The Fathers' Rights Movement: Overview

The fathers' rights movement is a social movement lobbying for greater rights for fathers in all areas of family law.

Fathers' rights activists argue that the legal system is biased when it comes to:

  • Child support
  • Visitation
  • Child custody decisions

Proponents argue that the legal system leaves many dads who want to share parenting responsibility without the chance to do so.

Advocates for this family law reform movement want to see fathers have more opportunities to share custody of their children. They also want to see children's mothers take greater responsibility for the financial support of their minor children.

The fathers' rights movement has faced criticism for its overlap with the men's rights movement. Some argue the men's rights movement undermines women's rights and perpetuates misogyny. Critics say that some activists use their cause as a way to diminish the rights of mothers rather than advocate for equal parental rights.

This article provides an overview of fathers' rights activism in its various forms.

Formation of the Fathers' Rights Movement

Following the civil rights movement, the fathers' equal rights movement began as a result of a higher divorce rate in the 1960s and 1970s.

Some fathers' rights proponents began their advocacy after personal experiences in custody battles. Fathers felt they had little access to their children, but were responsible for alimony and child support payments.

These early advocates objected to family court judges presuming that maternal custody was in the best interests of the child.

At the time, courts followed the arguably sexist principle that it is best for a child to be with their mother. That doctrine surrounding divorcing parents was abandoned by most states in the 1980s.

Today there generally is no preference under custody law favoring mothers of children of divorce. Courts consider both parents equally when determining the best interests of the child. Yet, the fathers' rights movement contends that a pro-mother bias still exists.

Successes and Challenges of the Fathers' Rights Movement

Fathers' rights groups have been effective in changing shared parenting time laws in Kentucky, Arkansas, and more. These laws make joint custody the default option in custody cases.

The National Parents Organization has produced a report card on state child custody legislation. In 2022, the national organization gave "A's" to California, Kentucky, Michigan, and Florida.

Which Issues Does the Fathers' Rights Movement Address?

Fathers' rights supporters assert that courts too often presume that a mother should have primary custody of a child. Some say that family courts are too easily influenced by false allegations of domestic violence and child abuse from mothers or second wives. This assertion has been criticized by domestic violence researchers.

Greater Parenting Time for Fathers

Sole custody by the mother with visitation by the non-custodial father used to be the norm. Now the trend is for judges to order shared physical and legal custody during court proceedings.

The family court system recognizes that children benefit from having a relationship with both parents during their tender years.

Joint custody does not mean that each parent has equal parenting time. The specific amount of time parents have is outlined in a separate parenting plan.

One parent may only get every other weekend and extra time in the summer. For a parent who used to see their child every day as a custodial parent, that often does not feel like equal time.

The fathers' rights movement would like courts to use a rebuttable presumption of equal, shared parenting in custody cases. A "rebuttable presumption" means that the courts would presume that equal, shared parenting time is in the best interests of the child unless there is evidence showing it wouldn't be. This change would allow fathers to be much more involved in their children's lives.

Parenting Time Interference

Interference with parenting time can make it difficult for fathers to have a relationship with their children. Parenting time interference is physically preventing visitation or communication between parent and child. It can result in civil contempt charges or even criminal charges.

Advocates say that it can be time-consuming to get authorities to act on parenting time violations. It is also challenging for family courts to determine if a violation has happened.

Paternity Leave

When fathers take time to bond with a new child, the whole family benefits. Yet, many fathers get little time off when a child is born or adopted. The Family and Medical Leave Act provides leave for a worker with a new child. But it only covers about half of the workforce. Furthermore, many fathers find taking unpaid leave to be impractical. They may fear stigma or retaliation for leaving work to spend time with a newborn.

Many have called for the expansion of paternity leave and paid leave. They want greater protections for fathers who exercise their right to paternity leave.

Family Planning Decisions

Father's rights advocates argue that fathers should have a greater right to take part in abortion and adoption decisions. A father currently doesn't have a legal right to be informed of an abortion. His consent isn't required to end a pregnancy.

Some fathers have argued that they should have the right to "financial abortion." They argue that when a pregnant woman continues a pregnancy against the father's wishes, he should be allowed to disclaim financial responsibility for the child.

Advocates argue that fathers should have the right to adopt if the mother gives up custody. Advocates say this should extend to unwed fathers who haven't established legal paternity.

Child Support Reform

Many fathers have called for child support reform. They argue that child support guidelines give mothers incentives to divorce and seek sole custody. Fathers have advocated for child support systems that acknowledge nonfinancial forms of support.

Fathers' rights supporters have noted that courts can be unsympathetic when a father falls behind in payments. While all courts allow for the modification of a child support order, arrearages can add up. "Deadbeat dad" laws can result in parental alienation and fathers ending up in jail. That makes it even harder to pay support.

Have Your Parental Rights Been Violated? A Fatherhood Attorney Can Help

Fathers seeking to protect their rights as parents don't need to go it alone. Have questions about parenting time, children's rights, or child custody? Contact a family law attorney.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

If you are in the midst of a paternity case, it may be an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and provide for your children. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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