Family Law Group Tampa, FL
Does the court favor mothers for child custody? At one point, the answer was decidedly and unabashedly yes. Today, it is a little more complicated. In the past, mothers and fathers were expected to enact very strict gender roles. The mother was supposed to be the caretaker and nurturer, while the father was supposed to be the provider. Therefore, the only custody arrangement that seemed to make sense was for the mother to have sole custody, unless she was grossly unfit, and for the father to pay child support and have visitation.
With most mothers working outside the home and more fathers assuming primary caregiving responsibilities, the gender lines have blurred somewhat and expectations have changed. Officially, courts are supposed to make custody decisions based on the children’s best interests. Unfortunately, old prejudices die hard, and some judges may still make custody decisions based on outdated gender norms.
Best Interest of the Child
Theoretically, the child’s interests are supposed to be the guiding principle in all custody decisions. Decades of research overwhelmingly demonstrate that shared custody between mothers and fathers, with children spending nearly equal amounts of time with each, is almost always in the child’s interests. While some courts have acknowledged this as well, few state legislatures have enacted legislation creating a rebuttable assumption to that effect.
Tender Age Fallacy
Even among psychologists who recognize the benefits of shared parenting for children, there is a lingering belief that mothers should have primary care of very young children. These professionals believe that overnights at the father’s house are out of the question if the wellbeing of infants and toddlers is to be maintained. With no scientific evidence to support it, it is unclear where this belief comes from. What research does show is that fathers who spend more time with their young children, day and night, become more sensitive to their needs and more efficient at meeting them.
Fathers are sharing more child-caring responsibilities than ever before. In dual-earner families, infants spend approximately 41% of their time engaging with their fathers, and more men are becoming stay-at-home dads. Unfortunately, the fact that a father was a primary caregiver prior to the divorce does not guarantee that he will get equal parenting time. Because of outdated notions of fathers as breadwinners and providers, a father who stays home to care for his children may be seen as a “deadbeat,” where a mother would not. Fathers who work full time may not get custody either because of a perception that they do not have enough time for the children.