Divorce can be just as difficult for men as it is for women. But for dads, divorce can be especially worrisome, as they may worry that they will lose all of their custody rights tso the mother.
The good news is, the law has evolved greatly over time. In Texas, judges now focus on what is in the best interests of the children. They also understand the importance of protecting the father’s rights and his relationship with his children. So whenever possible, they will order the parents to have joint custody, or “conservatorship.”
But you should know that while joint custody typically means fathers have equal authority to make decisions for the kids, it does not necessarily mean you will get equal parenting time. So here are ten things to know about protecting your father’s rights during a divorce in Texas.
1. FATHERS HAVE THE RIGHT TO INITIATE THE DIVORCE
If you and your wife have already separated, she may be angry with you. What’s more, she may be trying to “punish” you by minimizing your contact with the children. She may even try to keep you from seeing them at all.
This is an unfortunate situation, but not all that unusual. You should know that even if you are separated, you still have the right to see your children and be involved in making decisions for them. Thus, if your wife is really being uncooperative, you may have no choice but to initiate the divorce proceedings on your own.
An experienced family law attorney can help secure your visitation rights until the divorce has been finalized. Just as important, he or she also can help guide you through the difficult process of divorce and resolving child custody issues.
2. FATHERS HAVE THE RIGHT TO TAKE THE INITIATIVE IN MAKING CUSTODY ARRANGEMENTS
If you and your spouse are on good terms, the two of you may be able to work out custody and visitation plans on your own. Your divorce attorney can formalize the plan to submit to the court. If the judge agrees to it, the custody arrangement can be incorporated into your divorce decree.
A word of caution: If you have any doubts or uncertainties about the custody plan, DO NOT agree to it without first consulting a family law attorney. Otherwise, you may end up with a custody arrangement that seemed okay at first, only to realize later that it is not fair. This can lead to more legal headaches and more expense.
One other tip: Once the divorce is finalized and the custody arrangements settled, you and your ex have the right to make a temporary custody agreement. This can be helpful for unusual circumstances, such as if one of you is going on vacation, or if one of the parents has been hospitalized. Just remember, the keyword is temporary.
3. PAST PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT IS A KEY FACTOR IN DETERMINING A FATHER’S CUSTODY RIGHTS
In a divorce hearing, the judge will look carefully at how much time you spent with the kids during the marriage. Did you see them every day? Did you help take them to school, and help with homework? Did you do more parenting than the mother?
If you have been an involved parent, you can expect to have equal standing before the court. This means you have the right to pursue joint custody and even sole custody. Depending upon the circumstances, a father may even have the right to petition for child support payments.
Thus, even if you are only considering a divorce, you should also be thinking about how much time you spend with your children. If possible, try to spend even more time with them now. Once the divorce is finalized, the time you invest now will really pay off.
4. FAMILY LAW COURTS ALSO LOOK AT THE QUALITY OF PARENTING BY THE FATHER
As noted, the judge’s focus is on what is best for the children. This means the court will try to determine which parent is better able to provide a stable home environment. Therefore, in addition to looking at the quantity of time you have spent with your children, the judge also will want to consider the quality of the relationship.
If you have a strong relationship with your children, this can help protect your parental rights in a divorce. On the other hand, if you and the kids seem to end up arguing every time you get together, you may be at a disadvantage. Or perhaps you previously had a good relationship, but now the kids are “blaming” you for the problems between you and your wife.
If you are having trouble connecting with your kids, you can find many articles on how to build a better relationship with your children. You can also find articles written specifically to help fathers. As any dad who is a football fan knows, the best defense is a good offense.
5. DON’T MOVE OUT
When couples are splitting up, it is not unusual for one parent to move out of the house. More times than not, the husband is the partner who leaves.
But this is almost always a bad idea. If you leave the house (and the kids), your wife effectively becomes the primary custodian of the kids. When you get to court and want to claim custody of the children, you may be at a real disadvantage.
