“Are the courts still reluctant to grant sole custody to fathers? How can I increase my chances of getting full custody of my sons?”
The courts are reluctant to grant “sole custody” to anyone these days. In fact, most state laws contain requirements that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce, unless there is specific proof that it would be harmful. More often than not, courts grant custody to one party but it is not “sole” custody. “Full custody” is not a legal term of art at all, nor is it the equivalent of “sole custody”. Full custody might better be referred to as joint legal custody with a primary residential parent and more or less visitation to the secondary residential parent.
There has been a fathers’ rights movement which has swept through our country in the past 20 years, so that courts are not reluctant at all to grant custody to fathers. The “tender years” doctrine, which generally gave custody of young children to mothers has been cast upon the judicial garbage heap. There are judges in virtually every state who will order rotating custody of infants and toddlers, trying so hard to equalize the sexes before the court that they may ignore the psychological needs of babies and infants to have a primary caretaker and a primary attachment figure.
Increasing the chances of getting “full custody”, or of being the primary residential parent, is a difficult proposition. In Florida, for example, the custody statute lays out certain factors a court should consider. Interestingly, the most important two factors are: which parent will be most likely to allow frequent and continuing contact with the other parent, and which parent is most likely to promote the children’s bond with the other parent. It is difficult to prescribe actions that would positively affect your chances of getting what you want from the court. It is easier to identify certain actions that would decrease your chances, such as denying or limiting access to the child by the other parent, or denying or limiting the other parent’s communications with the child or the child’s communication with the other parent. It is also not helpful to try to blame the other parent for everything and refuse to take any responsibility for your own role in the conflict. Lastly, it is most important that you maximize your chances of settling the custody situation with the other parent by agreement. Most lawyers and judges will tell you that neither party is going to like the judge’s decision, and whether you can see it or not, the battle between the parents is damaging to the children. You can maximize the chances of settling the custody dispute by being nice to the other parent, by treating them with the same respect you think you deserve, and by just plain old being nice to them and considerate of their opinion.
Kenneth A. Friedman, Esq. is a partner with the family-law firm Baldwin & Friedman in Fort Lauderdale, and he also practices mediation with Compromise Solutions.