I have represented many dads and they often ask me if they have a fighting chance to win custody of their children. Others aren't necessarily looking to have their kids come live with them, but they want to know that their rights as a father are protected.
In the history of American divorces, dads used to be treated really unfairly based on gender stereotypes and societal norms which are not only outdated but which were often times just plain wrong. As a result, unless the mom was a crack addict or a prostitute- custody of the kids usually went to the mothers. Today, the standard for custody is "best interests of the child" which makes no assumptions as to the gender of the parents. By law, mothers and fathers are to be treated equally, as it should be! In other words, neither gets favorable treatment or a different set of laws based on being either a mom or a dad. If you are a good parent and the children would be better off if you have custody, then yes- you have a chance at custody! Of course you do! The law work both ways on this one. That is not to say that judges, lawyers, guardian-ad-litems and others in the court system don't have their own prejudices that they carry with them (either for or against men- or women). When selecting an attorney, make sure that you feel comfortable with him or her and that they are truly aligned with your goals in all aspects of the divorce.
When it comes to custody, there is custody for decision making purposes and then there is residential custody which determines where the kids will live. If someone is going for "sole custody", that usually entails not only decision making powers but also where they will live. On the other hand, it is not at all uncommon for the parent with residential custody to have joint custody. If you and your wife have decided that the kids should live with her, that does not mean that you can't have equal say in major decisions (health, education, religion). On the other hand, if they are going to be living with you, you can still give your wife joint custody over decisions if you feel that you can effectively communicate with each other about your children to make the best decisions for them, jointly. Whomever the children end up living with, the other parent can have visitation rights regardless of custody. Those rights should be specifically spelled out in the final divorce decree. Don't assume anything, it all needs to be in writing.
Don't worry, I know that as a dad you want to make sure that your kids are okay. That's what dads do and part of what makes them so special. Decide what you think would be best in terms of the kids and your continued relationship with them. Discuss it with your attorney early on so that things are clear with your wife and her attorney as early on as possible. Also, you will want to make sure that you aren't thinking of doing anything that could un-intentionally affect custody down the road.
If you are concerned about this and want to talk about the specifics of child custody and what that might look like for you in a divorce situation, please give our office a call. Every situation is unique and its best to learn what your options are sooner rather than later, especially when it comes to your kids.