An overwhelming amount of research shows it is in the best interest of children to have equal time with each parent following divorce or separation.
Nonetheless, shared-parenting critics persist and by and large family courts do a poor job of establishing equal-custody arrangements.
However, there are steps fathers can take to increase their odds of achieving equal legal and physical custody.
Stay in the marital home
The first step is absolutely crucial. Even after a divorce is initiated, dads must insist on remaining in the marital residence.
It’s common for wives to ask their husbands to leave as they try to work through their problems, but Cordell & Cordell co-founder Joe Cordell has called this one of “The 10 Stupidest Mistakes Men Make When Facing Divorce.”
Once you move out, even if you only plan on leaving temporarily, Mom becomes the de facto primary custodian of the kids.
It also becomes more difficult to prove that you are an involved father when you’re not living with your children.
Even if your intentions are good and you’re just trying to give your spouse some space, there is a good chance the judge is going to view you as the one who gave up on the marriage and abandoned his family.
Sleep on the couch, avoid arguments with your wife, focus on the children. But DO NOT leave the marital home.
More than anything, you need to prove you’re a great dad.
Get involved with your child’s school and attend as many activities possible. Volunteer to take the kids to their piano lessons. Work with your child’s mother as much as possible to avoid scheduling conflicts and don’t get into arguments with her, even if she tries to start one.
Not only do you need to be involved, you need to prove you’re involved. That means collecting as much documented proof that shows you’re maintaining an active presence in your kids’ lives.
All of this will show the court that you have what it takes to be a good co-parent and that you’re willing to sacrifice to make sure their best interests remain the top priority.
Avoid all conflict
This part might not be easy, especially if you have an uncooperative ex, but it is absolutely essential that you avoid getting into arguments with your child’s mother.
For one, it is harmful for kids when they are exposed to conflict during the divorce process. That should provide enough motivation in and of itself to try to get through the breakup as amicably as possible.
But your ex probably knows how to push your buttons and she might be the kind of person who tries to start an argument every chance she gets.
Take the high road.
If you have to, limit communication to text and emails (but make sure this doesn’t do anything to neutralize the role you’re playing as a father).
This might involve you biting your tongue from time to time, but it’s what is best for your kids and what’s best for your case. It will be worth it in the long run and your children will eventually notice that you were the one acting responsibly.
Hire a good attorney
Of course, it’s important you have someone in your corner who’s going to walk you through all the legal jargon and processes that will likely confuse anyone who doesn’t have a law degree.
You’ll want to make sure you find a lawyer who specializes in family law and has plenty of experience working child custody cases.
Do your homework to find an attorney you mesh with and who will ensure that your rights as a father are protected in court.