The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Father's Rights

What is the fathers' rights movement?

With regard to child custody issues, the father's rights movement seeks to influence family law to be more accepting of a father's role in a child's life after a divorce or separation.  Due to inequalities in how child custody is allocated between mothers and father, father's rights advocates feel that the role of the father is being deemed unnecessary or less important than that of a mother.

What do fathers rights groups hope to change with regard to child support?

Father's rights groups have goals that seek to enhance the father's role in a child's life.  These include:


Often one of the biggest complaints a non-custodial parent will have is how child support is used.  Child support is a legal obligation, but when fathers are forced to pay child support, they often want some say over how it is used.  But legally, a payor of child support has no control over how child support is used and unfortunate situation that leads to problems such as high-conflict parenting, parental alienation, or unpaid child support.

Both men and women within the movement believe there are common inequalities with regard to how fathers are treated in the family court system, when compared to mothers.

Are father’s rights groups correct in their opinion that there is bias in court?

In 2013 in the Children's Legal Rights Journal, Elizabeth Gresk cites that only one out of every six primary custodial parents are fathers.  But, determining whether or not courts are biased toward mothers over fathers is a much more difficult question to answer than simply looking at the percentage of mothers versus fathers that have custody.  It is necessary to also look at statistics where courts were in a position to even decide a case.  If a child custody case was mediated rather than litigated, a court was not involved in the outcome, and according to research, in cases child-custody was decided out of court, 63% ended with the mother getting sole custody while only 6% led to sole custody for the father.  The remainder ended in joint custody or some other form of custody.  This means that when parents mediate, mothers get sole custody over fathers by a factor of ten.  Why this happens is difficult to say.

This does show that one cannot simply look at the percentage of mothers that have custody compared to fathers and derive a conclusion that courts are biased.  One has to consider how that custody arrangement was decided.  Did the parents come to an agreement about it without court involvement?

Of the situations where a court does decide a child custody case, mothers still are four times more likely to get sole custody than fathers.  But before making the assumption that this proves bias by family courts, it is necessary to consider the circumstances that led to the courts' decisions.

This is perhaps where the biggest changes are needed in family law and child custody cases. While courts are bound by the best interest standard, often the best interest standard is used as a strategy by the initiator of the divorce, to win custody of a child.

Consider a situation where two married parents live a lifestyle with the father working and the mother staying home to raise the children.  If they divorce, factors like who spends the most time with the children and who has a schedule that is best for raising the children will become evidence for a family court to decide how child custody should be awarded going forward.  In this example, the parent that doesn't work has a big advantage over the parent who does.

This is the crux of the problem.  This is what really does need improvement in family law.  Family courts look too much at past history without considering the drastic changes that each parent could and should make in their lives after the divorce.  The past becomes a status quo of sorts, and courts essentially maintain that status quo after the divorce is finalized, never really giving the family a chance to work toward shared parenting.  Even if the non-working parent could get a job and work and the working-parent could reduce his or her hours, they do not get a chance to change.  And changing it becomes nearly impossible after child support is awarded because the working parent must work even more in order to prevent defaulting on child support.

Is losing child custody because of working really a father’s rights problem?

It is important to note that the issue of losing child custody is really not just an issue for fathers.  It is an issue for whoever the working parent is when parents divorce.  If one parent is working, they are much more likely to lose custody and pay child support.  But the fact is that most families that have a stay-at-home parent, it is the mother who stays at home and the father who works.  According to a Washington Post Article, in 2007 only 2.7% of stay-at-home parents were fathers [1].

Do father’s rights advocates want sole custody awarded to fathers?

Most father's rights advocates are seeking a more fair system that awards joint custody whenever feasible.  Father's rights advocates argue that research shows that joint custody is truly in the best interest of children. Inversely, they argue, that a family law system that disrupts the possible time a child has with both parents, may contribute to children having more difficulty adjusting after separation or divorce.  And they point out that the inequalities between the two parents leads to increased conflict between both parents. 

There may be a real basis for these claims.

