Numerous studies over the years have indicated that there is a strong bias against fathers in the US family court system. While many signs indicate that times are changing and courts are starting to appreciate the role men play in their children’s lives, the reality is that many men entering the family court system for child custody feel like they’re starting the process on the back foot from the beginning. Judges have displayed gender bias against men for decades, and it is essential for fathers to not only understand this trend but also the fact that they can fight for their parental rights with a good attorney backing them up.
Fathers Almost Never Win Custody
The US Census Bureau reports that only about one in six or about 14% of custodial parents are fathers in the US. While in some cases it may be in a child’s best interests to remain with their mother, there are countless research sources that all seem to indicate there is measurable bias against men in the family court system.
Family Court Gender Bias Rooted in Stereotypes
In states where older judges are starting to “age out” of the family court system, attorneys are noticing a shift in the trend of propping up traditional gender roles in the courtroom. At its most basic level, the bias against men in the family court system is rooted in the stereotype that men should be the breadwinners in a family while women are the primary caregivers. It’s not uncommon for judges, especially older ones, in family court hearings to display bewilderment or even bemusement at the idea of a father staying home with his children.
Attorneys in Family Law Notice This Bias
Most attorneys working in family law are aware of the bias against dads in custody battles. Self-reporting studies indicate that as many as 94% of male attorneys and 84% of female attorneys had witnessed clear signs of judicial prejudice against fathers in cases they have handled. About 70% of male attorneys and 40% of female attorneys report believing that most judges assume from the outset of a case, before reviewing any of the available evidence, that children should be with their mothers.
When Capable Fathers Lose Custody, Their Children Suffer the Most
There are many studies that support the notion that children benefit most when they have equal access to both of their parents during their formative years:
- Children who have meaningful contact with two fit parents are less likely to drop out of school or run away from home.
- They are also less likely to commit suicide. More than 60% of all teen suicides occur in single-parent households.
- They are less likely to seek or initiate abusive relationships. Children who do not grow up around their fathers tend to display higher than normal aggression levels.
- Children with equal access to both of their parents are less likely to engage in destructive behaviors, display interest in gang activities, or engage in delinquent or truant behaviors.
- Children with access to both of their parents are less likely to experiment with illicit drugs. Nearly 75% of all teens in substance abuse treatment programs come from single-parent homes.
- Equal access to both parents tends to greatly diminish the risk of a child exploring criminal behaviors in the future. As many as 85% of incarcerated people today come from single-parent homes.
- There is a long-standing stereotype that men are more commonly responsible than women for child abuse, when studies show that women commit child abuse more than twice as often as men.
- Nearly 80% of medical neglect is committed by women, and women commit more than 60% of all child neglect.
- A 2014 study from the Administration for Children and Families reports that of all the fatalities caused by child abuse in the United States, a father/father and partner are responsible for 16.4% of these incidents while mothers/mothers and partners are responsible for 38.9%.
These are just a few of the statistics gathered that support the idea that a child benefits the most from having a capable mother and a capable father in their life. Fathers entering the family court system should not be deterred by long-standing bias and prepare to fight for their custody rights.
Pessimistic Attorneys Often Sway Capable Dads
One of the most disheartening aspects of the family court bias against men is the fact that many men accept limited custody agreements because they believe it is the best deal they will get, and if they don’t accept it then they risk losing custody entirely. This is not necessarily true, but many attorneys unfortunately advise their clients to take whatever custody they can get, resigning themselves to the idea that the judge will rule in favor of the mother regardless of the situation.
Dual-Parenting Custody Arrangements Benefit Parents and Children
The reality of custody battles in which the mother wins total custody and the father receives limited visitation rights at best does not benefit the children in many ways. In fact, if the mother is totally reliant on the father’s support, but the father has limited access to his children, this is detrimental to everyone involved. The father will need to work harder to support two households instead of just one, and the mother will need to sacrifice her own money making opportunities to be a full-time caregiver during their children’s younger years.
The result of this kind of arrangement is a financially dependent mother, an overworked father, and children who may not have meaningful access to both of their parents. If something happens to the father and he is unable to work or dies, what could a mother in this situation do to provide for her children while also being present enough to provide essential care? A dual-parenting arrangement instead allows both parents to have time to work and earn income for their own households while also having time to spend with their children.
If you are a father headed into a custody negotiation, it is essential that you have the right attorney on your side who will help you fight for your rights as a parent. You may face undue scrutiny from the judge, but the reality is that times are changing and it should be easier than ever to prove how much of a positive influence you are in your children’s lives and that you deserve to be part of them. As many states move toward “Best Interests” doctrines when deciding child custody, it’s vital for fathers to have solid legal counsel that can help them build their cases for custody rights.