Picture this scenario. Parties are married – perhaps even happily – for 14 years. They have three kids – 12, 10 and 6. Wife has been a stay at home parent for the last 12 years. Husband is the Type A, master of the universe, over achiever type. He works in New York City, leaving the house at 6 am and coming home at 7 p.m. The wife took the children to most of their medical and dental appointments, most of the play dates, most of the activities, attended most of the school events, etc. Maybe the husband went to some, maybe he didn’t. Maybe the husband played his golf or tennis on the weekends – maybe he was part of the suburban shuttle taking the kids to the vast myriad of activities and sports kids are involved in – or both. In very much of a traditional marriage, the wife was responsible for the kids and the house and the husband was responsible for making the money. This is not meant to be a social commentary – just a description about how the parties divided the labor and defined their roles in the marriage.
Fast forward – now the parties are getting a divorce. A discussion of custody and parenting time has to be had. One would be surprised about how many times I have seen the husband in these matters demanding 50-50 shared parenting with the kids, almost as if the historical status quo never happened. All too often, this demand is coupled with an attack on the wife’s mental health and/or parenting abilities. This of course leads to the obvious question – if she was so crazy/unstable/incompetent, etc. why did you leave the children in her care for the last X years?
This is not to say that shared parenting is presumptively not reasonable or in the children’s best interests. But what is the genesis of the request. Is it power, control, the desire to pay less child support, the desire to hurt the spouse for having the audacity to divorce them? Is it a sincere belief that this is what is best for the children, whether it is or not? Is it a combination of a realization of the time lost with the children in the past coupled with a fear of losing them completely? Is it revisionist history and/or an exaggerated or grandiose belief regarding the person’s actual involvement in the historical parenting of the children? It is probably an amalgam of many of these things.
The first question to ask is can the parent actually exercise the time that he is seeking? If not, the resolution is easy. Often in the cases, I have seen the parties go through stressful and expensive custody evaluations, with the obvious result – i.e. that the mother is recommended to be the primary custodial parent. Custody then settles rapidly after that – with the father able to save face and say "I tried."
That said, I have seen many parents become more involved parents after the divorce. Maybe this was done for all of the wrong reasons. Funny thing is that despite the reason, if their relationship with the children strengthens and their involvement increases, that may not be a bad thing either.
This blog is not meant to perpetuate stereotypes or dissuade good faith custody disputes. In fact, I have represented many fathers and have been successful in obtaining custody or shared parenting of some type for them. On the other hand, before putting your children through a custody evaluation (or several if both parties get their own experts) and spending tens of thousands of dollars on the process, people should think long and hard about what they really want and what is really best for the children.