You can be more than a weekend dad after divorce, if you ask for it

A lot has changed in views about parenting roles in divorce. The legal trend is toward greater equality in parenting arrangements if fathers press for it.

It is estimated that as of 2011, there were more than 2.6 million households in America headed by a single father. That's according to a 2013 Pew Research study.

While that number might not seem to be all that big a deal compared with what the general population of all parents is in the United States, consider that in 1960, the number of households featuring single fathers was less than 300,000. By contrast, homes headed up by single mothers numbered about 1.9 million in 1960 and stood at 8.6 million in 2011. The growth factors by gender work out to a four-fold increase for mothers and a nine-fold increase for men during the same time frame.

A lot has changed in 50 years

Trend watchers say this movement reflects two realities of life in America today. The first is that divorce is more common today than it was in 1960. The second is that society is more accepting of the idea that fathers can be primary caregivers.

The Pew study suggests that another factor likely in play is a change in how some courts deal with issues related to child custody, visitation, and parenting arrangements in divorce. One-hundred years ago, the idea of men home alone with children was so shocking that it helped spur an anti-suffrage movement. That translated into a legal view of what was in the children's best interest that resulted in a custody bias toward mothers.

But in more recent years, a growing number of states, including Massachusetts, have adopted legislation that gives more weight to the idea that the best interests of the child are served when both parents remain solidly connected with their children's lives. The rights of each parent are considered equal in the absence of any misconduct, making joint parenting arrangements preferred.

But there's room for yet more

Many might observe that despite the changes in laws the norm seems to be one in which mom is still the major caregiver and fathers get the children every other weekend. But one expert suggests that may be a case of culture lagging behind the law.

William Fabricius, an Arizona State University psychology professor and custody statute analyst says a lot of men still believe the courts favor the woman. They assume that the situation of dads getting the kids every other weekend is the norm because that's what they see. But what they may fail to appreciate is that only five percent of child custody disputes are resolved through the courts. Most are settled outside of a trial.

So, while the Pew statistics show huge growth in single fatherhood, the suggestion of the Fabricius observation is that dads who want more equity in child custody matters have the opportunity to make the case. But they have to be prepared to stand up for their rights.

Fathers who do decide they want to take on an equal share of parenting and child support responsibility have reason to be confident that the law is prepared to give their petition a fair hearing. To be sure that the claim gets presented in a way that best addresses legal concerns related to ensuring a child's welfare, a father should be working with counsel with a solid depth of experience.

Keywords: fathers' rights, co-parenting, child custody, divorce,