focus on the amount of time with the children; rather, how to get quality time with the children. When can father make his schedule jibe with his kids such that the time spent together is meaningful. That does not mean going to amusement parks, the mall to buy stuff or going to Disney World. Quite the contrary, though those activities will certainly ingratiate father to the kids, the novelty of being the “good time” dad will wear off in short order. Instead, the kids, father and entire family unit is better served by meaningful interaction – talk, play ball, take a walk, read a book – in order to make the most out of the limited time they have together. Needless to say, the weekend is best time for a working father to spend quality time with the children. When working out a timesharing schedule or suggesting one to the court should your case get to the family law judge assigned to your case, ask for as many weekends per month as you can handle. Most people alternate weekends but an active, engaged father may want three. It’s not an unreasonable request and one that many judges will consider when making going through the best interests analysis. Christmas, spring break, summers are all opportunities for father to spend more time with the children, if possible. Same problem though – can father find the time to spend two uninterrupted weeks with the children during the summer or will kids be sitting in his house twiddling thumbs during the day waiting for daddy to come home from work? Believe me, the kids will not be regardless of how much ice cream they it or movies you take them to in order to “make-up” for not being there. Quality time is the order of the day when it comes to kids.
Timesharing between separation and final hearing
One area I spend a lot of time talking about with fathers is what have you done for timesharing since separation from your spouse? Why you may ask? Simple, “history (i.e., “course of dealing” in legal parlance) is a huge factor for a judge when making a best interests determination. If father has spent scant time with the kids since separation, gets to the final hearing and insists on equal time, the judge will be hard pressed to give it to him. The argument from the other side will invariably be that father’s motivation is strictly financial; the more time father has with the children (minimum of 73 nights per year), the less his child support obligation will be. It’s a heck of a good argument in that situation. On the other hand, what if mother, shrew that she is, refused to allow any significant time after separation. How does that play out in court? Depends. Depends on how proactive you were in trying to get time: did you keep all the emails and text messages requesting/demanding time with the kids; finding out about school calendars, work, events. Did you make efforts to establish a temporary timesharing schedule through the court if mother was an obstructionist? I am not a big fan of temporary time sharing motions but sometimes it is absolutely necessary to accomplishing your goal. A motion for temporary timesharing usually gets resolved without need for a hearing. The purpose of the motion from my perspective is to protect the record for trial. You do not want to be accused of not doing all you could to establish a firm timesharing schedule prior to the final hearing.
Florida Law and Father’s Rights
There was a movement not too long ago that sought a change to existing Florida law whereby it would be the law of the land that mothers and fathers should have equal time. No such luck – it failed. Current Florida law Chapter 61.13(2)(c)1 provides as follows:
- It is the public policy of this state that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing. There is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or modifying the parenting plan of the child.
Frequent and continuing does not mean equal; yes, it could in some situations but, again, that is a fact driven analysis. What have you done and what can you do?
Here’s the bottom line in this whole fathers’ rights movement: there is no such thing. Fathers’ rights lawyers and child custody attorneys sell their clients on the concept that they are on equal footing with mother and are entitled to the same time. In fact, they are not on equal footing and 50% of the time rarely translates to shouldering 50% of the responsibility of day to day activities. Yes, there are fathers who want the time, get the time and accept the responsibility that goes with it. That father is the exception rather than the rule. Should a father choose to hire one of these fathers’ rights firm, they are getting sold a bill of goods most of the time and will see that play out at mediation or final hearing. Divorcing fathers should do their due diligence before hiring a Florida child support lawyer. Want a lawyer to tell you what you want to hear – call some else. Want to hear what you need to know? Call our Florida child custody lawyers– Steven D. Miller, Florida online divorce lawyer.
“When it’s time to leave . . . Call Steve.”