Unfortunately, children are often used as pawns when relationships head south. All too often, one parent threatens to keep the children away from the other parent because he or she is angry or upset. If you are going through this situation, you are probably afraid and want to know your rights.
Your rights as a parent
The good news is that if you are a fit parent, then you have a right to have a role in your child's life. Additionally, it's the court that has the final say in what your role should be, not the other parent.
The best interests of the child
In every child custody case, the primary concern is what is in the child's best interests. While the wishes of the parents matter, it's the wellbeing of the child that is the court's main concern, and should also be the parents' main concern.
Joint custody arrangements
Generally speaking, courts believe that joint custody is best for kids unless there is abuse, incarceration, or uncontrolled substance abuse going on. That means joint custody arrangements are preferred by the court over sole custody arrangements.
Joint custody doesn't necessarily mean that both parents will be spending equal time with the child. Instead, it means that the child will spend some amount of time with both parents.
Creating the right parenting plan
It's important to remember that creative child custody arrangements can be made to best meet the needs of the parents and, most importantly, the child. So while you might know of other families who have a joint custody arrangement, yours may look completely different.
Where to start
Whether you are an unmarried father who still needs to establish paternity, or you are a parent who is going through divorce, the first step you will want to take is meeting with an experienced family law attorney who can help you understand your rights and options.
But even before taking that step, take a deep breath and remind yourself that the other parent does not get to determine the role you have in your child's life and you will have the opportunity to tell the court your side of the story.