With the current emphasis on the value of fatherhood, more and more fathers are taking active roles in the day-to-day lives of their children. We see that trend all over Michigan. Traditional family structures and gender roles are being abandoned in favor of more equality between spouses in a family. More women are in the workforce than in previous generations, and fathers are spending more and more time with their children in recent years.
Yet it’s still quite common, regardless of the changing social structures in the modern world, to award custody to the mother as “primary caregiver” during the event of a divorce. Sadly, the statistics from Michigan courts will surprise almost nobody. By a huge margin, mothers get more custody than fathers.
According to Ned Holstein, head of the National Parents Organization, formerly called Fathers and Families, research shows that children do better academically and emotionally when both parents are involved in their lives. Holstein says that by not awarding joint custody more often, he believes that family courts are actually hurting children as opposed to helping them.
For Holstein, it can be summed up as an equal rights issue. In an era of converging gender roles, father’s do not have the same rights as mothers in the eyes of many courts. Traditionally mothers raised the children and fathers worked, but that social construct is now far less common than it ever was. Yet, in many cases, the legislature has not adapted at the same pace as society.
Current Michigan law requires that the court must consider ordering joint custody if it is requested by either parent.
In addition, if joint custody is requested by both parents, then it must be granted unless the court determines that joint custody is not in the best interests of the child, in which case the reasons for that decision must be stated on the record.
Many divorcing couples never actually end up in court, and many will agree to joint custody arrangements between themselves without having to involve a judge. But when it comes to disputed claims and messy divorces, these are the couples who end up in front of a judge. Old traditions are slow to change but the good news is that here in Michigan, there is movement. In many courts, fathers are getting closer to being on equal ground with mothers.
Studies have shown that children benefit from a relationship with their fathers. Both parents must understand that fathers should have the opportunity to parent their children, even if their styles and approaches may be different to those of a mother. Different doesn’t mean bad. It just means that the parents don’t agree on a parenting style. That isn’t unusual with divorcing couples. Even recent public opinion polls show that both men and women favor joint custody.
As a parent, ultimately you want what is best for your children. What has been proven to be best, time and again, is a relationship with both parents, whether or not they are married to each other. So if you are thinking of getting a divorce, or are already engaged in the process, give serious thought to your children’s long term needs when considering custody. Discuss your concerns with your attorney. Our skilled family law attorneys at The Kronzek Firm can help you chart a future that benefits everyone in your family.