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Dads in divorce: Now more than just a wallet

Published On: Dec 06 2013 11:14:52 AM CST
Father and son walking

Cris Watk/SXC

By attorney Howard Iken, Special to THELAW.TV

In today’s society, the makeup of families is not quite as traditional or cookie cutter as in the past. Marriage is not an essential element in any relationship and society no longer looks down on single-parent households. There are households with one parent, two parents, households in a constant state of flux, and military families that have a hard-wired whirlwind of constant changes. These concepts are radically different than previous, outdated definitions of what may have been standard attributes of families. One outdated term refers to the "nuclear family." The nuclear family was a cookie cutter unit consisting of two parents, one or more kids, and a very traditional household. Those old concepts are faded and forgotten in today's more flexible arrangements. But one concept has outlasted its validity: the concept that a father in a broken or separated household with children is nothing more than a wallet with two legs. We are finally turning the corner and are within reach of a time where the "Wallet With Two Legs" concept becomes as faded as the idea of a nuclear family.

The old weekend dad plan

As a divorce and custody attorney, I practiced during a time when it was assumed the kids would live full time with mom. Dad would get the standard weekend visitation plan, consisting of every other weekend, and one dinner during the in-between weeks. Dad would also immediately begin to pay child support to mom. Many states even had a principle called the Tender Years Doctrine -- where extremely young children were automatically expected to live with their moms. Dads who desired a close, continuing relationship with their children were completely out of luck. The state of the law relegated men to a minor role with respect to raising their own children. The same laws envisioned men to prominently fill only one role: the primary source of support for their children. Men simply did not have the same rights as women when it came to children. It was very unfair and deprived men the right to be proper parents to their children. Many men were seen as nothing more than a wallet.

Evolving new custody statutes

The parenting rights scene has finally turned the corner and dads now have the right to step up to the plate as parents. At least, they can in most states. Just about every state has eliminated gender references in their divorce and custody statutes. On top of that, many states have gone as far as to enact statutes giving preference to equal parenting time for children. The State of Florida narrowly missed passing an alimony reform statute that also contained a revised starting point for child custody decisions: 50/50 parenting time. Across the country, the new wave of statutes and court decisions give credence to a simple principle -- that children greatly benefit from having both a father and mother in their life.

Also beneficial to dads, there is another process at play in states that have not enacted equal parenting statutes. First, the wave of legislation and attempted legislation appears to have impacted thinking of many judges. Even if the law does not specifically equalize parenting opportunities, judges are more inclined than ever to give full consideration to both parents on a completely equal basis. Another change impacting the judiciary, the fact that judges age out of the system, retire, and make room for younger, more progressive judges. The judges that entered the system a long time ago when the Tender Years Doctrine was applicable are now retiring or close to retirement. The newest crop of judges grew up being a part of the new generation -- the generation that accepts our new definitions of what it means to be a family. The new judges are more likely to be part of a balanced, loving, parenting situation.

Relaxed child support obligations

Finally, the one anchor around the necks of dads that keep them from being parents is slowly becoming a fading concept. Child support obligations traditionally were always levied only on dads and inflexibly kept in place. Dads with large child support obligations were forbidden by courts from scaling back so they could enjoy life as a parent in the same manner as moms always enjoyed. The fact that dads now get equal consideration as parents has brought some relief in the form of lower child support obligations. For the first time in a decade, many judges will now consider rotating custody with zero child support obligations. It is now more acceptable to earn less, be a dad, and look forward to a life of closeness with your children.

We are rapidly transitioning to a time where dads have equal opportunities and equal rights to show love to their children. Kids need both their dad and mom and the courts are finally recognizing that. In many states dads are no longer seen as a wallet with two legs. And the dream of dads as equal parents has finally arrived.

Howard Iken is a divorce, custody, and personal injury attorney at the Law Firm of Ayo and Iken in Florida. Mr. Iken looks forward to seeing more dads take their rightful place as fully involved parents.

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