Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

Father's seek change in child custody laws nationwide

The United States has a mixed record when it comes to the rights of fathers seeking joint or full custody of their children. For over the past century, courts, judges and attorneys have all held a bias in favor of woman being the primary care givers for children. This bias eventually turned into the tender years doctrine, which is still unofficially used in courts today as a reason for giving mother primary custody of younger children. As society changed so did fathers and now many are becoming more vocal about their demands for equal access and rights to their children.

There are now law-firms across the United States that exclusively caters to men involved in family law and custody issues. While states such as Utah are reassessing their family laws and the way child custody is handled, many fathers are still left without access to their children, which is a fact made more evident by the number of fathers celebrating Father's Day without their children. A major issue with child custody determinations is how they vary not only from state to state but also from court to court and county to county. This makes a father's chances at equal parenting time a virtual game of chance.

Utah, like a growing number of states, has written into their code the presumption that joint legal custody is in a child's best option but falls short of supporting joint physical custody. Utah's child custody code remains neutral on physical custody, leaving the decision up to the courts. This opens the door for old biases to influence the custody determination. The custody laws have an even more negative impact for unwed fathers seeking equal access to their children.

Father's fight for equal treatment in custody disputes will likely continue to gain support and popularity. As men and women's roles in society continue to change so must the laws and attitudes that make fathers secondary parents.

Those seeking to devise, modify or enforce a child custody agreement should understand their rights and options in the situation. This often means seeking independent guidance so each parent can establish an appropriate plan that would focus on the best interests of the child.

Source: USA Today, "More dads demand equal custody rights, reject child-support arrangements of yesterday" Sharon Jayson, June 14, 2014

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