Book Review: How to Be a Good Divorced Dad
With an eye toward both the practical and the philosophical, in “How to Be a Good Divorced Dad” (Jossey-Bass, 2012) Chicago attorney Jeffery M. Leving offers a how-to manual for fathers who are faced with negotiating the often rocky terrain of divorce and child custody.
A recognized authority on fathers’ rights, Leving not only practices divorce law and writes books; he also works with his state’s legislature to level the playing field for men in custody cases, for as he writes in his book, there is still a strong gender bias in favor of granting custody to mothers. He co-authored both the Illinois Just-Custody and Virtual Visitation laws, and he regularly lectures about fathers’ rights across the country.
Leving is interested not only in pointing out potential legal pitfalls and common problems for divorced dads. He also creates a kind of self-help offering for his readers, arguing that many divorced fathers don’t file for joint-custody or try to be involved in their children’s lives because they convince themselves their kids are better off without them. He works to dispel that misconception and argues persuasively that involved dads make for happier men – and children.
His belief is that “just about everyone has the ability and the desire to be a good divorced dad.” The book addresses everything from how to smartly observe kids for danger signs and how to handle new significant others in both the dad’s and the ex-wife’s life, to dealing with splitting assets and dealing effectively with money matters.
Advice about legal issues typically involved in securing joint (or even sole) custody is sprinkled throughout the book. Chapter 8 specifically addresses “Legal Remedies” and is geared towards helping his readers understand how the courts can help them. One of his main goals is to give men good questions to bring to their lawyers, and to alert them to problem areas that even good divorce lawyers can miss.
For instance, Leving discusses what he calls “the cooperation ploy” that he says he’s seen some divorce lawyers try: The mother/ex-wife’s lawyer counsels his client to convince the judge that she and the children’s father can’t agree on anything – and to fight about every little detail of the divorce to prove it – in order to show the judge that cooperation on custody would not be feasible. “Many moms don’t realize that this ploy can backfire; that if a judge determines that she’s falsely stating that she and her spouse argue all the time, she could end up as the noncustodial parent,” he writes.
In addition to dismantling the cooperation ploy, Leving also says it’s a misconception that joint custody is too difficult to obtain, and he offers other factors that dads can bring up to their lawyers or the judge, including the preferences of both parents, environmental stability, whether violence has ever been a part of a parent’s life, his and her mental and physical health, and their lifestyles – all of which he says can be turned in favor of getting dads more time with their kids.
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Other legal arguments and approaches a dad who wants custody of his kids can make include:
- using mediation effectively
- watching out for moms who take the kids out of state (which makes custody much harder to fight for)
- communicating the financial and emotional benefits of joint custody
- being creative about how to implement joint custody.
Leving is all about empowering men to be better fathers, and his belief in them makes for a positive and uplifting read: “Being a father is a sacred responsibility, and most men take on this role with great seriousness,” he concludes. “While the turmoil of divorce many confuse some men about this role temporarily, most fathers just need a bit of guidance and support to get back on track and be good divorced dads.”