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Are Family Law Courts Unfair to Dads?


For years, a divorced mother’s biggest concern was that her ex would disappear, leaving her with no child support and no help in raising the kids. However, recent court cases show that more dads are fighting for their paternal rights – and the common belief is that it’s a fight they’re losing. Most people believe that, unless something is really wrong or unusual, the courts will presume that a child should be raised by their mother. By this assumption, all the good dads of the world are left struggling just to see their children, much less have a hand in how they are raised.

However, despite the public’s perception that courts are slanted towards mothers, in 2017, the cases show that this assumption is no longer true. But it used to be. Here’s a little history on how both laws and attitudes have shifted with the changing times:

  • 1960s: A wife stays home to raise the children, and both are dependent on the money-earning husband/father. So when divorce occurs, the courts sympathize with the image of an innocent, abandoned wife left to raise children on her own.
  • 1970s: It becomes more accepted that husband and wife shared domestic duties, both in terms of income and child care. Alimony payments decline.
  • 1980s: Although mothers are still far more likely to be granted sole custody, the assumption that custody should be granted automatically to mothers whose children were at a “tender age” (under seven years old) begins to decline.
  • 1990s: According to studies, cases resulting in sole custody by the mother showed a marked decline in this decade.
  • 2000s and Today: The vast majority of state courts have progressed towards an assumption of joint custody in all cases.

Laws favoring moms were certainly present in the past, so it’s no surprise that it remains a commonly held belief that the courts are still playing by those old rules and presumptions. However, if there is inequality in family courts, studies now suggest that is not based on gender, but income. Dads who can afford a good lawyer often earn the right to pay less child support, while poor dads can go into permanent debt or even wind up in jail trying to keep up with payments.

Courts today start with the assumption of joint custody for one primary reason: the belief that this is what is truly best for the child. Sure, there may be extenuating circumstances where the mother or the father is not suited to be a part of their child’s life. But generally, family law courts feel that children benefit most from having both parents present. Therefore, the best way to be rewarded by the courts is to show that you agree with this belief. Supporting the involvement of your ex husband or wife can often be the fastest way to earn trust in the courtroom, and reach an agreement that benefits everyone – especially the child.


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