The courts no longer favor the mother over the father in child custody matters but in many cases and for whatever reasons, the mother does retain primary child custody. In these matters, the father will typically have to pay child support based on state guidelines. If this is your situation, it does not mean that you have relinquished any particular rights or that your right to visit and spend considerable time with your children has been compromised or limited.
Right to More Visitation
If you were the primary source of financial support during the marriage, then primary custody probably went to the child’s mother. Circumstances change, however, and the children may now be in school and the mother is working full or part time. If you can adjust your schedule for more free time, then you can ask the court to modify the parenting plan. It is not hard to show that increased time with you is in the child’s best interests. Also, since you are not requesting a change in custody, you need not demonstrate a material change in circumstances. Moreover, a change in the parenting plan that gives you significantly more time with your child can affect the amount of child support you are paying.
Right to Modify Child Support
Do not rely on a verbal agreement with the child’s mother regarding your child support and parenting time such as paying less than the court ordered support amount in exchange for increased time. Another situation is you spending considerably more time with the child than what is in the parenting plan or court order since your support payments are based on the percentage of time you spend with them. You are paying more than you should if this is the case and the mother can simply tell you to go back to the more limited time pursuant to the court order. If this is happening, seek a modification so that you pay less based on your actual parenting plan. Be sure to document the time you have been spending with your child.
Too often, a father who is experiencing financial problems simply stops paying child support or only pays a portion, hoping the mother understands his plight. This is a serious mistake since the court can impose fines, add interest on unpaid support, seize your bank account funds, garnish your wages and even incarcerate you. A child support order is not immutable and can be modified, though you will have to demonstrate a material change in circumstances. The main reasons are loss of employment or a serious illness or accident that incapacitates you for a time. Other reasons may be that the mother has secured employment that has significantly increased her income along with yours stagnating or decreasing, as well as the change in parenting time.
Right to Joint Legal Custody
You do have the right to joint legal custody of your children. This means that you have a voice in determining the material issues affecting your children’s education, medical care and treatment, religious training and any other matters regarding their welfare. In some cases, this can become cumbersome or unworkable regarding certain matters but there is no reason why some decisions cannot be jointly made while other less complicated decisions can be left to the primary physical custodian.
Right to Change in Primary Physical Custody
Courts do favor joint custody unless it is not practicable or circumstances are such that it would not be in the child’s best interests but, again, circumstances change over time. If you now live nearby and in the same school community or school district and have a more flexible schedule, you ask for a modification in the custody arrangement and child support order. For example, your child can now spend two or three days during the week with you, alternating weekends, and still attend the same school and participate in the same after-school activities. The wishes of your child, if old enough, can be considered by the court as well.
Any change in custody, however, must either be agreed upon by the mother or you will have to demonstrate a material change in circumstances to get the original order modified. A resourceful and experienced domestic or family lawyer can advise you on whether your changed circumstances are material enough. It is also very possible that the mother may welcome the change and not oppose your wishes regarding modification.
Retain the Law Offices of Omar Gastelum & Associates
Family issues do not have to be contentious even in post-divorce matters. As a father, you have considerable rights regarding visitation, support and in the decisions affecting your child’s welfare and well-being. Do not believe that your child’s mother can exclude you from expressing your opinions or participating in material matters regarding your child or that you must pay unreasonable child support with limited time spent with your child.
If you have concerns about your rights as a father and how matters can be modified or changed, contact the family lawyers at the Law Offices of Omar Gastelum & Associates today for an in-depth initial consultation.