June 03, 2013A friend of mine recently telephoned me about a case he saw in one of the local Atlanta courthouses. A father, who was stationed in Germany, was asking for custody of his minor daughter. Previously, the mother had custody of the child. It was expected that the father was returning to the states in a few weeks. What was interesting to my friend was that the child was having difficulty in her academics and her school behavior That's not particularly new. However, when the school needed to address an issue with the child, the school contacted the father in Germany, rather than the mother around the corner. Why and how?
The Mother, who lived in the school district, did not respond to the teachers emails, would not attend teacher's conferences, sent the child to school without lunch. The child consistently arrived at school unkempt and inappropriately dressed. The mother would not address academic and behavioral issues raised by the school.
In contrast, the Father had his email set up in his home and office in Germany so that he could wake up in the middle of the night to respond to the teachers concerns ( remember, time differences). He would wake up in the middle of the night for conferences with his child and the teacher via Skype to address discipline issues. The child was 2 grade levels behind and the father arranged for academic support to bring the child up to grade level and worked with the child via Skype to assist with homework. Father and daughter read books via Skype and played various educational games to improve her academic skills....all via Skype. The Father enlisted his new wife, who lived in the metro Atlanta area about 25 miles from the child's home, to transport the child from school to the child's home after tutoring sessions because the child's mother would not transport her home at the conclusion of tutoring.
The Father attended sports activities with the child via Skype with the help of his wife, who would bring her computer to the games to allow him to watch his daughter play and congratulate the child when the child scored a goal in soccer. He even called the child each morning, and again, via Skype, to ensure that the child brushed her teeth, properly clothed herself and got to the bus in a timely fashion. To do this he would, again, wake up in the middle of the night to make sure he could wake her in time to prepare for school. Prior to instituting this system, the child was historically late to school, poorly clothed, and had body odor. These are just a few of the ways this Father showed the court his involvement and interest in his daughter, as well as his commitment to her well being.
Though there was a time when the statement "Mom always gets the kids" might have been true, it is not always the case today. Court's really do look at who is doing "the work" and whether that "work" is effective and enhances the child's well being. When a parent acts in the best interest of the child and participates in the child's life in her best interest, the courts are likely to truly consider that parents actions in making a custody determination, regardless of the gender of the parent.
Karen has an MBA from Boston College and received her law degree from Emory. She has an office in Alpharetta and has practiced family law since 1994. She is a Guardian Ad Litem and active Foster Care Advocate with area courts and is also on the Family Law Executive Committee for the State Bar of Georgia. She frequently speaks state wide on family law issues and can be contacted at 770-952-5000.