What Child Custody Rights Does a Father Have in a Divorce?

Who do the courts favor in a child custody case - the mother or the father?

Most likely, you answered mother. This is a common perception held by the public, but this gender bias is beginning to be a thing of the past, and fathers are getting more custody rights than ever before.

Why the Shift?

Scientific research continues to show that fathers are an important part of their children's well-beings, both physical and emotional. Author Paul Raeburn, author of Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We've Overlooked, said, "The new science of fatherhood shows that fathers have very strong emotional and even physical connections with their children that are very important for their children's healthy developments and even for lowering their risk of disease and obesity and for supporting their mental health."

In addition, more fathers than ever are stay-at-home dads. The numbers have doubled from 1.1 million stay-at-home dads in 1989 to 2 million fathers staying at home in 2012.

When it comes to child custody, this information means courts are removing the gender bias in many cases. In fact, a thorough survey of child custody outcomes showed that the percentage of mothers receiving sole custody dropped from 80 to 42 from 1986 to 2008. Equal shared cases during that time rose from 5 percent to 27 percent.

However, results differ from state to state, and even from judge to judge. Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Missouri, and Maine are considered to be states that are more gender-equal in their decision making.

Father's Rights During Divorce

Because the belief in the gender bias is so widespread, many fathers make mistakes - even before the divorce has been finalized.

It's important to know that during the divorce process, both parents have the exact same legal rights to the custody of their children. Fathers can make decisions about where the child lives, goes to school, receives medical treatment, and more.

Many fathers mistakenly feel the mother already has the right to make those choices on her own, and begin to take a step back in parenting their children. However, if a father continues to allow this, it means a judge may award less parenting time during a ruling.

It is vital to retain equal parenting time during the divorce process. Hire an attorney right away once the divorce process is underway to make sure your rights are protected throughout the whole process. Don't agree to less time with your children unless you've been through the mediation process or court.

A Father's Best Chance

Remember, courts don't rule based solely on the gender of the parent, but on the involvement of the parent. Have you been involved in schooling? Do you take your kids to their doctor appointments? Do you make meals and drive to soccer practice? The courts look at the daily involvement you have with your children.

Custody agreements are including split arrangements more often these days, rather than favoring the mother. If you're active in your children's lives now, your divorce attorney can help you get a favorable agreement to maintain that active role after the divorce.


Unfortunately, if a father was never married to the mother of his children, his legal status isn't on the same solid ground as a father who was married to the mother. In fact, unmarried fathers are much less likely to be successful in court if they are petitioning for paternal rights.

These fathers must be much more proactive in the process. At the outset of the separation, they must take offensive steps to secure paternal rights. Once they take those steps, the courts will look more favorably on their situation.

Use an Attorney

The child custody process is too complicated to take on without the help of a family law lawyer. Before you take any steps, find a family law attorney who will work to get you the rights you deserve.

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