Posted by Michelle May O’Neil on July 25, 2011

Like the gay rights ("Marriage Equality") movement, black civil rights movement, and feminist movement, the Fathers’ Rights movement is grounded in constitutional rights and imperatives. It has grown out of the very real changes in men’s traditional roles in Western society, and the current generation’s more egalitarian attitude towards shared parenting, which has resulted in gender neutral custody laws in virtually every state of the United States. Despite the changing laws on the books, there is still a perception that there is a gender bias in family law, and that fathers are discriminated against in custody decisions.

As family law attorneys in Dallas, TX, we regularly see custody disputes first hand. Although we represent mothers and fathers in equal number, we are no longer surprised when fathers are awarded custody rights. Sole custody agreements are a vanishing breed in the family law practice. Today, most fathers we meet with are seeking at least some form of joint custody, whether it is decision making or shared parenting.

A semi-typical case where a change of custody to the father may happen could be when a teenager declares that he/she’d rather live with Dad. (Those cases are usually resolved pretty quickly — in most courtrooms, teenagers get what they want.) Judges, law guardians, and forensic psychologists are more enlightened these days about the rights of fathers, and the rights of children to be raised by their fathers. The fact is that fathers who are active and involved in raising their children are almost always given the opportunity to continue that role post divorce.

The value of fathers cannot be denied. But neither can the economic incentives that play a major role in custody disputes. For every father that has a good faith motivation for seeking primary custody (he is more bonded to the children, or the mother is mentally ill or drug addicted), there is a father who hasn’t seen his children in months but declares upon being served with divorce papers that he should have custody. After all, he can do as good a job as the mother, and so why shouldn’t he receive child support?

Recently, Jacqueline Harounian, Partner at The Law Firm of Wisselman, Harounian & Associates, did a radio program about fathers’ rights. Many of the callers were men who felt victimized by high child support payments, and harsh child support enforcement measures, including wage garnishments, and incarceration. While the Family Court can grant relief in limited cases, the truth is that the government is unyielding and unsympathetic to so called "deadbeat dads" who owe child support. The sad reality is that many of these fathers do not even have a relationship with their children. Statistics show a strong correlation between active and involved fathers and those who willingly pay child support. (It must be mentioned that the system is just as punitive to mothers who owe child support, and more and more, mothers are being jailed for contempt for violating custody orders.)

Advice to those fathers who are concerned about child support? If you are seeking financial relief from your child support obligations due to a change of circumstances (such as job loss, or illness) run — don’t walk — to Family Court. Do not let arrears accumulate, because there is very little that can be done to address it retroactively. But more importantly, be an active and involved father for your children. Children need mothers and fathers. They need financial and emotional support from both parents. Raising children costs money — lots of it. But the non-monetary rewards to both children and their fathers are incalculable.

Hat tip to Jacqueline Harounian for her May 13, 2011 post