Each and every day we get a new father coming into our office wondering why they signed an agreement giving them limited visitation. More often than not a father comes in stating that he agreed not to have the child overnight until the child was three. He agreed that he’d get every other weekend and some holidays. He agreed that the mother was the primary custodian and now she won’t let him make any decisions. The number one problem is that he agreed, even though secretly in his head he was screaming for more than what he was getting. He further tells us that he used to be very involved with his children, but now he’s missing most if not all of their school functions because his ex will not involve him. He finds out from his kids that his children who used to cheer for Auburn with him are now cheering for Georgia because mommy’s new boyfriend prefers it. He loses weekends because their mother decided that she was going to enroll them in competition laser tag. He later finds out that competition laser tag doesn’t really exist and his children are staying with his ex’s crazy mom while his ex is playing drunken laser tag with her Georgia fan boyfriend. Don’t be a daddy dud. Make sure you do the following before you sign an agreement that is sexist:
- Stop limiting yourself to nights and weekends if you want more than that. You are not subject to the same time as free minutes from a cell phone company. You are a father. You made a child with another human being. Unless you’ve done something unsavory in the past, there is no reason why you should not be afforded the same rights as the mother of the child. Each case is different, but don’t let someone bully you into something you cannot live with if you want more time with your child. When the sun goes down, do you become a vampire, werewolf, or shapeshifter? If so, are you a true danger to your child? If so, then you shouldn’t have your child during the night. If not, you should be allowed to have your child in your home. Each case is different, but if you have both been equally involved in your children’s lives then you should both continue on that same path. If you haven’t, you do need to consider that.
- Do your own research. Just the other day we were in a seminar when another (much older) attorney asked “Well I always tell men to just sign the visitation schedule set out years ago. What am I supposed to do now to encourage settlement?” We have had several other attorneys say that they just tell their clients that as well because they don’t like to handle contested cases. In short, you need to research your attorney before you hire them. You need to research your own rights before you sign something you’re not happy about signing. You need to know what the trends are in your particular county. If you researched your attorney enough, they should be able to help you with the rest. As Delia says on Girlfriends Guide to Divorce: “You don’t want someone who wants to fight for compromise. You want someone who fights for YOU!”
- The McClendon Standard is a hefty burden to bear. You start out with a best interest standard when it comes to your children. After you have given up the primary parenting position, it is awfully hard to change it. A full explanation of this standard is here. The courts have come up with this hurdle which often discourages fathers from coming back and trying to get custody because you, as the father who agreed to this unfair agreement, have to prove that the change in custody outweighs the disruption of moving the child from his or her current custody arrangement. This can be very hard to do absent some obvious fault on the part of your ex.
Moral of the story is: Don’t sign an agreement giving you less than what you truly want without fully considering the consequences. You have to live with this agreement, not your lawyers!