With Father's Day rapidly approaching, there may be no better time than June to take stock of the state of fathers' rights in the U.S. If you are a dad going through a divorce in 2015, what can you expect?
Virtually all states have taken steps in recent decades to revise divorce laws to reflect modern views on family life and the best interests of children, creating a more level playing field for parents going through divorce. This isn't to suggest suggest that there aren't instances of dads feeling discriminated against in custody proceedings and that advocacy work for fathers' rights is no longer needed; however, we can clearly see that a growing number of fathers are emerging from divorce with custody agreements in place that support meaningful, close relationships with their kids.
How are dads obtaining these positive child custody arrangements? Here are three key ways to achieve a child custody settlement with your former spouse that respects your child's relationships with both of you.
Make the Most of Flexible Parenting Time Arrangements: When parents agree to shared custody in their divorce settlement, this should not be code for "kids live with mom and see dad every other weekend." As a family law attorney, I've seen countless instances when co-parents are willing to work together to achieve truly creative arrangements -- ones that result in providing children with the ability to have rich, satisfying relationships with each parent.
In one recent case, for example, divorced parents of two younger children decided on a "bird's nest" arrangement in which the kids remain in the family home while the mom and the dad rotate in and out according to their agreed upon parenting time schedule. (Both have someplace to stay when it's not their turn to be with the kids.) Because this arrangement has eliminated the children's need to adjust to a new/second home as part of accepting their parents' divorce, the mother and father are each freed up in this new configuration to simply work on maintaining and strengthening their bond with their kids.
Embrace Peaceful Methods of Divorce: If at all possible, consider settling your matter out of court using an amicable method such as divorce mediation, in which you work with a neutral mediator to resolve the issues of divorce, including child custody. Rather than go to court and have a judge decide your child custody arrangement for you, mediation gives you more control and input into the type of custody arrangement you believe is best for your child. Because mediation and other collaborative divorce methods are designed to diffuse tension between parties, it may be during a mediation session that an out-of-the-box parenting time arrangement is first given the opportunity for discussion.
A more collaborative divorce can also set the stage for positive co-parenting as the process models how the two of you can collectively work together towards reaching your goals. This is a win-win for moms and dads: less stress during the divorce and less stress parenting in the aftermath of divorce.
Changing Workplace Roles: In the past, it was almost a given that a father would work outside the home while the mother stayed home and raised the kids. In the event of a divorce, child custody arrangements were worked out to reflect this reality. In 2015, however, it might be the mom who works outside the home while the dad takes on the role of stay-at-home parent or it could be that both parents work outside the home for roughly equal hours, or the father has a part-time job while the mother works full-time, or one or both parents work from home.
These changing workplace roles have contributed to changing custody and parenting time arrangements. An experienced family law attorney can help you determine how your work life or status as a stay-at-home dad might translate into the best arrangement for your children. The good news? Now more than ever, divorced dads have options for being there for their kids in every sense of the word. No matter where you are in the divorce process, that's a message I hope you take to heart this Father's Day.
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