One of the cultural changes that has come to pass is fathers asserting their rights when faced with the loss of custody for their child. I am happy today because one battle has finally been hard won. It had been a 6 month battle that cost over $35,000 in legal fees. The judge awarded sole custody of the baby girl to her dad. Everyone is over the moon happy for him.
Today, I read about another father who was lied to about his child. I wonder how often this might happen, more often than I once thought. The way his father found out his daughter was alive was when an adoption agency lawyer called him to ask if he knew about his daughter’s birth. His ex had told him the babies (she had been expecting twins) were stillborn. DNA test results were that 99.9999% she is his daughter. The judge sided with the hopeful adoptive parents who have a 5 bedroom house with a pool, backyard and front yard plus grandma and grandpa living there too. His parental rights are due to be stripped and he will never get to meet his daughter. He mourned the death of twins he thought were stillborn for a year. Now he will lose his daughter again, after never even meeting her.
In more conventional custody situations, as of 2018, nearly 4 in 5 custodial parents were mothers (79.9%). But the statistics go deeper than that: Not only does the mother get custody of the children more often, the parents agree in more than half the cases (51%) that the mother should have custody. However, the number of children living with their father has more than quadrupled from 1% in 1968 to 4.5% in 2020. Many divorced fathers would prefer to have custody of their children but are not actually awarded custody. 65% of the time the female parent is awarded custody.
Personal confession – I was awarded custody of my daughter in my divorce case. However, due to financial hardship (with no child support asked for nor rendered), my daughter was raised by her dad and a step-mother. It was simply an agreement that to the best of my knowledge was never court ordered. It was not an easy role in the 1970s to be an absentee mother. Thankfully, I continue to have a good relationship with my daughter and her assistance to me when my parents were dying can never be adequately repaid but continues a source of deep gratitude for me.
Within the legal family court system, women are viewed as generous, trustworthy and friendly and there is a belief that they will have more time to spend with their children but this is not the reality in either single mother families or in families where both parents work. As of 2015, joint-custody arrangements were more common than sole paternal custody but less common than sole maternal custody. With regard to joint-custody arrangements: occurrences of domestic violence on the part of husbands was reduced.
It is surprisingly easy to find stories of fathers having to fight for custody against adoptive or foster parents. In a case I had looked at before, which was ruled just this 2022 year, the father had sought custody in a divorce petition filed in Iowa before his then-estranged wife gave birth. A judge ordered DNA testing and prohibited the child’s permanent placement or adoption. She gave birth in Michigan and a judge terminated parental rights of the birth mother and father, who was considered a non-surrendering party because he failed to respond to a generic legal notice published in a newspaper. The Michigan Supreme Court justices said the case presented challenging legal issues, with some concerned about the father’s due-process rights. Even so, the state’s Supreme Court sided with the adoptive parents of the nearly 4-year-old boy whose birth father had sought custody. That court reversed a decision by a state Court of Appeals panel that said the birth father’s parental rights were wrongly terminated, which provided the birth father with a chance at gaining custody.
If the topic interests you, you may wish to read this analysis – LINK>The Strange Life of Stanley v. Illinois: A Case Study in Parent Representation and Law Reform provided by the NYU Review of Law & Social Change – Legal Scholarship for Systemic Change. Thankfully, there has been dramatic and important growth of parent representation in child protection cases. In Stanley, the Supreme Court addressed Peter Stanley’s efforts to regain custody of his children from the Illinois foster care system after the death of his partner, Joan Stanley, to whom he was not married. Stanley became a canonical case regarding the rights of unwed fathers, and, crucially for the child protection field, it included a broader holding that only parental fitness can justify state action to remove children from their parents’ custody.