Although Massachusetts continues to be a “Mothers’ Rights” jurisdiction, a lot has changed over the years regarding how the Courts have continued to increase, and even encouraged, for joint custody rights between spouses. For the most part, most Judges presume that there will be a joint legal custody arrangement so long as the spouses can reasonably co-parent and make joint decisions on behalf of the children. Regarding joint physical custody, although this is encouraged, it is still somewhat rare for a Father to receive sole or joint physical custody of the children. With the right representation, however, equal custody rights can be realistic.
Most divorces these days end up with some sort of joint custody arrangement because that is usually in the best interests of the children. However, there are reasons to fight for sole custody, such as safety concerns, prior abuse, neglect, perhaps the Father has historically been the primary caregiver, or perhaps because the Father having sole custody is in the best interests of the children, then there are options for this outcome. Based on years of experience and the representation of countless Fathers, below are my top 5 tips for Fathers seeking custody.
1. Understanding the Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody
Understanding the differences between the two types of custody is critical in conveying your legal goals to an attorney. Essentially, the two types of custody are legal and physical. Legal custody deals with decision-making authority mainly involving healthcare, education, and religion, but it also covers day-to-day decisions as well. Physical custody deals with who the children primarily reside with. A more in-depth blog regarding custody can be found here.
2. Money Can’t Buy Happiness
Regardless of how much money you have, your title or position at work, your credit score, or whether you have been the historical breadwinner of the family, money has very little to do with whether or not you should have equal custody rights as the Mother. Your financial status is not determinative of whether you are a good Father or what form of custody you should have. Being a good Father, caring for your children, being active in their daily lives, and doing what is truly in their best interests is what matters when seeking custody. Therefore, money isn’t everything and it shouldn’t be your primary argument.
3. Hire an Attorney
If you think spending your weekend on the internet reading about custody and divorce makes you ready to represent yourself in court, think again. Often times custody battles, especially during divorces, can get extremely ugly with both spouses slinging mud at each other. It is highly likely you are not familiar with the rules and legal procedures of the Family Court, so why risk the single most important aspect in your life – your children. What you need is a fierce and zealous advocate on your side who truly cares about not only you, but your case, and your children. You wouldn’t treat yourself for a root canal, so why try to navigate the legal system on your own? Hire an experienced divorce and family law attorney if you want the best shot at obtaining custody.
4. Be the Reasonable Person
Talking badly about your spouse, or the child’s Mother if you are not married, is never something a lawyer should advise. With social media being what it is today, anything you post negatively about the Mother will eventually be seen by her, given to her attorney, and then brought to the Court’s attention. In almost all instances, this will never work in your favor. The Family Court is very interested in parents acting reasonably with each other, especially about aspects regarding the children. So, be the better person, be the reasonable person the Court wants you to be, and this will pay off in the end. If the Mother wants to trash you on social media, to other parents, to anyone who will listen, just smile, be polite, turn the other cheek, and know that you are the reasonable person in this situation. Don’t forget, nice guys finish last – be reasonable and the Court will notice.
5. Document Your Parenting Time
There is going to be a lot of “he said, she said” going on during your custody battle and sometimes the Court will have a hard time believing what the truth is. The Mother will likely argue that the Father does not spend equal time with the children. What you need is a journal of the time you spend with them. Include the dates, times, a brief description of what you did, and anything of importance you want to remember for future litigation. Try to come up with details of your involvement with the children during your marriage. Maybe you help coach soccer, are involved with Boy Scouts, or simply just spend a lot of time with your children. These are details that an attorney will need to know and will be critical to your case. During litigation, you may not be thinking clearly or remembering details as you should, so having this journal will be the ace up your sleeve. Additionally, when you write down your actual time spent with the children, you may realize you really don’t spend equal time with them as you may have originally thought, or perhaps you have the children for more than half the time. This will also give you time to evaluate if equal custody rights are really right for you. You likely won’t remember that six weeks ago you had the children four times that week instead of the usual three, so document it. In essence, document your life with the children so that you won’t forget later on – you’ll be glad you did.
Should you find yourself wanting to hire an experienced divorce and family law attorney, contact Sawin Law, P.C. today for your free 30-minute consultation at (781) 713-1212.