Differences in Representing Fathers Seeking Custody of Their Child
I’ve represented roughly equal numbers of mothers and fathers in child custody disputes. In my experience you have to approach the case differently depending on whether or not the mother or the father is the client. Now theoretically, and as written in the law and propounded by the United States Supreme Court, the gender of the parent is not suppose to be relevant in determining the best interest of the child and to which parent the child’s custody is to be placed. In practice, however, we all know this is not the case. Judges vary as to their leanings on this issue, but in general there are certain issues unique to fathers in custody disputes, and steps that need to be taken that are not usually necessary in representing mothers in custody cases.
Many of these issues are culturally embedded. As an example the movie “Three Women and a Baby” would hardly qualify as a comedy unlike the hit comedy “Three Men and a Baby.” The fathers create comical mayhem and the mother returns to bring order to chaos. In representing fathers it is imperative that these cultural stereotypes be taken into account and banged out of the judge’s mind. This requires taking nothing for granted. When the father is the client you have to build him up from scratch in front of the judge and demonstrate the father’s parenting skills. Even the smallest aspects of parenting that you may take for granted such as knowing how to diaper, care for a skinned knee, etc., must be covered unless the judge assumes that the father simply is not competent or capable of caring for the children. This is evidence that is usually taken for granted for mothers but cannot be taken for granted when representing a father in a custody case. And quite frankly it is not uncommon at all for the mother in a custody case to have less developed parenting skills than the father, and this contrast between the parents will make the issue that much more persuasive as it will stick out in the mind of the judge.
The Mia Farrow vs. Woody Allen custody trial is a great example of how even the little things can be disastrous to a father if he is not properly prepared. There is no doubt that Woody Allen had expensive and competent legal counsel at the trial. Nevertheless Woody Allen got torn apart when he was cross-examined as it was revealed that he did not know the most basic things about his children’s daily activities and personal preferences. Woody Allen was simply not properly prepared to contest the case. Given his other character eccentricities, it was even more imperative that he had been properly prepared for the trial and even the little details not taken for granted.
The good news for fathers in Georgia is that the “tender years presumption,” or the “primary caretaker element,” is not the law of Georgia. These presumptions make it very difficult for the primary breadwinner in the household to prevail absent egregious circumstances. The State of Georgia operates under the best interest of the child standard, which means what it says, the court will award custody to the party who can provide for the child’s best interest. And what comprises a child’s best interest is not limited to your gender and it is not necessarily in the child’s best interest to primarily reside with their mother. Fathers that do contest custody can and do win custody cases, and they do so on a regular basis in the State of Georgia. I cannot count how many times our father clients have won custody, and this includes winning custody versus stay at home mothers. One of my proudest cases was winning custody for an active duty U.S. Marine Sergeant from his wife. Yes marines do cry tears of joy. Every case is unique, and despite the easing of cultural bias, it is more difficult to represent the father in custody cases, but it is no longer rare for fathers to win custody of their children.
Contact us or call today to learn how Shaw Law can work with you to achieve the best outcome possible for you and your children.
Scott Shaw is founder and principle of Shaw Law Firm LLC, founded in 1995 and dedicated solely to divorce, family law and child custody matters that must be addressed and decided in the state of Georgia. Shaw Law Firm serves the greater Metro Atlanta area, particularly the counties of Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, Cherokee, Forsyth, Paulding, Henry, Fayette, Coweta, Newton, Walton, Bartow and Douglas. Schedule a consultation today at 770-594-8309.