Ironically, all property rights once belonged to men, including children treated as property under the law. Women did not have any legal rights to their children.
As women gained more influence, laws relaxed and public attitudes eventually changed to the other end of the spectrum. Society reasoned that up until a child reached the age of four years, maternal care was essential for optimum growth and development.
Parental rights to share custody
Divorce courts awarded child custody to mothers unless they were grossly unfit. The courts’ reasoning was in line with the “tender years doctrine” that young children up to the age of four years old needed nurturing by their mothers.
In modern times, courts respect decisions parents make to share custody based on the parents’ fitness, not on the doctrine of tender years. If parents cannot agree on a parenting arrangement, the court steps in and ostensibly awards custody to the parent—whether father or mother—who is best able to meet the needs of the child.
Steps to level the paternal custody field
Men who desire custody of their children may want to elevate their strategy to draw a court’s attention to their parental fitness:
- Show up – Fathers can prove they participate in their child’s life by personal acquaintance with their child’s school teachers, after-school activities leaders and sports coaches, medical and dental professionals, among others.
- Create a parenting plan – A father should make a good-faith effort to arrange a shared parenting plan with the child’s mother. He should keep a written record of each attempt and its result, if necessary, to show the mother is unreasonable or obstructive about a child’s right to care from both parents.
- Supply proof – A father can tell a judge he is the better parent, but he can be more persuasive if he supplies written affidavits from co-workers, neighbors, church leaders, or teachers; he can also provide people willing to witness in person to the court that the father is caring and actively engaged in the lives of his children.
- Stress income – It may seem unfair to play the money card, but the truth in American society is that men generally earn more than women; a father can supply evidence that his home is better-equipped, in a safer neighborhood and also located in an advantaged school district for his children. He can also provide superior health insurance, tutors, music or sports activities that will give the children enrichment they may not otherwise obtain.
Hidden obstacles to paternal child custody
Although American law has changed to support race and gender equality, illegal discrimination is alive and well; it has merely moved underground. As more men desire custody in divorce cases, court inclinations may still exist to covertly grant child custody based on gender rather than parental merit. Fathers who can offer better care to their children should step up and help courts to recognize they are legally entitled to ask for child custody rights.