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Is there gender bias in custody proceedings?

| Jun 18, 2021 | Child Custody

When men enter the courtroom to make a case for their custodial rights, some have a perception that the deck is stacked against them from the beginning. This feeling of societal gender bias can impact the way in which fathers respond to a judge’s ruling, which can also affect their desire to keep fighting for what they want.

But according to some frequently cited studies, a father’s limited involvement with his children often begins early, so that even before the divorce proceeding starts, he may have implicitly ceded many of the rights he is now fighting for.

How does the father’s role change pre- and post-divorce?

According to findings of a 2011 Pew Research Center report, mothers, who spent about twice the amount of time that fathers did with activities related to childcare, ended up working more overall hours while also juggling a job or career. Because mothers were more available to the children while they were in their formative years, the children naturally bonded with them more closely.

After divorce, however, the study found that only 22% of fathers saw their children more than once a week, one in three saw the children one to four times a month, and nearly a third had no contact with them. And in roughly half the cases, the decision to make the mother the custodial parent was mutually agreed upon by the parents. Census Bureau data also show that about one in six men are custodial parents, indicating that this percentage has not changed significantly.

How is custody determined in New York?

Without a custody order, in New York one parent may file a custody petition for a hearing before a judge or have the case referred to mediation. As in any custody decision, who will have custody or how it will be shared is based on a standard of what is in the best interests of the child. Among the factors in the decision are:

  • who has been the main caregiver,
  • the relative parenting skills of each parent, their mental or physical health and willingness to encourage a relationship with the other parent,
  • the work schedules and childcare plans of each.

Because fathers tend to view themselves more as breadwinners and less as nurturers, this attitude can influence their willingness to fight for more time with their children. If a father wishes to maintain or increase his involvement with his children after divorce, the key will be to convince a judge of his realistic commitment to do what is best for the children. Having a skilled family law advocate serving Suffolk County will also help guide parents through this challenging process.