Are Divorce Courts Unfair to Dads?

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The actor Jason Patric recently went to court to fight for the right to see his four-year-old son, to whom a judge had denied Patric any paternal rights.  Patric is part of a movement of angry fathers who are trying to bring attention to the disproportionate amount of mothers who receive full custody of children versus fathers.

These men want to change the assumption that mothers have more rights to a child than they do.  From these fathers’ eyes, the courts assume that the mother is the only real parent who can make decisions for a child’s best interest.  But, are they accurate in their claims of unfairness from the courts?

A recent study showed that both men and women are in favor of joint custody after a divorce, but believe that divorce courts are slanted significantly toward mothers.  Despite this real perception that even women share, a great revolution in family court over the past 40 years has been a movement away from the presumption that mothers should be the main or sole caretakers for their children.

Cases such as Patric, who was denied rights, may raise some legal issues but, in general, courts are fair to men and particularly men who can’t afford a lawyer for their divorce case.  Divorce courts have a long history of trying to keep up with changing gender dynamics over the years.

Court rulings became more gender neutral as society moved away from the model of bread-winning father and dependent wife: courts began to assume interdependence, meaning that the husband and wife shared assets and domestic duties. The maternal presumption that mothers should automatically get custody of children during younger years has faded, and so has the expectation of alimony from ex-husband to ex-wife.

A vast majority of states have moved toward an assumption of joint custody unless there is a specific reason that one parent should receive less custody, such as the inability to properly care for or support a child.  For example, in 2000 Wisconsin directed divorce courts to maximize the time children spent with both parents.

Even with these changes to the law, mother preference in courts has lingered.  Sometimes it takes longer for judges to adjust to the idea that, generally, a father us no less worthy of custody than a mother.  Fortunately, judges have been catching up to the law more recently.

The percentage of equal shared custody cases in one decade has doubled from 15.8 percent to 30.5 percent, and a recent survey shows an increase in mothers paying child support.

According to an article from Slate, inequality in family courts is now based on income and relationship status.

Elite, wealthy men sometimes end up paying very little for child support while other, poorer, fathers are being thrown in jail for not meeting child support requirements.  A father who never married the mother of his child has a much shakier legal status in regards to custody of that child.

If you have questions about divorce court, or regarding this topic, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced divorce attorney.  A divorce attorney can help you navigate the legal field during a divorce and ensure your rights are protected.

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About Julie Clark

Julie M. Clark graduated from the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law. She has been practicing law in Riverside County since February of 1992. Julie Clark's Google+ Profile

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