The father’s rights movement isn’t an anti-mom or anti-woman movement; it’s an anti-unfairness movement. It just so happens that moms have most of the power in the family court system in America.
It’s true there has been progress in the family law system overcoming its gender bias, though rarely is the playing field even. In order to be truly fair to both parties, courts need to be completely gender blind, which is simply not the case.
In family law, more than any other area of the law, judges have a huge amount of discretion allowing ample opportunity for biases that we all as human beings have.
Since those presumptions are frequently held against fathers, men must spend more time, money, and effort just to try to get to a level playing field in a family law courtroom.
One purpose of the law is to protect us from those leanings of individual judges, but once you give a judge such a wide range of discretion and decision-making then it invites that sort of bias. Historically, it has not worked in the favor of guys.
For example, many states’ child custody laws specifically say the child is entitled to maintaining a relationship with both parents, but those same laws do not outline the quantity of time each parent has to establish and foster that relationship.
At odds with it is the required presumption that a child should spend a majority of his or her time in the established custodial environment. This may be with both parents, but is usually with the primary caregiver–often either in reality or as perceived by an older, traditional judge–Mom.
With the growing number of stay-at-home dads and two-working-parent households, one would think that the presumption that a child should spend equal time with each parent is a given–but not so.
I’ve seen several cases where you have a highly successfully, financial well-off wife married to an unemployed or underemployed husband who cares for the children.
For the most part, judges and opposing counsel see the situation and say, “Why doesn’t this guy go out and get a job?”
Now flip the roles. The husband is a high-paid executive and the wife is unemployed or underemployed. There is no presumption here that she should be working. In fact, many believe the woman is performing a perfectly legitimate role as a stay-at-home mom.
So a dad has to struggle to prove he is not guilty of being a deadbeat, but the same is not true when the situation is reversed.
Even when the father is employed, his job schedule works to his detriment. I’ve had countless cases where the man worked more than the wife, and now it is held against him because he was never deemed to be the primary caregiver, though his job financially benefited the family.
Yet it is not an option for him to decrease his work hours or income because he will face penalties and sanctions on the support side. The wife would argue that he is shirking his responsibilities and simply decreasing his income so he doesn’t have to pay as much child support and alimony. But how else can he maximize his time with his children?
Presently, many states are recognizing the importance of leveling the playing field in family courts. Some have had success (Tennessee recently passed a law that now requires judges to consider how to maximize both parents’ involvement in their child’s life when making custody decisions), while others consistently have bills stall in the legislature.
Yet every year we have more and more people at least talking about the concept of Dad having more parenting time.
Sure, the playing field might be leveling, but it is not level, and the players on the field are not equally equipped to play the game.
Andrew G. Storie is a family law and divorce attorney who serves Orlando and all of Central Florida. For more information, or if you have questions please visit http://www.storielaw.com/ or call us at (407) 838-0887