When Ross Klabon of Midland, Texas, a single father of 6-year-old twin boys, decided to pursue full custody of his sons, he knew it wouldn’t be an easy journey. He assumed, and often heard, that most family law judges—especially in Texas—favor the mother in custody disputes. Although he was concerned the odds were stacked against him, he felt gaining custody of his sons was in their best interest. “Everyone’s situation is a little different, but for me personally, it involved the boys’ wellbeing,” he says. “I was concerned about their care when I was at work. I need to take action.”
During an initial custody hearing in 2015, Klabon was named primary custodian of the boys, but he and the boys’ mother still shared joint physical custody. However, she wanted to be named primary custodian which would place her in charge of decisions concerning the boys, including where they lived, as she preferred her home state of Wisconsin over Texas. “There was very little common ground during mediation,” he says. “She elected a jury trial and I knew we would have to prepare accordingly.”
“I remained calm and steady throughout the whole thing under the guidance of my attorneys. They helped me understand what I could and couldn’t use as far as evidence that could either help or damage my case.”Klabon, client
Klabon traveled to Dallas to hire O’Neil Wysocki Family Law to represent him in the custody trial. It was a good decision. “When things come to a head during a separation, people can act irrationally and do things that hinder their case,” Klabon says. “I remained calm and steady throughout the whole thing under the guidance of my attorneys. They helped me understand what I could and couldn’t use as far as evidence that could either help or damage my case. His team explored every avenue and put in extraordinary effort to present my case. Walking into the courtroom, I was confident that I did my best for my sons. The jury awarded me full custody.”
Today, Klabon lives and works in Midland and has his sons full time, but they visit their mother whenever possible in Wisconsin. Klabon says if it weren’t for finding the right family law attorneys with extensive knowledge about fathers’ rights, he isn’t sure he would be in the same situation today.
Brady Allen of Frisco is another client of O’Neil Wysocki with a similar custody situation. Nine years ago, he found out he was going to be a father. Although he and the mother were no longer in a relationship, they amicably co-parented their son and set up their own visitation schedule and child support agreement without court orders which worked well for everyone involved. A few years ago, Allen started noticing signs that things weren’t stable at the mother’s home. “There were some alcohol and prescription drug abuse issues, as well as some other things that led me to believe this wasn’t a safe place for my son,” Brady says. “Our first trial resulted in me being named primary custodian, but we had a more formal 50/50 custody agreement.”
A series of unfortunate events placed Allen and his son’s mother back in court, and with new evidence, it took only about 20 minutes for the jury to rule in his favor for custody, thanks to strong evidence admitted by Allen’s attorney. The child now sees his mom on alternating weekends and some holidays. “I was frightened at first by all of this because I know that judges typically award mothers custody because that’s how it’s always been done,” he says. “I think it’s possible for fathers to have more rights, but you have to go about it the right way with a good attorney. Assuming both parents are involved with the child and doing everything right, there’s no reason a father shouldn’t have at least 50/50 custody of his children.”
According to a 2013 statistic from Fatherhood.gov, there are 2 million single fathers in the U.S., and 17 percent of single parents with custodial rights are men. According to Michelle May O’Neil, partner with O’Neil Wysocki, P.C., fathers win more often when there is a contested final trial, especially to a jury. Texas is the only state in the US to allow juries to decide custody questions, and that is a good thing for dads. “Juries are enamored with active, involved, good dads–maybe because the stereotype of uninvolved or deadbeat dads is common,” she says. “The perception of dads we hear about in high-profile custody trials often involves an uninvolved dad, but when a jury sees a dad wanting to be involved and doing the right thing, it’s like an anomaly, even though it’s really not. When a jury of 12 people see this guy is the opposite of what the media portrays about dads, the dad will usually get extra points for being a stand-up guy who does the right thing.”
O’Neil says evolving roles at home and women’s equality, in general, have also played a role in more fathers gaining parenting time with their children in a divorce. “As women’s equality has progressed overall, so has equality at home,” she says. “This includes men taking a more active role in parenting than maybe they did even a generation ago. I also think there’s some amount of holding women to a higher standard in court. Women jurors view moms in jury trials more harshly or critically. All of this is coming together to show, particularly when you look at statistics in a contested custody case, that dads fare better in contested custody cases.”
Another shift O’Neil is seeing nationwide is one toward the abandonment of the standard “every other weekend with dad” starting point in custody agreements. Some states are now starting with 50/50 custody and then going from there based on evidence and the facts of the case. But not in Texas. Although a bill has been introduced to begin every custody case this way, it has yet to pass, and the standard 60/40 schedule with the mother as primary custodian usually still applies—at least in the beginning. However, more family lawyers in Dallas are encouraging their clients to start their divorce demanding equal parenting time. “There is a shift in family roles, particularly in homes where both parents work,” O’Neil says. “Men and women have different approaches to offer in parenting. And, you can’t have too many people love a kid. Kids view themselves as being one-half mom and one-half dad, so it’s natural that in a divorce, they want to be with dad half the time and mom half the time. It’s never a perfect situation, and it’s not the standard norm, but at some point, it may be. When 50/50 custody works, both parents understand they divorced each other—not their children. You have to be co-parents together for a long time, so you might as well try to get along.”
For fathers who may be on the verge of taking legal action to either increase their custody agreement to 50/50 or who are going for full custody, O’Neil recommends they take the following steps first:
- Hire the best family lawyer you can afford who is a proven advocate of fathers’ rights.
- Establish involvement with the children before you file. For example, if you spend most of your time traveling for work, consider altering your schedule to spend more time with the kids.
- Know your children’s schedules.
- Get to know your children’s teachers and friends and know how they are doing in school and socially. Meet with the teacher regularly to monitor the child’s progress.
- Get involved in the PTA, chaperone field trips, become the team soccer coach—anything to show genuine involvement.
- Make sure the school has your contact information, that you are on the emergency contact list, and that you are signed up to receive all correspondence from the school.
- Attend all school and extra-curricular activities, recitals, and performances and take the kids to scheduled practices and rehearsals during your parenting time.
- Attend all routine medical and dental check-ups and be available to care for your child when he or she is sick. Make sure all medical providers know you and have your contact information and that you are an emergency contact.
“When 50/50 custody works, both parents understand they divorced each other—not their children. You have to be co-parents together for a long time, so you might as well try to get along.”O'Neil
Anyone who has been involved in a contentious divorce wants an attorney who is willing to get in the arena and fight for them. This is exactly what you get at O’Neil Wysocki, P.C. Michelle May O’Neil and Michael Wysocki, named among the Best Lawyers in Dallas, Texas, and the US, have a reputation as the street fighters of family law litigation. Their firm tries more bench and jury trials than any other family law firm in the state. O’Neil has also developed a reputable niche as a “Lawyer’s lawyer” handling family law appeals. Her work extends further than appealing to a higher court about what may be deemed an unfair decision in family law courts. She is often called upon by lawyers to co-counsel cases to assist with complex family law matters. She has tried more than 35 family law jury trials and handled more than 90 cases in the Texas appellate courts. Having tried cases in over 50 Texas counties as well as countless bench trials and jury trials, Wysocki’s experience in the courtroom knows few rivals. He focuses on family law litigation across the state of Texas, representing men and women in divorce, child custody, and complex property division cases. He believes a family law attorney must possess the skills of a counselor, mentor, negotiator, and litigator. He finds creative ways to solve current problems while preventing future issues. Both O’Neil and Wysocki are Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.