Family structures have changed. The nuclear family is not as common as it once was, but one thing remains certain: children generally benefit from time with their father. Arguably, this is even more true today than it was in previous generations. In many families' fathers take on an active role in their children's upbringing. Gone are the days when a couple minutes playing catch was the only common interaction between a father and his child. Fathers today help prepare meals, take care of the home, cart kids to extracurricular activities and help with homework.
Fathers today also take on the lead child rearing role of the family. A recent report by the Pew Research Foundation found fathers compose 17% of stay-at-home parents in 2016. This is up from 10% in 1989. Even fathers with careers outside the home are spending more time with their children then previous generations. In 1965, fathers spent an average of 2.5 hours a day on child care. In 2016, this number increased to 8 hours per day. Additional support for this more active role of fatherhood is the fact that six out of ten dads say they would like to spend even more time with their kids.
As a result, it is not surprising that dads who are going through a divorce are concerned about child custody issues. Most states recognize the importance of fathers in their children's lives and work to provide some representation in child custody arrangements. Although state law often encourages joint custody arrangements, gender bias can remain. Mothers continue to win the role as the custodial parent in 82.5% of family law cases throughout the country. Although initially disheartening for fathers, it is important to note that statistic takes into account all family law cases - regardless of which parent is requesting child custody. In cases where the father actively fights for child custody as a primary or joint custodian, the father receives a favorable award from the court 70% of the time.
Divorce is a creature of state law. As such, the state where the divorce occurs will impact child custody awards. In California, state law instructs courts not to give preference to the father or mother in child custody arrangements. Instead, the court is encouraged to award custody based on the "best interest of the child." This legal standard requires the court review a number of factors when making its determination including the age and health of the child as well as emotional connection with each parent and the ability of the parent to care for the child.
Fathers can take action to better ensure a favorable child custody arrangement. One option: prepare evidence to support the contention that their presence in the child's live is in the best interest of the child. An attorney experienced in this area of law can help put this evidence together and discuss other options that increase the odds of a child custody arrangement that works for you and your child.