Saturday, June 14, 2014

AS A FATHER'S ROLE HAS CHANGED, SO HAS THE LAW



It’s Father’s Day, and I plan to celebrate.  My children are now grown, but while they were growing up I was the type of father who changed diapers, stayed up with a sick kid in the middle of the night, attended every school conference and event, and went to all doctors’ appointments.  I helped with homework, coached my kids’ baseball and softball teams and, regardless of my workload, I made sure to spend lots of time with my family, including one-on-one time with each of the children.

I’m not alone.  There are plenty of dads out there who do the very same thing for their children.  And the courts are beginning to take notice.  Over the past year, Arizona and many other states have made revisions to their Family Law statutes to make it easier for involved fathers to obtain equal decision-making and parenting-time rights with their children.  

For decades, courts across the country almost automatically gave custody of young children to mothers, often applying what was known as the “Tender Years Doctrine” – a sexist legal theory based on the philosophy that mothers are, by nature, nurturers and fathers are breadwinners.  This viewpoint was not only flawed – it was discriminatory against both sexes.  It was unfair to the many loving, nurturing, fathers who were involved in every facet of their children’s lives, yet were not given equal parenting-time and decision-making rights.  It was also unfair to mothers, since this ignorant belief was used as a basis for oppressing women and depriving them of formal education and equality in the workplace.   

But society is changing.  Today’s fathers view themselves differently than fathers of past generations.  More and more, fathers today see themselves as equal partners in parenting their children. Fathers of my generation were locked into their role as providers.  They worked all day, and often late into the night, to support their family.  When they came home, they typically played with the kids and helped with discipline, but it was the mother’s responsibility to raise the children.  However, many of today’s fathers are different – they still play with their children and discipline them when necessary, but modern fathers also nurture their offspring and share in child care responsibilities.  A recent Pew Research study determined that there are currently more than two million stay-at-home dads in America -- a number which is certain to grow as women continue to achieve equality in the workforce.  And that figure is dwarfed by the number of fathers who care for children in nuclear families, and single (divorced or never-married) fathers who co-parent with the children's mother.

Study after study has been published over the past several years demonstrating the importance of fathers in their children’s lives.  Children without the benefit of involved fathers have a higher incidence of poverty, criminal activity and mental health problems.  Children whose fathers are part of their lives tend to graduate from college in higher numbers.  The importance of a father’s impact on his children cannot be overstated. 

Increasingly, today’s fathers are stepping up to the plate and sharing the responsibility of raising their children -- and in response, modern divorce and custody laws are changing to reflect a father's contribution.  Now, when fathers have been significantly involved in their children's upbringing, they are much more likely to be awarded equal decision-making and parenting time by the courts.

Happy Father's Day! 




Gary J. Frank is a Family Law Attorney, a litigator, and a mediator with over thirty years of experience in dealing with divorce, paternity, custody, and parenting issues. For many years he acted as a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, which gave him an insight into the inner workings of the courts that many attorneys lack.  In addition to representing Family Law clients in litigation, we are also willing to help people by working with them on a Limited-Scope or Consultation-Only basis.  Our office is located in the Biltmore area of central Phoenix, with satellite offices in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona.  We can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  You can also reach us through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, contact us today.  We’d be happy to help.