Want to be sure you’re part of your kid’s life after divorce? Leave “Father Prints” everywhere you can
Family law is intimidating, complex and specific to local courts and individual facts, making it critical for Ohio fathers to understand the obstacles they will face in pursuing their rights to their children. Strong legal representation is a must. Know the law, know your court, and know your lawyer.
1. No Plan is a Bad Plan
Times have changed, but mothers still have many advantages in child custody disputes. In order to prevail, a father should plan at least three months in advance. It is important to leave “father prints” in every aspect of the child’s life. This means showing your face regularly at day-care, school conferences, doctor appointments, soccer practice, and anywhere else your child goes. You should know your child’s medical history, allergies, favorite foods, teachers’ names, friends’ names, favorite TV shows (usually NOT the golf channel), favorite toys and best school subject. You should study your child like you were studying for a final in college. The best way to achieve this level of knowledge of your child is to spend time with him every day and let people see you and your child interact together.
2. Don’t try to have what you think Mom has
The first thing most fathers tell me is that they want “equal time” with their child. I immediately tell them that children are not bank accounts that can be divided down to the penny. Don’t count your days and compare what you “get” with what mom ” gets,” and please don’t count hours! Courts are looking for reasonable solutions for growing children to have regular time with both parents. This may mean a week with mom, a week with dad, but usually it means one parent will have every other weekend from maybe Thursday after school until Monday morning and every other Wednesday overnight. One approach is to figure out the schedule you want, look at what this leaves the other parent, and ask yourself if you’d want to swap places. If you were your child, would you want the schedule you’re proposing? The younger the child, the more likely it is that she will spend school nights with the same parent. This is usually best for the child, but many parents take it as an insult. It’s not!
3. Be Smart
Smart: Persistently seeing your children at every opportunity. Doing what you’re supposed to do — even if you don’t like it– so your child, and his mother, can count on you. Returning your child fed, clean and with homework done. Assigning house chores that you expect your child to do. Cooking meals at home with your child. Telling mom about any illnesses your child has while with you. Paying child support even if you have to eat beans to do so. Using seat belts in the car & driving your child to his kid stuff, every time. Imposing consequences & asking mom to back you up; backing mom Smiling at mom & being a gentleman. Letting your child call mom at reasonable times.
4. Don’t Fall into the Stereotype
IMO, the biggest problem faced by fathers is the reality that most violent crimes are committed by men. The biggest thing you can do for yourself is not to fall into this stereotype. Become self-aware. Ask yourself: Do I look angry? Do I use my size as a reminder of my power? Do I sound bitter? Do I roll my eyes out loud when mom says something stupid? Do I use profanity or sarcasm? A good lawyer will spend time with you preparing you to testify; an excellent lawyer will talk to you candidly about how you present yourself. I tell many men to lose the attitude. I tell all fathers to give up spanking–it is too dangerous to your case. Rambo fathers don’t get good results in custody cases. You don’t have to bleed feelings, but you should appear solid and trustworthy.
5. Don’t Be Stupid
Stupid (and yes, these are real-life examples): Arguing with mom in front of the kids at the front door. Embarrassing your kids at their events over who sits where. Leaving your kids with a new girlfriend & going fishing with your buddies all weekend. Not returning clothes, toys, homework, cleats, musical instruments & book bags with the child. Shaving your child’s head to spite the mom. Baptizing your child without notice to mom. Changing doctor appointments just for fun. Watching Saw with a 5 year old. Making a child tall enough to ride the roller coaster by putting her in platform shoes. Texting mom repeatedly. Not showing for parenting time. Spanking your children. Dropping out of your child’s life because you’re disappointed by court result. Showing your child papers from the court. Telling your child what to tell the Judge. Quitting your job because child support is too high.
I recommend that clients interview 2-3 lawyers who practice family law in their jurisdiction. I recommend that fathers research Alec Baldwin’s experience, including his book, A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood & Divorce, and the infamous phone call to then 11 year old Ireland. Alec’s experience is a classic story of fatherhood, frustration & the fury that almost destroyed him.