It’s a question we’re asked often: do Utah court favor women/mom in divorce?
It’s a legitimate question, but the answer has become commoditized.
There are more than a few firms whose entire marketing dollars are spent attempting to convince anyone who will listen (but, really, the men they are targeting as clients) that men are akin to a persecuted religious sect who will never get a fair day in court.
You can see why this story is powerful, right?
It creates fear, and when people are fearful, they tend to make rash decisions and spend lots of money. That’s good if you’re an attorney looking to cash in, possibly not so good for the person paying the attorney.
The way I see it, this men-never-get-a-fair-shake story is not only largely untrue, it’s harmful to men, women, and children.
Let’s talk about the “largely untrue” part first.
Divorce is broken up in to a couple different major parts: money and kids.
While there is some direct interplay between money and kids in a divorce (e.g., child support), these two parts usually don’t mix.
For example, when dividing assets and debts, the fact you have kids almost never has anything to do with how those assets and debts are split between husband and wife. Same with retirement, the marital home, and other property. Kids are, for the most part, removed from the equation when you split up money.
In our experience, men and women are on almost completely equal footing when it comes to money in divorce. Women don’t get more money or take fewer debts because they’re women.
(Note: in fact, there is a very good argument that the way Utah calculates alimony hurts women in divorce. And it’s certainly true that child support is never enough to cover child-related costs, so women who primary physical custody after divorce very often have a tough time financially.)
It’s undoubtedly true there have been cases in which a judge felt bad for a wife and gave her more alimony than she deserves — I’ve been a part of at least one case like this. It’s also just as true that many judges are very hard on women who don’t want to get a job, and who instead want to live off alimony. (Female judges are especially hard on these women because the judges are women with families and very demanding full-time jobs.)
In the end, we just haven’t seen the evidence women get a leg up on men when it comes to money in divorce.
Usually, the men-never-get-a-fair-shake mantra is focused on men not getting enough time with their kids.
I’m a dad. I am incredibly sensitive to this argument, and I should believe it. That said, we don’t see much unfairness in Utah’s system.
I say much because there is no doubt there has been unfairness in the past, even the recent past.
For example, there was a commissioner on the bench not too many years ago who regularly screwed men when it came to custody and parent-time. His decisions on custody and parent-time would often fly in the face of evidence, and always in mom’s favor. His propensity to screw fathers was the worst kept secret in the Utah court system. Everyone hated practicing in front of him, and for good reason.
Thankfully, the Utah Supreme Court caught on and kicked him out of office.
So, yes, men have been disadvantaged in the Utah divorce system. Of this there is little doubt.
Today, neither I nor the colleagues I talk to can identify an anti-father judge or commissioner. Nor can we identify an anti-father custody evaluator or guardian ad litem.
Now, to be clear, most women have more custody of their children than men. But this fact doesn’t necessarily mean the system is rigged against men.
The number one factor in determining child custody and parent-time is who the primary parent is. What I mean by that is who has taken care of the children more, and who has spent more time with them.
Let’s be honest, men, that person is usually our children’s mother. Even very involved fathers don’t put in as much time with children as their wives or girlfriends. I don’t know why this is (and it certainly doesn’t hold in all situations), but it’s a reality in most relationships.
So, if primary parenthood is the number one factor, and most men aren’t the primary parent, then men aren’t going to have as much custody and parent-time.
Ultimately, the best way to ensure you will maximize the time you have with your kids is to be a more involved father during your marriage.
I can tell you from our cases that involved fathers who contribute somewhere near 50/50 with their wives, have a much better chance of receiving 50/50 custody.
Moreover, custody evaluators are much more likely to recommend 50/50 custody today than they were years ago. I have personally seen some pretty uninvolved dads get 50/50 custody recommendations, not because they tried hard during their marriage, but because many evaluators are saying 50/50 custody is good for children on a general level.
There has never been a better time than now for a man to ask for custody of his children.
How the Men-Never-Get-a-Fair-Shake Story Hurts Men, Women, and Children
Now, let’s discuss how the men-never-get-a-fair-shake story hurts men, women, and children.
When people hear that men are essentially screwed in Utah divorces, I don’t think it lifts them up and gives them hope. It’s meant to scare them.
Again, fear is good for attorneys looking to cash in because fear will motivate a portion of the population to act and spend lots of money.
On the other hand, this story causes a portion of the population to become completely dejected and prone to inaction. If an expert tells them they’re screwed, they must be screwed, so why try?
(Note: psychologists will tell you the less in control of your destiny you feel, the less likely you are to act, because, what does it matter? If you want to act and change your circumstances, you must feel your actions matter.)
So, we have a polarization, with one side acting out of fear and one side not acting at all.
This does not lead to healthy divorces during which the children’s needs are thought of first. Instead, children are thought of as things to be utilized in a fight. Or, dad simply gives up and isn’t as involved as his children need him to be in their lives.
That hurts children, but it also hurts dads, and, by extension, moms.
I’m not going to lie and tell you Utah’s divorce court system is perfect. It’s not. But, as I’ve discovered talking to divorce attorneys around the United States, it’s pretty dang good.
Yes, men have received (and sometimes still do receive) the short end of the stick sometimes. On the whole, however, I just don’t see systemic anti-father sentiment as other do.
In fact, now is the best time to be a dad in divorce.
(Note: One last thing, please, don’t get the impression I’m telling anyone they will win a case because of their gender. I don’t believe that happens, either way, in all but the strangest or most corrupt of cases. You win cases with evidence, witnesses, facts, and good legal arguments. You control what you can control. That — and being a reasonable, conscientious person — is what leads to success in divorce.)