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How Fathers Can Overcome Gender Bias in Child Custody Matters

February 3, 2021
Family Law Advisory

Many parents feel discriminated against by the court system during a child custody case. It is common for fathers — particularly of young children — to believe they are not receiving equal consideration by the court system. Social science research demonstrates that despite gender neutral child custody laws, there remains a preference favoring mothers in child custody cases based upon stereotypes about gender.[1] Unfortunately, the stereotype that a mother has a superior ability to nurture based on her gender and the nature of giving birth remains a challenge for fathers to overcome in child custody matters.

One of the challenges that fathers face is the stereotype that mothers have more time to devote to their children. Even though stay-at-home mothers today are rare, most families divide the caretaking responsibility of the children in a way that one parent's work schedule enables the other parent to be more available for the child. When a relationship breaks up, both parents will be forced to rearrange their schedules to accommodate more and varied time at home with children. A second challenge fathers face is the stereotypical belief that the father is not capable of adequately parenting the children because of a lack of knowledge, skill and experience.

Fathers can address both stereotypes by committing to be present for a child at performances, school activities, and spending quality time with children. To combat the "dad can't do it" stereotype, fathers can educate themselves with parenting guides and books as well as enroll in and take parenting classes to ensure that they are able to cast themselves in the best possible light before the court.

In summary, gender stereotypes can result in a preference for mothers in child custody cases.  However, astute legal counsel can assist fathers and help them obtain evidence to overcome gender stereotypes in the courtroom.

[1] Gender Stereotypes Underlie Child Custody Decisions (2018).

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