The difficulty of managing a family as a single parent or co-parenting with a partner cannot be overstated. Holidays and school breaks can bring extra complications, especially when the parenting challenge is the result of divorce. When divorce occurs, the parent that has less access to the children — typically dad — may not witness and fully understand the impact that divorce has on the children involved. All relationships, familial or otherwise, change during this transition. Managing these changing relationships can be difficult for all parties, but particularly tricky for the parent with less access to the children.
Fathers, both single and divorced, that seek sole or joint custody of their children must find not only emotional support but also financial resources to aid their efforts. This realization can be prompted externally, by family or strangers, or internally, through their own questions about their relationships with their children. What to do if dad does not live with the kids? How can dads maintain strong relationships with children and family members if they are no longer in the home?
I recently spoke to Jeffery M. Leving, an attorney and author whose writing focuses primarily on the divorced dad and “dad’s rights.” Every day in his work, he encounters fathers going through divorce and seeking visitation with their children. So, I was eager to receive his thoughts on what dads need to know when facing divorce or a custody issue.
Shnieka Johnson: What should dads do if they have limited access to their children while separating or in the process of divorce from their spouse?
Jeffery Leving: Good divorced dads value their time and plan ahead to maximize that value. You don’t have to plan every moment of every day you spend with your children, but make sure that at least part of the time involves specific activities you’ve made an effort to arrange. Focus on things to do that would be fun and meaningful for them.
SJ: What are some cooperative responses and legal remedies that you suggest for dads seeking custody or visitation rights?
JL: I always suggest mediation between the parents. Good dads make good efforts to participate in mediation for two reasons. First, they recognize that if custody-related issues are resolved amicably in mediation rather than through litigation, the kids are spared a lot of stressful situations, from courtroom drama to out-of-court histrionics. Second, they understand that their “performance” in mediation may get back to the judge and can have a positive impact on his decision.
SJ: How do you advise dads that may have feelings of guilt or a loss of connection with their kids during this process?
JL: Most men were raised to feel responsible for their families. They feel extremely guilty about the divorce, even when they are great husbands and fathers. Although there is no factual basis for these feelings, this is their perception of reality. Therefore, many will try to punish themselves and use the divorce settlement and visitation to do so. Sometimes the guilt is so powerful, some fathers completely walk away from their children, feeling they will only cause harm, when in fact-based reality, they are desperately needed. A father who feels this way must immediately seek the help of a highly-skilled mental health professional, as he is worth it and his kids need him.
SJ: Any advice for divorced dads engaging in new relationships or considering remarriage?
JL: I do not recommend romantic relationships while going through a divorce, because this can enrage your wife, causing jealousy and significantly increasing litigation and legal costs. If your new relationship makes your ex-wife jealous — and furious — expect her to strike back by fighting you on custody and imposing unfair restrictions on your visitation. Now, for remarriage, an important piece of advice is to communicate with your new wife the rights and obligations you have to make her understand what you need to do to be a good dad to support the best interests and futures of the kids.
SJ: How do you stress the father’s role and importance when representing your clients?
JL: In my first book, “Fathers’ Rights,” I thoroughly discuss the extreme negative consequences of father absenteeism. The statistics prove this. Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school. In fact, the absence of a biological father increases by 900 percent a daughter’s vulnerability to rape and sexual abuse. [This statistic, according to Leving’s website, Dadsr
Shnieka Johnson is an education consultant and freelance writer. She is based in Manhattan where she resides with her husband and son. Contact her via her website: www.shnie