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Dads Mostly Get the Shaft in Divorce: Let’s Look At the Reality

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The image above is often posted as a humorous take on a serious and depressing statistic. Dads primarily get the non-custodial parent role, with significantly reduced rights and visitation. Moms typically get 70% of the time with the kids. Why? The science does not support this imbalance. And, in most states, dads must sue their future ex-spouses when they want to vary from the typically mandated by the state government and family courts. The Standard Possession Order is the big lie of the day. It works out to be a 70/30 split. Is that fair? Is that “in the best interest of the kids?” Or in the best interest of the mom and the state’s AG’s office? Let’s check out the facts.

What is Fair In Divorce?

According to this map from, only 19 of our states begin with the assumption of 50/50 shared parenting at the starting point for divorce. The bad part, that this map also shows, is how many of our states still view dads as “breadwinners” and moms as “the emotional heart of the family.” That’s how the old laws were justified. The science is clear, moms and dads have EQUAL value in their kids’ lives. Restricting fathers from their kids, in almost all cases with the exception of child abuse or drug addiction, is bad for the kids. Fatherless kids have a harder time than kids who maintain a connection with both parents.


US states parenting after divorce
click to view full report


Regardless of your feelings on this issue (divorced moms) the truth is, dads are just as important as moms. (Again, I get a lot of flack for making this type of statement, but look it up.) Regardless of your political leanings, dads should be treated equally. Why isn’t that happening?

the politics of divorce custody

And, while these stats are interesting, notice the one on the right. The highest number is 40% for dads and 60% for moms. This is closer, but still, the assumption is, even in reformed states is that moms need more time with their children. Note, this is not related to the age of the children. This is overall. Even in the best summary, dads get 40% of the time with their kids. That’s a lot more than 30%, but it’s a long way from fair and balanced.

No one said divorce was fair. 

Having a kid, however, is always cooperative. Most of us enter the “having a kid” mode as equal partners. We are committed to sharing chores and responsibilities for the kids for the future. For all of their lives. Even if divorce occurs, the parents should agree to parent cooperatively and with a 50/50 shared schedule.

But even the tools to help you build fair parenting calendar has some bias.

building a divorce child schedule

The best we get is 50/50 (if you are lucky enough to be in a reformed state) or more common, 80/20. Sure, 60/40 is an option, but it’s “just weekends.” In building a balanced kid calendar it’s important to consider what works best during the school year vs. what’s best during summer break.

Here is what a 70/30 parenting schedule actually looks like.

a 70/30 parenting schedule

One quick thing I notice about this calendar, in this case Mom (purple) get’s 100% of the kid’s school week. In this way, dads are marginalized in elementary schools all over the country. In my case, in a upper-middle-class elementary school, there was only one email address and one phone number per student. I had to fight to change this. I had to lobby each child’s teach to including me in the parent/teacher conferences. Why, partially because of the school system’s bias toward moms after divorce. Really, however, it was my angry ex-wife who wasn’t willing to keep me informed. Sure, we agreed to joint stewardship, but she began NOT including me in most activities, decisions, and school events. I had to get that information from my kids while they were staying with me.

Let’s Agree On Balance

If we can get over moms v. dads as a starting point for discussion that will help. If we can further assume that moms and dads are of equal value in their kids lives, we can begin an intelligent conversation about custody, child support, and parenting schedules. At the moment (and in 2010 when I go divorced) most states start with the mom getting a 70/30 schedule (or worse for the dad) and getting a heafty child support check each month.

what child support costs in each state

This seems pretty accurate in my experience. If this map is per kid, then my number would come to be approximately $1450 per month. But, that’s not the only financial cost. Dads are typically strapped with providing health insurance to the kids, in addition to child support. In my case, this varied from $300 to $600 per month, depending on the nature of my employment.

Oh, and if a dad loses his job, or is employed at a much lower salary after the divorce, the negotiations with your ex-wife as facilitated by the Attorney General’s Office are not only rare, but difficult to enforce. In my case, my ex-wife agreed to meet with the AG’s case worker and then didn’t show up. She just didn’t come. We called her on the phone, she was home, and she said, “Oh, I’m sorry, this meeting never got on my calendar.”

The case worker gave me the option of scheduling another meeting and going before the judge to reprimand my ex-wife if she didn’t show up to the second meeting. She didnt’ want to adjust her “income.” The AG’s office didn’t want to reduce my child support either, for one very sinister reason. The AG’s office is compensated by the federal government on total amount of child support under management. The less my child support payments were, the less the attorney general’s office would get from the state of Texas. Is that a catch-22? Or just bad politics?

A Way Forward

If mom and dad can agree to a 50/50 shared parenting plan there is a possibility they can go before the family court and ask for 50/50 with zero child support. The joint responsibility of health insurance and medical bills, along with other cost of living needs, can be cooperatively shared by both parents. We didn’t need the AG’s office in our business. My ex-wife turned our case in for “enforcement” when I was one week lake. Even after I shared with her how and why I was late and how and when I would catch up.

The AG’s office is working for themselves and the custodial parent. The custodial parent makes the AG’s office money. The non-custodial parent is always treated like “the problem.” If you’re calling the AG’s office, ever, and you are the non-custodial parent, it’s because there is an issue. In my ex-wife’s eyes as well as the eyes of my AG’s case worker, I was always the problem.

Final point: a woman that files with the AG’s office when there is ZERO risk of flight, ZERO risk of not being paid in full, is a deadbeat mom.

Let’s make things more balanced in divorce. Let’s start at 50/50 shared parenting with zero child support benefits going to either parent. That’s not going to be an important issue for the state courts or the AG’s office in your state. In fact, it’s going to be a war. A war that dads must fight together if we are to find balance in the life of parenting after divorce.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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