Dear Michigan Courts,
Fathers play a major role in their childrens’ lives and their development. Jennifer E. Lansford, PhD, a research professor at Duke University with a focus on child development, states that “...children who have sensitive and supportive fathers have higher levels of social competence and better peer relationships. Children whose fathers provide them with learning materials and speak with them frequently perform better in school and have more advanced language skills.” There’s a clear positive correlation between paternal involvement in childrens’ lives and their childrens’ well-being. Thus, it’s worth talking about some of the hardships fathers face with custody rights after divorce.
When parents get divorced, it’s your job to determine custody. You determine who gets to see their children at what times and for how long at a time. You determine this through the emotional ties each parent has with their children, the capacity and disposition of the parents to love and care for their children, the capacity and disposition of the parents to provide necessary material needs, and other contributing factors. You use these so that the children can be put in the best possible situation. In my circumstance, I was fortunate enough to see both of my parents 50% of the time. I was able to take week-long vacations to North Carolina with my dad. I was able to binge watch “Lost” and “The Walking Dead” with him over the span of weeks. I was able to learn how to play the guitar from him through daily lessons while I was with him. I was able to know that, without a doubt, my dad wanted to be present in my life. However, not all children of divorce are able to have what I had.
According to a 2018 study, fathers receive around 35% of child custody time, with Michigan fathers receiving 27.1% of child custody time on average. That correlates to only 99 days out of 365 days in a year that fathers typically are able to see their children. Of course this is just an average. Some fathers only receive weekends or every other weekend. Some can’t even spend time with their kids alone without a supervisor watching their every move. I understand that some fathers may not be in a position to parent their children and thus maternal custody would make sense. Although for those who are in a position, who want to be a good parent but are limited on time, this is atrocious.
A recent example of this is Whiskey Ditka. He’s a stay at home parent in Oklahoma, another state in which paternal custody time is egregiously low, who’s fully involved in his 3 kids’ lives. He consistently shows up to his kids hockey games even though his ex-wife only allows brief moments for him and his kids to hug or chat before dragging them away. Despite the obvious effort and adoration he has for his kids, he doesn’t even get to see them half of the time. Why? It’s immoral to provide uneven custody to a father who is able to care for and desperately wants to be involved in his childrens’ lives. Put yourselves in these fathers’ shoes. Imagine that your kids got to spend practically ¾ of the year with their mother and only ¼ of the time with you. Tell us, just how devastated would you feel?
As of 2018, 20 states give 50/50 custody as standard. Since then, many states, including Michigan, have started to lean towards this ideal as well. Specifically in Michigan, there has been a push for more equal custody rights through the Michigan Shared Custody Act. This act would serve as an amended version of the Child Custody Act of 1970 and make 50/50 joint custody the default custody, with the exception of evidence of domestic abuse, instead of having judges make the decision. There are certainly complications with making 50/50 custody the default such as potential disinterest in the children and poor living environments, though those seem rather easy to catch early on. This act was written back in 2017, so what’s holding you back from passing it, from providing equity to both fathers and their children, from allowing dads to be present in their kids' lives?
Know that we are not going to sit idle. We must bring awareness to this cause. We must share these fathers’ stories through social media and the internet to help more people understand the hardships they are facing. We must push forth the fact that children are better off having a stable, present father figure in their lives compared to not having one. We cannot continue to let unequal custody happen to fathers who desperately want to be involved in their childrens’ lives. You, the courts, must allow these fathers to have equal opportunities to see their children as they have with their mothers. You must preserve their rights as fathers.
A child of divorce