The Fathers’ Rights movement involves a large array of different groups. On the whole, however, the movement fights for more equal child custody (conservatorship, possession and access) rights for fathers.
In the U.S., the movement arose in the 1960s and 1970s, after divorce rates began rising dramatically. At that time, many courts operated on the presumption that it was in children’s best interest to live primarily with their mothers. As a result, mothers got the large majority of the available time with their kids, while fathers were often relegated to “visitor” status.
Many divorcing men found themselves responsible for large alimony and child support payments, even though they had little say over their children’s upbringing and got to spend only a few days a month with their kids.
Over time, many states passed laws to remove any presumption that mothers should be given primary custody. Now, courts try to make their parenting orders in the best interest of the children.
That said, a biased judge could still rule it was in the children’s best interest to spend most of their time with their mother. Many fathers’ rights activists suspect that continues to happen.
How does shared parenting work in Texas?
In Texas, we call a parent’s decision-making authority “conservatorship” and the time they spend parenting their children “possession and access.” When it comes to conservatorship, courts can order sole managing conservatorship or joint managing conservatorship.
Sole managing conservatorship means that one parent has the sole authority to make decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. This includes things like choosing a school, authorizing medical treatment, religious attendance and responsibility for allowing sleepovers, for example. The sole managing conservator generally receives child support.
When a court orders joint managing conservatorship, both parents share the responsibility to make such decisions. Each parent has full authority, but the decisions are to be made together.
In most cases, each parent is given a share of possession and access. However, an abusive parent may be awarded only supervised time or no time at all with the children.
Are Texas’s courts biased against fathers?
There is little evidence one way or the other, although fathers’ rights advocates claim that bias occurs far too often. Moreover, they suspect that courts are easily influenced by false allegations of abuse or neglect made by mothers. They also claim that courts do too little to enforce their possession and access rights when the mother interferes with them.
From the perspective of any particular case, however, it is generally best not to focus on perceived bias by the judge. Experienced family law attorneys understand the issues brought forward by the fathers’ rights movement and work to ensure their clients’ rights are upheld.
What changes does the fathers’ rights movement want?
There are a variety of proposals from various parts of the movement, some of which go beyond family law. For example, many men feel that fathers deserve equal access to parenting leave at work.
For the most part, fathers’ rights activists focus on getting fathers on equal footing with mothers. This might include:
- Increasing the percentage of men who are appropriately granted sole conservatorship
- Increasing the amount of time fathers get to spend with their kids
- Reducing the child support incentive to seek sole conservatorship
- Less draconian consequences and greater understanding when child support is missed
- Greater consequences for interference with possession and access
If you are a father who feels lost in the family court system, you may have legal options. Contact an experienced fathers’ rights lawyer for an evaluation of your situation.