A large body of research overwhelmingly suggests children do best when they have both a mother and a father involved in their lives. Specifically, children whose fathers participate in raising them do better in school, are less likely to get into trouble with the law, and are more likely to be better parents themselves. While more fathers are being awarded legal custody of their children, the statistics seem to indicate that the majority (between 75 and 85 percent) are awarded to mothers. Today, nearly 20 million children live in a home without a father (2002 U.S. Bureau of the Census). Recent Census Bureau child-custody statistics indicate that nearly 40% of non-custodial fathers have no access or visitation rights whatsoever with their children. A very troubling statistic, indeed! Of those that do have visitation rights, what percentage are actually seeing their children regularly? The statistics in the studies vary greatly. But it seems clear that frequently the amount of contact the children have with their fathers diminishes over time. A recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family finds that children born outside of marriage are less likely to be visited by their father when the mother is involved in a new romantic relationship. It also finds that the mother’s social decisions typically have a direct affect on the contact between a father and his child. However, like most studies which I have read, it concludes that non-residential fathers SHOULD continue visitation despite the inherent complications when mother starts dating as it is in the long term best interests of the child.
A review of the research that I have seen also makes it clear that children, especially daughters, benefit considerably when the parent they are not living with nevertheless does everyday things with the child, from shopping, reading, visiting, doing homework, watching TV together, to spending holidays together. For a school-age daughter, doing everyday-type things together with the parent she is not living with is the strongest predictor of psychological well-being.
Don’t Let Geographical Distance Deter You!
Perseverance may no doubt be required, but Dads need to press on to be as involved as much as they can with their children. I recently concluded representation of a father who has fought in a rural Ohio juvenile court for the last 4 years to expand his parenting time and to ultimately obtain an order of Shared Parenting for his 5-year-old daughter, despite his living in North Carolina. His perseverance was incredible as were the efforts of a dedicated Guardian ad Litem who flew two times to father’s home in North Carolina to evaluate firsthand their strong and developing father-daughter bond. This wise father had allowed his relationship with his daughter to grow naturally and gradually over the years. As much as he wanted her with him, he elected not to force any extended out-of-state visitation beyond his daughter’s comfort zone. What has occurred is that his daughter wants to spend as much time with him as possible. This child will have a much better chance to grow to become a very healthy adult because of Dad’s efforts despite a very contentious court battle. The child will be attending school in Ohio, but father has court-ordered parenting time both in Ohio and North Carolina as well as utilizing virtual visitation online to supplement his "in-person" contact. Dad continues to read books to her at night online with the use of a web camera.
I would like to share a quote by George Bernard Shaw which seems apropos:
"People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them."
If that one doesn’t work for you, here is one that I am sure my client would especially enjoy since it is from one of his heroes, Erin Brokovich:
"Take It From Me: Life’s a Struggle but You Can Win.
Think outside the box. In this day and age, staying connected with a child is possible regardless of geographical distances, acrimonious litigation, work schedules or other obstacles. An excellent resource for helping parents dealing with these issues is the Separated Parenting Access and Resource Center (SPARC), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the best interests of children involved in custody and divorce proceedings. Click here to go to SPARC’s website. Also, you might be interested in reading my prior articles about Virtual Visitation. Click here to read the first about Utilizing Technology to Supplement Parenting Time. Click here to read the second about The Legal aspects of Virtual Visitation.
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.