The fathers’ rights movement is a social movement advocating for greater rights for fathers in family law, child support, and custody decisions. Many fathers’ rights proponents argue that the legal system is biased against fathers when it comes to family decisions, leaving many dads who desire to share parenting responsibility without the chance to do so.
This movement is not without its share of controversy, however, as some fringe groups claiming the "fathers' rights" mantle have been singled out as being misogynistic or outwardly hostile toward the rights of mothers and women in general.
The following is a general overview of the fathers' rights movement in its various forms.
Formation of the Fathers’ Rights Movement
The fathers’ rights movement began to come together in the United States as a result of higher rates of divorce in the 1960s and 70s. At the time, early advocates objected to courts presuming that maternal custody was in the best interests of the child. Many fathers felt this unjustly left them with little access to their children while also making them responsible for large alimony and child support payments.
Indeed, many fathers’ rights proponents began their advocacy after personal experiences in divorce or custody battles.
Fathers’ Rights Concerns
Fathers’ rights supporters seek to reform what they view as a bias in family law. They assert that courts too often presume that a mother should have primary custody of a child. Some advocates say that family courts are too easily influenced by false claims of abuse, an assertion which has been criticized by others.
Some of the issues central to the fathers’ rights movement include the following:
Greater Parenting Time for Fathers
When one parent is given sole custody, they gain exclusive legal custody over the couple’s child. This can leave the noncustodial parent with little time to spend with the child and few rights regarding important parenting decisions.
The fathers’ rights movement has argued for a rebuttable presumption that shared parenting is in the best interests of the child. Under shared parenting, both parents have the right to make joint decisions regarding the child and parenting time is divided more equally.
Parenting Time Interference
Interference with parenting time can become a severe obstacle to parents seeking to maintain a relationship with their child. Parenting time interference includes acts such as physically preventing visitation or restricting communication between parent and child. Parenting time interference can result in civil contempt charges, if the parenting agreement is court-ordered, and can even result in felony charges.
However, many fathers’ rights advocates say that it can be difficult to get authorities to act on parenting time violations and that the process can be costly and time consuming.
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. Though the federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides for unpaid leave for certain workers, only about half the workforce is guaranteed leave for a new child under the law. Further, many fathers find taking unpaid leave to be impractical and fear stigma or retaliation for leaving work to spend time with a newborn.
Many in the fathers’ rights movement have called for the expansion of paternity leave, increases in paid leave, and greater protections for fathers who exercise their right to paternity leave.
Family Planning Decisions
Some fathers and fathers-to-be feel that they lack power in family planning decisions. An expectant father, for example, doesn’t have a legal right to be informed of an abortion and his consent isn’t required to terminate a pregnancy. Fathers’ rights advocates have argued that fathers should have a greater right to participate in family planning decisions.
For some advocates, this includes allowing unwed fathers who haven't established legal paternity the right to adopt a child if the mother gives up custody through adoption or child welfare proceedings. Some have also made the controversial argument that fathers should have the right to “financial abortion” when a pregnant mother continues a pregnancy against their wishes. This would allow fathers to disclaim their financial responsibilities to a child if they objected to the pregnancy.
Child Support Reform
Many fathers have called for child support reform. They argue that guidelines are arbitrary and give parents a financial incentive to divorce and seek sole custody. Fathers have advocated for child support systems that better take into account the incomes of both parents and acknowledge nonfinancial forms of support.
Many fathers’ rights supporters have also noted that courts can be unsympathetic when a father falls behind in support payments due to financial struggles, as in times of unemployment. However, it's important to note that all courts allow for the modification of child support amounts when situations change.
Have Your Fathers' Rights Been Violated? An Attorney Can Help
Fathers seeking to protect their rights as parents don't need to go it alone. If you’re concerned about your rights as a parent or have questions about divorce, parenting time, or custody, contact a qualified family law attorney who can investigate your circumstances, answer your questions and help you protect your rights.