When I began my career as a New Jersey Divorce Lawyer almost 30 years ago, moms almost always ended up with physical custody, the parents shared joint legal custody, and dads would usually have visitation every other weekend, plus wednesday night for dinner.
Rare was the custodial father. He existed as a potential primary custodian usually only in those relatively few situations where mom had died, had a paralyzing substance abuse issue, or was severely morally deficient.
Today, I represent fathers regularly who are seeking either primary physical custody or at least 50/50 shared parenting time.
In the old days, the literature that was available had many of us convinced that “a child needs a home," meaning that mom got the kids and dad got, well, alternate weekends plus Wednesday evenings for dinner.
I read an article recently that said:
It’s quite obvious that over the past few decades the role fathers play in their children’s lives has evolved.
The author says that the role of the traditional father is changing because dad is around more, dad's are forming stronger emotional ties with their children, and there are new categories of "dad" emerging with a changing society.
First, Dads are oftentimes around more. We now have telecommuting, where people work all or part of the time from home, thus making them more available for parenting responsibilities. That as well as the fact that dads have different priorities now and see themselves in different roles:
According a report published by The Council of Economic Advisors titled “Nine Facts About American Families And Work" fathers are devoting 4.6 more hours of childcare and 4.4 more hours of housework each week than they did in 1965.
More fathers are also taking on the role of primary caregiver as the number of stay-at-home dads increased from 1.1 million in 1989 to 2 million in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center.
Second, dads are indeed forming stronger emotional ties with their kids:
Although it is true that dads are spending more time with their kids, it’s not enough for them to just “be there.”
According to Jay Fagan, who is a professor of social work at Temple University and is leading a five-year national project called the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network that evaluates fatherhood programs on a national level, it’s important for fathers to form strong emotional bonds with their children.
“There have been quite a few studies showing that with fathers who are sensitive to their young children’s emotional states and needs, there is a better sense of a more secure attachment bond with their parents,” Fagan recently told the Orange County Register.
The image of a stern, stoic father governing his household isn’t cutting it anymore. The amount of quantity time a dad spends with his kids is more important than the quantity of time he spends with them. Fagan also explained to the Register that newer research has shown fathers who engage and play with their kids can help contribute to their self-regulation of emotions and behavior.
A supportive, emotionally available father is quickly becoming the expectation. In a survey by Pew, nearly six in 10 Americans said it is “extremely important” for a father to provide values and morals to his children.
Third and finally, the number of ALTERNADADS is in fact growing:
According to a WebMD feature titled “The Changing Face of Fatherhood,” only 38 percent of children born in the last three years of the 20th century will make it to 18 years old having lived the majority of their lives with both of their biological parents.
It’s become more socially acceptable for divorced dads, older dads, stepdads, and gay dads to raise their children.
That isn’t a bad thing. Untraditional fathering can work just fine. Although it is ideal to have both parents involved, Kyle Pruett, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale Medical School and the Yale Child Study Center told WebMD that fathers are “the single greatest untapped resource” in the lives of children in the United States.
As the world changes, custody options expand and change. This is a trend that we certainly can expect to continue going into 2015, usually (but by no means always) to the great benefit of the children.