Ironically, family courts often slip into this all-or-nothing thinking from the start of a case. The very definition of the case is often made at the first hearing. Suddenly, it is about whether Dad is all-bad or not; or whether Mom is all-bad or not. Just one parent’s bad behavior is usually the focus – and the attack-defend cycle begins.
Father as Target of Blame: When a mother has “primary custody” or simply the majority of parenting time, and the father wants to increase his access time somewhat at court, he will be the focus of attention. Why does he want more time? Is he really qualified to have more time? What has his parenting history been? What’s wrong with him that he doesn’t respect the mother’s successful role as primary parent? Many fathers are totally frustrated by this, and much of the time their requests are denied.
As Abraham Lincoln used to say: “If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will.”
Mother as Target of Blame: When the father wants to have primary custody or the majority of parenting time, then the focus is on the mother to prove that she is not “unfit.” What has she done that she should not have the majority of parenting time? Is she a drug addict? A pill addict? Depressed? Borderline? There must be something wrong with her for the father to think that he could have the majority of parenting time. Once again, Lincoln’s saying applies. Many mothers are totally frustrated by this, and much of the time the father’s requests are approved and “custody” is awarded to him.
I may be wrong in this observation from my 30 years’ experience with divorcing families – in fact, I hope I’m wrong. If I’m correct, the unfortunate moral of this story is that if a father wants to increase his parenting time, he may have a better chance by requesting primary custody than by requesting to just increase his parenting time a moderate amount. And if Mom wants to have the majority of parenting time, she better have something bad to say about Dad. All-or-nothing thinking, all-or-nothing arguments and all-or-nothing requests seem to be the theme in the adversarial court culture – unless everyone works hard to overcome it.