“Black dads spend less time with their kids than other dads.” This is a stereotype that is so ingrained in society, that I never bothered to think about it at all until I began my professional career. So is it true? Do black dads spend less time with their children than other ethnic groups? What about Latino dads?
According to research, Black dads spend more time with their children than their white counterparts. So why is it so darn hard to get black dads more than every other weekend parenting time?
For one, the litigants love to feed off that stereotype. I have litigated cases where the moms will suddenly, in the middle of a temporary or final hearing, accuse the black dads of domestic violence or insinuate that there are serious safety concerns. This strategy of painting the black dad to be a violent man, incapable of caring for an infant, puts these dads in a terrible position of having to prove a negative; “no, I never put my hands on her.” The mere fact that they have to say it breathes life into the accusation, as if there may be a scintilla of truth to it. It is a horrible position to put someone in, all because in the dog eat dog world of domestic relations litigation, the truth seldom matters and winning should occur at all costs.
The other issue is that judges are primed for buying into stereotypes. There exist two stereotypes in domestic relations litigation: men don't want to pay child support and women don't want to share custody. Unfortunately for you level headed people out there, some members of your genders have done you a real disservice by perpetrating these stereotypes. Now, litigating cases where women have good reasons to want to limit dad's parenting time or where men are motivated by reasons other than not wanting to pay child support for seeking custody of their children has become a minefield of nuance, where only a skilled attorney and open judge can come together harmoniously to see the truth. I have litigated cases where Latino dads have stayed home with the baby while the mom went back to work, yet opposing counsel has dared to say that the only reason my client wanted 50/50 custody is because he didn't want to pay child support. If this is how the attorney felt, imagine how many judges think that too.
Litigating cases for dads shouldn't be as hard as it is, but here we are. OCGA 19-9-3(a)(1) states that there is no prima facie right in custody in either the mother or the father. So why is it still easier for women to get primary custody than for men? Because change is slow. And it should be. Rapid change only creates chaos and disdain for the new norm. Charge should occur slowly so people have the opportunity to have intelligent discord about the topic.
Change is happening. While many states have passed laws which state that courts should consider 50/50 custody whenever possible, Kentucky became the first state to mandate that courts award 50/50 custody UNLESS the judge finds it is not in the children's best interest. More and more, research and child psychologists are finding that children benefit by spending near equal time with both parents. This is shaping the way courts view custody. While there may still be the need for primary parents in some cases, we are seeing a shift to giving the secondary parent long weekends and a weeknight overnight. Change is slow, but worth it. Along with these slow changes, the stereotypes that harm children are finally dissipating. Children are now fortunate enough to grow up in a society that recognizes their needs better than ever before and where some very careful, very passionate legal professionals work tirelessly to advocate for their best interests.