Often, law firms that represent only one gender in family law are belittled by other attorneys, with sexism being the biggest criticism. From my perspective, these firms are simply choosing a side which is no different than choosing to represent a plaintiff against an insurance company or a defendant against a prosecutor. In family law, the petitioner and respondent are largely husbands versus wives with a very small minority of cases involving same-sex litigants. However, “fathers’ rights” is more than just a clever marketing niche.
For decades, the de facto timesharing schedule for most men was every other weekend, every other holiday, and half the summer.Thankfully, due in large part to the efforts of firms like mine (and more broadminded judges), this is changing. Unfortunately, these steps toward equal rights for fathers are not applied evenly across the board. We have all heard the adage in criminal law, “innocent until proven guilty.” As lawyers, we know that axiom is not the burden in criminal law, at least not the true burden. When a person is charged with a crime, the best criminal defense attorneys immediately begin trying to prove their client’s innocence. They do not say, “My client is innocent, you prove it!”The community-at-large feels the same way. When an individual is charged with a crime, my contention is most people believe in that person’s guilt.The “court of public opinion” often trumps what is supposedly the cornerstone of our criminal justice system. I firmly believe this same effect is at work in family law and timesharing for men. Unfortunately, despite our efforts and the efforts of other “men only” firms, there are still too many circumstances utilizing the aforementioned de facto timesharing schedule.
The default timesharing schedule of every other weekend, every other holiday, and half the summer does a tremendous amount of damage to society. Every reasonable leader, from politicians to pastors to leaders in the business community, stress how important a father is to a child’s development. Nevertheless, the judiciary has been complicit in removing fathers from their children’s lives. This has been happening for decades. The argument is this ridiculous timesharing schedule, along with a few “date nights” scattered throughout the year, gives the father adequate time to effectively assist in the child’s development. Does it? Of course not. How can a father aid in raising his own children with only four overnights a month? “Date nights” only allow for dinner with little time for important bonding experiences like helping with homework or watching a movie. Raising and parenting a child involves more than just one dinner a week. Time together is required to effectively grow the bond that should exist with both parents. How can that bond be nurtured with one dinner a week? How can a father participate in disciplining the child when needed? The old, default timesharing schedule does now allow for that kind of bonding. In fact, timesharing used to be called “visitation,” as if the father was granted some highly coveted, magical furlough time with his own children. The shift from labeling visitation to timesharing shows the assumption is changing. Because I and many other “men only” attorneys continue to push courts to consider the rights of the father as equal to those of the mother, we are beginning to make a difference.
Raising a child is a shared responsibility, one that both parents have a right to enjoy. Instead of one weekend a month, give that father three weekends a month if the mother enjoys majority timesharing on the weekdays. Give that father majority timesharing in the summers, at least 75 percent. Opposing attorneys often scoff at this notion, arguing, “For one parent to have so much extra time in the summer is unfair. The other parent deserves to have time off with that child as well.” I contend this argument makes absolutely no sense. In fact, much of a child’s summer is consumed with day camps and other daycare-related activities. While many parents choose the summers to take vacations, those times rarely last five or six weeks. There are many ways to split timesharing schedules which will ensure a proper environment of co-parenting. Three weekends a month sounds like a lot of time to some opposing attorneys. However, when one considers there are months with five weekends, allowing a father three of those weekends does not seem unfair. Typically, those “extra weekends” would go to the custodial or primary residential parent.
Divorces are a reality in today’s society. Historically, fathers have been deprived of the joys, the trials and tribulations, and the responsibility of raising their children. A father’s rights to raising his children do not end in a divorce. A child needs both parents to participate. Thankfully, the legal environment is changing on this important issue. However, we have a long way to go. Kenny Leigh