When a marriage ends in divorce, parents must establish an arrangement for the custody and care of any minor children. The parties may work out an agreement on their own, or they may need the court to intervene and set the terms of custody and visitation. Until the latter part of the 20th century, mothers were presumed more fit to tend to the needs of minor children, which meant that a child’s mother was almost always granted physical custody. Over the past 50 years, though, courts have increasingly recognized equal rights for divorced fathers, allowing them greater involvement in the growth and development of their children.
In recent decades, legislative and judicial bodies across the United States have increasingly acknowledged the importance of both parents being actively involved in the lives of their children and the decisions that affect them. Accordingly, the law now recognizes a broad array of rights for fathers, including:
If the parents are unable to agree on the terms of custody, the court will hold hearings and gather evidence from both parties and then issue a ruling establishing custody and visitation rights. When making decisions about custody, a court generally gives priority to the “best interests of the child.” Factors involved in determining what’s best for a minor child include:
There are two distinct types of custody with respect to minor children:
A father’s custodial rights are equal to those of the mother. A father can ask the court for sole or joint physical custody and/or legal custody. If a father is granted any degree of physical custody, the father has the right, when the minor is with him, to guide and direct behavior, to establish rules, and to prevent the mother from interfering with his parental duties. In addition, a father who receives a grant of sole or primary physical custody has a right to receive child support from the mother.
The custody rights of a father are based primarily on what the court determines will be in the child’s best interests. The court will grant joint physical custody when doing so advances the child’s best interests.
There are many situations where a court may find grounds to grant a father full custody:
Though it doesn’t happen often, a father can ask the mother to grant sole physical custody. Even if she does, though, the court will review the agreement to ensure there is no coercion, undue influence, or misrepresentation. A father may ask for sole custody in the original divorce proceeding or petition the court, after a final divorce decree, for a modification of custody. The court will then hold a hearing, take evidence, and make a ruling.
As a general rule, a noncustodial father has a right to reasonable visitation. The definition of “reasonable” varies from state to state, but courts generally encourage regularly scheduled visitation, such as:
In some instances, where the court finds that the father poses a risk of danger to the children, visitation may be denied or allowed only with supervision.
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