3 Mistakes to Avoid When You’re a Dad Going Through Divorce

Boy riding piggy back on his father's back

Concerned that your father’s rights will not be respected in your divorce? Men are often under the impression that dads just can’t win when it comes to child custody rulings. However, asserting your fathers rights may be easier than you ever thought possible IF you do the work to avoid these three mistakes:  

Mistake: Entering court with the pre-conceived notion that the law “always favors the mother” in custody disputes.

How to Avoid: As you gear up to go before the courts in your child custody matter, take some time to educate yourself about the current status of New Jersey family law as it pertains to fathers and child custody. It might surprise you to know that family law in New Jersey is written in gender-neutral language. There is nothing in the law that states that a child living with a mother is preferable to the child living with a father.

What New Jersey family law is specific about, however, is that in any child custody agreement, the “best interests” of the child must come first. In practice, this means creating child custody orders that make the child’s safety and emotional and physical stability the priority. For example, in a matter where one parent, who works 70 hours per week outside the home, wants to establish primary physical custody, and the other parent, who works 40 hours a week outside the home, wants a more shared custody relationship, a judge may be more likely to favor the shared custody relationship given the parents’ work schedule and other factors. Regardless of whether it is the mother or father who works extensive hours, a shared arrangement in this situation would likely be viewed as creating a more stable home life for the child.

How would something like this apply to your situation? It can be tempting to put all your energy into worrying about whether you will experience prejudice in your matter as a father, but as much as you can, start thinking about what is truly best for your child and what you can do to make this arrangement happen.

Mistake: Viewing child custody in “all or nothing” terms.

How to Avoid: Many parents — both fathers and mothers — approach child custody negotiations with the goal in mind of “winning” sole physical and legal custody of their children. In reality, unless there are serious mitigating circumstances (i.e., abuse and neglect, or child abandonment), the courts tend to favor agreements in which the child is able to maintain relationships with both parents.

Some parents become so caught up in fighting to win sole custody that they miss out on all the different options now available to co-parented families. We outline some of these options here: Which NJ Child Custody Option is Right for You?

In real terms, this could mean parents sharing 50-50 physical/legal custody of their children so that children live with each parent for the same approximate of time during the year and both parents participate in schooling decisions, medical care and other issues related to legal custody. As well, a growing number of co-parents are opting to “nest,” a custody arrangement in which the children remain in the family home and the parents are the ones to come and go according to pre-agreed schedule.

The bottom line? With so many creative options out there to keep both parents involved and active in their children’s lives, putting blinders on to anything but sole custody of your kids might make you miss out on an arrangement that could work to make both you and your child feel more secure in your relationships.

Mistake: Not taking into account the future.

How to Avoid: If you divorce when your children are very young, the child custody order put in place by the courts may reflect the practical needs of children at this age. As your children grow older, different arrangements may be more beneficial. As a result, you may wish to pursue child custody modification.

When seeking modification to a child custody order, providing evidence to the judge as to why you believe spending more time with your children is in their best interests will be critical. Preparation for making your case for a modification can begin right now. If you haven’t already done so, start a child custody log. The log can include information about drop off and pick up times, activities you take part in with your child, records of letters and emails between you and your children, and anything else that serves as a way to document your relationship. If your former spouse demonstrates negative behavior — misses custody drop offs or is unreasonably combative during custody swaps, for example — this information should be recorded, too.

It might seem like an extra task now, but showing up with documented evidence of why your custody situation is in need of adjustment can go a long way with the courts in agreeing to modify a child custody order.

What else should you know if you’re a father dealing with child custody issues? For an analysis of your case, and your children’s needs, please contact us to schedule your initial consultation with one of our child custody attorneys. We are here to help.