Many divorced fathers resign themselves to the notion that the mother of their children will automatically be awarded primary or sole custody while their own visitation rights are squeezed down to a minimum. Once upon a time, in fact, this expectation might have held water. But these days, divorced dads are in a better position to claim access to their children, up to, and including, sole custody. If you're worried about your rights as a dad, here are some important factors that can work in your favor.
Your Suitability as a Parent
Every child deserves the safest and most supportive home environment possible, whether that means living with Mom or living with Dad. If your family law attorney can demonstrate that you offer a more stable, attentive, and nurturing home environment than your spouse, then you may indeed receive primary or even sole custody. Evidence to support that argument might include documentation of your spouse's mental or behavioral health problems, tangles with the police, or Child Protective Services investigations into possible child abuse. Of course, such discoveries can work equally well against either party, but if your track record for stability outshines that of your spouse, you could be awarded primary custody as a result.
Willingness to Cooperate and Participate
A traditional two-parent household is meant to be a collaborative, cooperative environment in which the parents voluntarily work together as a team for the good of their children. How much parental participation have you shown in the past? If you have been an equal or even primary partner in taking your kids to school or to medical appointments, attending important events in their lives, and involving yourself with their development, then you may be awarded shared custody. If you've been significantly more active in this respect than your spouse, then you might even have grounds for requesting primary custody.
Dads who wish to claim primary custody over an infant face a more challenging barrier. No one would deny the all-important bond between a mother and her baby, especially if the mother is still breast feeding the child. But society has started to come around to the fact that a baby's bond with Dad is important too. While you might need to concede sole custody of an infant to your spouse for the first year of the infant's life, you have every right to ask for increased access to the child once the transition from milk to solid food has begun.
Access to Special Needs
Does your child have special medical or developmental needs? If so, the spouse who can best offer the necessary resources will be in a better position to claim primary custody. For instance, if your child would be forced to relocate to an area ill-equipped to provide the proper care if he lived with your spouse, then you have a strong argument to keep him with you. It's worth noting that constant relocation from one home to another can be especially stressful, both physically and emotionally, for children with special needs. For these reasons, you may want to seek sole custody instead of shared custody.)
"Special needs" extends beyond medical or financial care, however; it also applies to the extra time and attention your child may require on a daily basis. This used to be an almost insurmountable barrier for dads with traditional 9-to-5 office jobs in single-earner households, but today's "Mr. Mom" friendly employment landscape is far more flexible. If you have the opportunity to work from home (or in some similarly flexible work environment) and your spouse doesn't, then you can argue that you offer more round-the-clock availability to your child with special needs.
As you can see, a divorced dad's role as caregiver to his kids doesn't have to be a limited one. Seek out a skilled divorce attorney in your area who can help you establish and argue your case for custody and visitation rights.