Fathers have historically been denied equal parenting rights with mothers. The 19th Century “tender years” doctrine, which explicitly gave mothers custody over children ages 13 and younger, was later replaced with the “best interests of the child” doctrine, but the gender bias persisted. As late as 1971, the Minnesota State Bar Association’s handbook advised lawyers and judges that “except in very rare cases, the father should not have custody of the minor children. He is usually unqualified psychologically and emotionally.” Time Magazine, 11/11/03, “Father Makes Two,”
To this day in the U.S., fathers usually ask for 50% custody while mothers ask for, and get, 80% custody. Fathers become mere visitors and must pay draconian support amounts with little enforcement of their parenting time. See, Cynthia McNeeley, “Lagging Behind the Times, Parenthood, Custody and Gender Bias in the Family Court,” on the statistics and also debunking the myth that fathers get custody 70% of the time when they request it.
According to an Urban Institute study entitled “What About the Dads?”, child protective services attempted to contact fathers of children at risk in their mothers care only a little over half the time, even though they knew the father’s identity in 86% of cases.
In many parts of the world, discrimination against fathers is still explicit in the laws. For example:
- The European Court of Human Rights recently had to intervene on behalf of unmarried fathers in Germany because they were given no rights over their kids.
- In Japan, fathers are automatically denied custody of their kids.
- In the U.K. and elsewhere, fathers are denied equal rights to take parental leave and are stigmatized for taking it.
Research on the laws in Holland, Belgium and Germany that controls for pre-existing conflict shows presumed joint physical custody is the best solution and reduces conflict.
- Fathers Gain Respect from Experts,
- Momblocked Mothers Feel Edged Out by Dads, and
- Mother, May I? Helping Moms Back Off So Dads Can Be Dads.
And despite strong negative stereotypes against teen fathers, research shows most teen dads are anxious to participate in parenting, and that 82% reported having daily contact with their children, 74% said they contributed to the child’s financial support, and almost 90% maintained a relationship with the mother. ”Teenage Fathers: The Missing Father Myth,” Time Magazine, 6/21/05.
Fathers also face widespread false accusations in child custody cases. Many state laws have automatic presumptions against custody when restraining order issues, creating an incentive to lie. The California State Bar has expressed concern about restraining order abuse.
Proposed solutions: (1) Presumed joint, bi-locational, physical custody of children with equal timeshare absent a contrary agreement or clear and convincing proof of abuse/neglect; (2) Strong enforcement of court-ordered parenting time and penalties for violations; (3) No presumptions about custody from restraining orders; (4) Prosecution of false accusers; (5) Balanced, objective, science-based training of judges on domestic violence and other policies relating to children; and, (6) Fair and equitable support guidelines.