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Gender Bias in Custody?

Divorce can be a stressful process, and is even more stressful when there are children involved.  Both parents may feel a strong right to primary custody.  But there is a longstanding understanding that women are more likely than men to receive primary custody or a more favorable custody order.  Is that true?  Trends are changing, and it can be difficult to make sense of the available data to find out.

Claims of Bias

Men have historically claimed that it is more difficult for them as fathers to receive primary custody of their shared children in child custody proceedings.  This claim is not even limited to the United States; in fact, the UK’s University of Warwick recently spent £100,000 investigating the truth of it.  Many fathers have recorded stories and anecdotes of being treated unfairly in court, or of having a judge reflexively award primary custody to the mother even if the father was the primary caregiver up until the divorce.  Most speculate that the bias is due to an ostensibly outdated tradition that mothers should carry most of the responsibility for childrearing or in the clearly disputable claim that mothers are inherently better or more loving parents.

Historical Data

Unfortunately, it is difficult to find reliable statistical sources to back up claims of gender discrimination in custody awards, both because it is difficult to determine in various cases precisely why a mother received custody over a father and because laws and numbers vary state-to-state.  Experts can extrapolate custody trends in a single state to make estimates of overall numbers.  Doing so suggests that between 1996 and 2007, cases in which a mother received sole custody dropped from 60.4% to 45.7% while cases in which custody was shared equally doubled from 15% to 30%.  These numbers have increased dramatically when records back from the 1980s are considered as well.

Current Data

While some have claimed bias is still prevalent in family court, experts contend that because of new state laws requiring equal timesharing and because of a growing fathers’ movement in opposition of the past bias, the gender gap in custody awards is closing fast or has already closed.  The state of Florida is currently working towards a strong preference (or even a required presumption) of equal timesharing for both parents as a starting point for custody decisions.

What Does This Mean for Me?

If you are approaching or are in the middle of divorce and you have shared children, having a fair determination of custody with the best interests of the children in mind is a top priority.  Whether you are a mother or a father, one of the best ways to protect your rights as a parent and to advocate for a positive outcome is to talk to a family lawyer.  Family lawyers can take some of the stress and personal animosity out of the divorce process, and help ensure that the final custody agreement reflects that which is best for the children involved.  At Schwartz | White in Boca Raton, our experienced family law attorneys can assist you in navigating the divorce process as well as child custody determinations. Call 561-391-9943 for a consultation today.

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