The divorce rate in America may be declining – in 2021, there were over 680,000 divorces that occurred, but that’s just 2.5 in every 1,000 marriages (according to data from the CDC). The fact that divorce is getting “less” common can, unfortunately, make you feel even more alone and overwhelmed if it happens to you.
Men especially may feel stressed out by the prospect of divorce. Not only is it a highly emotional life transition, but it is also practically, financially, and legally complex. While women may have large networks of social relationships and friends they can rely on who have been through the process before, men (who typically don’t have as wide of a social circle) may find themselves unsure of what to expect. For fathers, dealing with uncertainty about custody – what will happen to their kids both during the divorce and after the divorce is finalized – can be particularly frustrating and scary.
If you’re getting divorced, and you have kids, you need to know that knowledge is power. The more you know about how divorce works and what your rights are as a parent, the more empowered you will be to advocate for those rights and get a better outcome when everything is said and done!
Here are 5 things that every father should know before getting divorced:
1 – Divorce And Custody Don’t Have To Be Messy.
When you think of the word “divorce”, you may picture a drawn-out, high-conflict court battle, but usually that’s not what divorce entails – and it is much better for you and your kids if yours doesn’t.
If you and your spouse are able to act like adults and work collaboratively together to work through your issues and decide on the terms of your divorce and custody arrangement, you are going to not only have more control over the outcome (as opposed to letting a judge who doesn’t know your family decide what happens to it) but you are also going to have a smoother, faster, and cheaper overall experience. Fighting slows things down and results in more court and lawyer fees. It also increases your stress and your kids’; if you can avoid it, you should!
You don’t have to like your spouse to get along with them, and you can (and should!) certainly enlist the help of mediators or attorneys present to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of.
2 – Custody Doesn’t Have To Be All Or Nothing.
In many states, and in Florida, the family court system recognizes the wisdom of having both parents be involved in their children’s lives. This is a newer trend. The old norm used to be that if parents couldn’t agree, it was easier for one parent to obtain sole custody and the other parent would have limited contact and influence over the children’s lives, but this is changing; now, it is much rarer for sole custody to be awarded. You may be scared of never having time with your kids, or them only spending certain holidays with you, but custody should be shared, and shared as fairly as possible in most cases.
What this means for you in real life is that you will probably end up sharing most of the responsibilities and privileges you have as a parent, such as providing for your children’s financial needs, deciding how they’ll be educated, transporting them to extracurricular activities, and spending time with them, etc. You can even get creative with how time and special occasions are shared. This is important to know because it can take some of the fear out of the divorce process – you don’t have to worry as much about sole custody being a major source of contention.
3 – Family Courts Are Biased Against Men In Many Cases.
One of the things that every father should know before getting divorced is that they will likely encounter gender bias at some point in the journey. Now, legally and formally, bias isn’t supposed to be a factor in divorce anymore, but it was until recently. In Florida (as in many other states) there was something known as the “tender years doctrine”, which was a legal precedent that basically stated that if all other things were equal, mothers would be the best caretakers of a young child and therefore should receive custody. In 1982 and then again in 1991, amendments were made that overturned this doctrine’s use and stated that a father is supposed to receive equal consideration. “Tender years” was replaced with the “best interest of a child” rule.
However, that was only about 30 years ago. Courts are more fair today, but they still often have a notion that moms have better nurturing skills, are warmer, are more trustworthy, care about their kids more than their career, etc. While these biases may not be explicit, they can definitely affect your case, especially if the relationship between you and your spouse is bitter. Courts may be inclined to believe moms even if they are bending the truth or taking things out of context, and are more inclined to give moms more custody rights automatically. You will likely have to work harder and be more careful in order to fight against this bias and achieve a fair outcome.
4 – You Deserve To Parent Your Child.
Many dads who love their kids are understandably hesitant about the realities of single parenting and co-parenting. You may doubt if you can do it well, if you can balance the demands of your job and taking care of your kids, if you can provide for them financially on one income, if you can find a place to live that’s big enough for their needs. It’s normal to struggle with this self-doubt, but it’s unwarranted. You are a good parent if you love your children and want the best for them, and you and your kids should remain in each other’s lives as much as possible!
There are actually many studies that show that children who have engaged dads in their lives are less likely to get in trouble with the law, are less likely to drop out of school, are more likely to have and keep high-paying jobs, are more likely to have and keep healthy relationships, are more likely to have higher IQs, and overall will experience less psychological problems throughout their lives. It can be a lot of pressure to be a divorced dad, but it’s worth it for your kids (and for your own happiness and fulfillment!).
5 – Having The Right Attorney On Your Side Is Absolutely Essential.
The level of legal representation you retain will make a huge difference in how your divorce and custody case unfolds and ultimately, when it comes to what arrangements are set. Sometimes, things start out civilly and collaboratively with your spouse, and then along the way things get heated; you may find yourself dodging beneath-the-belt blows and battlefield tactics, in which case your only hope is to have a lawyer you trust who can stand up for you and protect your relationship with your kids. Every father should know before getting divorced that they don’t have to go through this alone and should have a great attorney to help guide them to the best resolution!
At Men’s Divorce Law Firm, we have spent over 18 years as a firm aggressively representing husbands and fathers. We champion the male point of view! If you are a dad facing divorce, let us help you explain your options. Call today to request a consultation and learn more about your next steps!