A 2012 meta-analysis by Robert Bauserman compared studies on child adjustment involving different custody arrangements such as joint physical custody, joint legal custody, and sole custody arrangements.  Also studied were how children adjusted and matured with maternal and paternal custody, as well as in nuclear families. The research showed a significant difference across studies, that children in joint physical or legal custody arrangements show much better adjustment than children in sole custody arrangements.  Comparisons in adjustment between children were measured in areas of general adjustment, family relationships, self-esteem, emotional and behavioral adjustment, and divorce-specific adjustment. Parents who had joint custody arrangements reported having significantly less conflict than those with sole custody. Bauserman explained that the results supported the hypothesis that joint custody arrangements are more beneficial for children and parents, and they tend to lead to more positive involvement with both parents.

How have child custody laws changed because of the father’s rights movement?

Child custody laws are constantly changing, and lawyers who advocate father's rights are often introducing new legislation in their states  to help correct parts of the law that they deem as broken.  In Illinois, for example, a law was passed that could lead to jail time if a parent willingly and consistently interferes with parenting time.  Some states are going as far as to say that joint custody should be the preferred child custody arrangement whenever feasible.

What type of child custody arrangement do father’s rights groups support?

The child custody arrangement that most father's rights groups support is equal or shared parenting.  Father's rights groups do not typically support either parent being given a more important role in a child's upbringing, barring extreme cases like abuse or neglect.

Because the tender years doctrine has been replaced by the best interests doctrine, shared child custody has become much more commonplace.  Yet there is still a lot of room to improve.  The current paradigm in child custody cases is one where parents are thrown into a legal battle over who gets the children, who will pay child support, and who gets control.  And typically two factors give the greatest chance of getting custody of the children in almost every child custody dispute 1) being a stay-at-home parent, and 2) being the initiator of the divorce because the initator has time to prepare a case before the other parent is aware that the marriage is in danger of ending.

Why do father's rights groups dislike no-fault divorce laws?

Many father's rights advocate seek to end or alter no-fault divorce laws, which make divorce significantly easier than it did when states had at-fault divorce laws.  The reasons that some father's rights advocates oppose no-fault divorce is that they feel no-fault divorce creates an unfair advantage for mothers who want to divorce them and take the children.

To understand why they feel this way, it is important to understand what a no-fault divorce is.  All fifty states in the United States now have no-fault divorce laws.  This means that either person can file for divorce, and the other parent cannot prevent the divorce if just one person wants out.  The circumstances that led to the divorce are immaterial.

From a father's perspective, a wife might fall out of love with her husband, seek legal counsel without him being aware of it, file for divorce, and because he was not prepared for it, the mother will likely get custody of the children.  

While this is a very real scenario, no-fault divorce is a significant improvement over the situations that occurred during the era of fault-based divorce.  When fault was necessary to divorce, the initiator would typically slam the other in court in order to convince the judge that grounds for the divorce were warranted.  All of the court proceedings would be public record.  Furthermore, many more women in unhappy marriages resulted to suicide because they felt there was no other way out of their situation.

No-fault divorce may have solved some of those issues, but it did create others.  It obviously created the situation that many fathers find themselves in when faced with a child-custody case.  When no-fault divorce laws were passed, divorce rates spiked, significantly.  In fact, they pretty much doubled.  Thus, many more families were faced with the stresses of divorce.  Approximately half of the children in the United States will see their parents divorce before the children turn eighteen.

But rather than ending no-fault divorce and inviting the problems we know existed when fault had to be proved, it makes much more sense to work on how child custody is awarded after a divorce.  In some states, legislation is being pushed that could award joint custody much more often.  In 2013, Florida and Arkansas both enacted legislation that make an "approximate and reasonable equal division of time with the child by both parents" the preferred outcome of child custody cases [3].

What do father's right groups worry about with parental alienation?

Parental alienation is when one parent attempts to demean the other to the children.  There are varying levels of parental alienation, but the basic tenet is that it attempts to alter a child's perspective about a parent in a negative way.

Father's rights groups oppose the idea of either parent engaging in parental alienation.  Equality between both parents is the main goal of fathers in father's right groups.



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