When a married couple goes through a divorce, one of the most contested
issues is often their children.
As a mediator and divorce attorney for more than thirty years, I’ve
custody disputes. For many years, courts ruled in favor of the mother as the parent
who retained full custody of the children while leaving a lot of good
fathers with the short end of the stick.
In those cases, the ones that suffered the most were the children who needed
and deserved the love and support of both parents.
In recent years because of the changing family dynamic where both parents
are in the work force full time and because the contributions of fathers
are becoming more appreciated; the legal system has started to give fathers
joint or even full custody. But many dads are not aware of this and have
little knowledge of their parental rights.
What’s a father to do?
First, it’s a good idea to be aware of what the word “custody”
actually means. Custody is not necessarily about the physical location
where the children live, it’s about the right to make major decisions
on such things as:
- Where the kids will go to school
- The religion of the children
- The medical care the children will receive
For fathers who want shared custody of the children (and this goes for
mothers as well), it’s better not to fight about it through the
legal system. The best thing you can do is use the skills of a professional
mediator as well as a therapist who will talk you and your soon-to-be
former spouse through the logistics of making decisions and compromises
where there are no losers—especially not the children.
Fighting through the legal system is messy, expensive, and unpredictable.
Judges can make decisions about the future of your children without having
all of the facts or a true understanding of the psychological dynamics.
Additionally, fathers going through a divorce have not only theright but
the responsibility to make sure they are able to preserve and nurture
a healthy relationship with their children.
Divorce is a life-changing event and a dad can better prepare his children
for this by speaking to a therapist. By seeing a professional counselor,
fathers can examine issues surrounding their children who will need extra
emotional support during and after a divorce. The age of the children
at the time of the divorce is also a critical factor here.
There are numerous self-help and legal books includingGetting Your Share… which can help fathers learn more about their parental rights and prepare
them and their children for what lies ahead during a divorce.
If the heart of a father is truly a masterpiece of nature, then children
will thrive from his care and love.