Can a Father Lose Custody for Not Having a Job?

An unemployed father can lose custody if their lack of income prohibits them from providing their child(ren) with a safe living environment. Income is not the only determiner; a judge will consider the child’s age, special needs, parent bond, community, and a parent’s capabilities.

There is nothing more precious to a father than his children; while we’d do anything to hold on to them, in a divorce or separation, the law can say otherwise. In my experience, it’s better to work with the law than against it, especially for custody battles. Lawyers are not cheap, but what if you don’t have a job? Can a father lose custody for not having a job?

While a court will look unfavorably on a father whose lack of income makes it difficult to provide their child with a safe living environment, it does not mean you will automatically lose the custody battle. We’ll examine what matters most to the judge and why they might make a specific ruling.

Picture of family symbol being ripped symbolzing divorce

Related Reading: Can Absent Fathers Still Get Custody?

Can a Father Lose Custody for Not Having a Job?

Custody battles are long, expensive, and draining for both parents, but hopefully it ultimately decides the best arrangement to suit the kids. For this reason, the primary obligation of the court is foremost to the children and arrangements that will provide them with financial, physical, and mental stability.  

Custodial laws differ slightly across every state, but no court will use income as the most critical reason for relinquishing a child into the care of a parent. Instead, the judge will review several key determiners before deciding on physical and legal custody. Judges may consider:

  • The child’s age – when kids are 0 – 3 years old, courts tend to grant custodial rights to the mother because they’ve spent more time with the kid, making it better for the child’s emotional development.
  • Does the child have special needs – if a parent works 16 hours a day, it may be difficult for them to care for a special needs child.
  • The child’s wishes – if the child is old enough to reason (age varies by state), the court will consider where the kid wants to stay.
  • A child’s place in the community – if a child is doing well at school, has many friends, and is part of the life of a church, having them move to another state can be detrimental.
  • The bond shared with each parent – a court will notice when a child spends three hours with one parent but thirty hours with the other.
  • Any history of domestic violence – the court wants to ensure the parent can provide a safe environment for the child.
  • Parents’ substance abuse or criminal convictions – parents must be able to provide a safe and stable living environment.
  • Parental capability – the judge will consider whether the parents, as individuals, are fit to raise a child, which includes financial stability. While not the sole item of importance, healthy financial stability often means a safer living environment.

Courts will not award sole custody to the mother just because the father loses his job or is unemployed, especially if the court can see the father as the overall “better” parent.

However, money does become a factor if the shortage is because of the father’s substance abuse or addiction, criminal convictions, or if it prevents them from providing a safe living environment for their child.

Rather than overlooking the disparity in income, the court will try to accommodate the father with child support. It can help a low-earning or unemployed father care for their child, assume primary custody, and have the child maintain the same standard of living as before the divorce.

Can Costly Child Support Payments Cause You to Lose Custody?

Child support payments are generally affordable because the judges review the income of both parents.

A fair judge will consider the incomes and resources of both parents to achieve an optimal child support amount for the child. In the eyes of the court, however, both parents must contribute to the child’s welfare.

When the custodial situation changes, as with a previously unemployed parent earning an income, the father can return to court and request to re-adjust the figures according to the new circumstances.

When kids enroll in tertiary education, state welfare agencies expect the primary caretaker to work part-time to earn a minimal income. These welfare agencies typically make job training opportunities available to help them find a job that pays adequately.

Fathers Can Also Request Child Support from Mothers

If the court deems the father a more fit parent and grants them sole custody, they can request child support from the mother, especially if she makes significantly more money or if he is unemployed.

However, the court will investigate why a father lost his job, and if they find that the termination was voluntary (I.e., he quit), they will likely not grant the father’s request for child support. The court deems this distinction necessary because, sadly, it’s not uncommon for fathers to quit their jobs to avoid paying child support.

Furthermore, the judge will also examine the father’s total percentage of parenting time. Even if the father were powerless to prevent the loss of his job, the court would deny his request for child support if the mother has most, if not all, of the parenting time. 

On the other hand, if the father involuntarily loses his job and his parenting time shows the greater time commitment, he should have no problem seeking child support from the employed mother.

Do Courts Favor Mothers as Custodial Parents?

The courts are not on the “side” of either the mother or the father; instead, they want an arrangement that will most benefit the child(ren).

In most cases, newborns and young infants aged three years or younger spend more time with their mothers. As a result, the courts consider the mother the primary caretaker from birth. Of course, if the father spent more time with the child, they can also be the primary caretaker from birth.

The courts find that the best arrangement for young infants is to have them stay with the existing primary caretakerbecause they have a bond that brings reassurance and security and benefits the child’s psychological development.

For instance, babies and young children feel more secure when they sleep in the same place at night. Consequently, shared or equal custody arrangements that have them sleeping in foreign environments are disruptive and generally unfavored by the courts.  

It can be challenging for a father to concede their child to live elsewhere, but remember that you want what’s best for your child. Of course, if the mother has destructive habits involving alcohol, drug abuse, criminal history, or behaves in a way that may harm the child, the court will favor the father.

The situation can become pretty complicated when both parents are fit and able, in which case a court will allow you to work out an arrangement that suits both yourself and the child’s mother and, most importantly, your child.

It may involve having equal power over decision-making regarding your child’s life and shared custody, while the child stays at the mother’s residence. You will also be able to make provisions for visitation during certain days and times. 

Related Reading: Can Single Fathers Be A Great Parent?

Can Fathers Regain Sole Custody After Losing It?

Fathers cannot regain sole custody from the mother unless they can prove to the court that the mother is not fit to raise the child.

A court will not readily relinquish custody from a mother to a father unless the father can prove that the mother cannot provide a safe living environment for the kids.

For instance, if the mother develops a drug abuse problem, consumes alcohol excessively, or enters into a new, unsafe/abusive relationship and the father can prove it, the courts will hand custody to the father. In this case, the mother will have to prove to the court that she is fit to become a part of the kids’ lives again.

The procedure will start as supervised visitations at a public center and slowly progress to visitations without supervision. Eventually, the mother can ask that the court grant her weekends and two weeks during the holidays. The opposite is also true if the mother had sole custody of the kids.

Continue Reading: Becoming A Father At 20


A father can lose custody if their lack of income makes it impossible for them to raise their child in a safe environment, especially if they lost their job due to their own choice or negative behaviours. However, if they prove to be a much more fit parent than the mother, the court will favor the father and try to work out an arrangement to have the child stay with them.

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