Not along ago, dads usually didn’t stand a chance in custody cases.
That’s because it was generally believed mothers were more suited to be the primary guardian of children because dads weren’t equipped to deal with the day-to-day rigors of raising kids.
Along the way, society and the courts changed their ways of thinking, said Michael Palmer, an attorney and partner with Palmer, George & Taylor in Coeur d’Alene.
“Magistrates are much more comfortable with awarding custody to dads,” Palmer said. “It still has a swimming upstream feel to it, but it’s no longer a foregone conclusion that the mother is going to get custody.”
Still, many fathers are surprised to learn they can get primary custody. An old common law principle known as the tender years doctrine, which expressed a preference for mothers in custody cases involving infants and toddlers, is no longer recognized by the courts.
“Psychology research regarding infants and their needs has helped changed that old stereotype that the mother always gets custody,” said Palmer. “Every case is factually different. The guidelines focus on best interest of children, which is gender neutral.”
Parental gross income plays a role in child custody and child support cases. Palmer also notes that women in some cases make more money than the men.
“Men typically accept that they’re going to pay child support,” he said. “They may not like it or the amount they have to pay but they get their responsibility. Some women are shocked when the judge orders them to pay child support and they act like the world is going to end.”
Stereotypes about child custody also lead to confusion and frustration.
“Men can be very mathematical about things, thinking they get 60/40 or 50/50,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way. We’re talking about dividing up time with a child. This is not a pizza. You have to look at the reality and how it’s going to work every day.”
To define primary custody, judges consider the number of overnight stays in a month for the child.
“If the child is in school, it doesn’t make sense to have them going back and forth between parents during the week,” Palmer said. “Weekends and summer breaks are much easier to calculate.”
The state allows parents to devise their own parenting plan, which must be approved by the courts. However, Palmer cautions that doing it yourself can be problematic because of the complexities of the law.
“You are better off spending money on the front end of things than trying to hire an attorney later when one parent has decided to not honor the agreement or change the agreement,” he said.
Before a father can win custody or child support, he should take a paternity test to confirm he is the biological father, Palmer advises.
“You’d be surprised by the number of dads paying child support for kids they didn’t father,” he said. “Sometimes women make bad choices and pick men because they can provide for them. Women can put whomever they would like on the birth certificate, or no one at all.”
Unwed couples having children present a new set of challenges for courts to unravel, and Palmer advises that biological fathers should register as a parent of a child with the state’s vital statistics division. That protects them from losing their parental rights.
“In order to have your rights, you have to establish you are the father,” he said. “Take the time to do it. It’s really important and makes life much easier down the road.”
For more information: Contact Michael Palmer at (208) 665-5778.
--Written by Marc Stewart, Director of Sponsored Content.