Emotions can run high when marriages are ending. As a result, living together in the same home can be very stressful. One way to get around this by moving to a different room of the house. Regardless of how you handle the situation, if you really want to protect your father’s rights, here is our advice: Stay in the house until after the divorce is finalized.
6. MAINTAIN A CONSISTENT, QUALITY RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR CHILDREN
If your relationship with your wife is becoming more distant, your relationship with your children will become even more important.
The relationship between a father and his children is a unique one. It is critical to the emotional, social, and physical development of the child. It also lays the foundation for the type of relationship you will have when the child is a teenager and then an adult.
Therefore, although your marital relationship may be falling apart, your parental relationship must be strengthened. You will need to see your children consistently, and work to ensure that the time you spend together is meaningful.
7. DON’T TALK TRASH ABOUT YOUR WIFE
It’s not unusual to be sad or angry about a divorce. It’s also normal to want to talk about it–in fact, it’s healthy for you. But it’s wrong for fathers to share those feelings with their kids. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, consider the obvious: Your wife is usually the mother of your children. The kids are “half” of each of you, both your good qualities and your faults. Furthermore, remember that you made the decision to be with her. As a result, anything that reflects badly on her also is a poor reflection on you. In addition, if your wife really has been a bad mother, the kids eventually will figure it out on their own.
If you are really angry with your wife, letting off some steam can be good for you. But you should share these thoughts only with close friends, family members, or a therapist–not with your children.
One other tip: In the era of social media, it also may be tempting to post something critical on your favorite platform. But we recommend you avoid doing this at all costs. Not only does it make you look bad, but when you go before a judge to discuss custody arrangements, these comments can endanger your rights as a father.
8. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Both emotionally and physically, divroce can be stressful. In the process of dealing with a custody battle, it can be easy to forget about some of the positive habits you normally have. But one way a father can protect his rights is by being able to show the court that he is in good overall health.
This doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon. There are many simple things you can do to stay healthy during the divorce. The list includes considering counseling. Speaking with a quality therapist can help you cope with the stress of divorce. Just as important, it also might help you at the custody hearing.
One other thought about taking care of yourself: During the divorce process, fathers need to stay out of trouble. Need we say more?
9. THINK LIKE A JUDGE
Remember what we said at the start: In Texas, the court focuses on what is best for children. Your focus should be the same.
Afterall, kids are not a property like your house or vacation home.Kids also are not like your inheritance or investments. They are your children. This means your every decision should be based on what is best for their emotional and physical well-being.
One more thought: When a judge is determining custody arrangements, he or she also will consider which person can do a better job facilitating the relationship the kids will have with the other parent. So another way to protect your father’s rights is to show that you are ready to work effectively with your ex.
10. EVEN IF THE KIDS DO NOT LIVE WITH YOU, FATHERS HAVE THE RIGHT TO HELP MAKE LEGAL DECISIONS
Usually, the court will rule that one parent will be given physical custody of the kids and receive support payments. When this happens, fathers sometimes assume they will lose all of their parental rights.
This is a mistake. Even if the mother gets full physical custody, fathers can still request to be involved in legal custody issues. This means you have the right to be involved in making decisions about your children’s health care, education, where they live, and many other significant issues.
The point is, no matter what has happened in your marriage, you still have many rights as a father. You just need to be aware of them and be prepared to advocate for them. Remember that even after the marriage ends, your rights and role as a father continue.
A SKILLED DIVORCE LAWYER CAN PROTECT A FATHER’S RIGHTS
Even if your separation is completely amicable, a divorce can be complicated and stressful. You may have heard horror stories from other fathers, or be worried about how much the divorce is going to cost you.
An experienced, skilled family law attorney can help you stay flexible and not lose hope. He or she also can help save you money in the long run. In other words, having good legal representation is one of the best investments a father can make in protecting his rights.
The Maynard Law Firm, PLLC, has years of experience representing fathers in divorce cases in Fort Worth and the Tarrant County area. We can help make your divorce as smooth and cost-efficient as possible. And we can help protect all of the rights you are entitled to as a father and as a spouse. Contact us today by calling our Fort Worth office at 817-335-9600.