Family Court Bias Against Fathers: Does It Still Exist?

Family court bias against fathers is one of the most discussed issues when it comes to child custody. It's often presented as an inevitability that a father's rights will be violated in court. Yet, above all else, the child's best interest governs custody decisions.

Custody decisions tend to reflect the importance of keeping both parents in their children's lives so long as it's safe. Fathers may receive full custody if it's best for the child. Still, judges, lawyers and others involved in the family court process can have their own biases.

If you're concerned that your family court may be unfair to fathers, understanding how the bias presents itself can help you to combat it.

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Gender bias in custody cases

Gender bias is when someone is treated differently (usually worse) based on their gender.

Traditionally, fathers were the providers while mothers were the caretakers. These traditional gender roles permeated into the court system as divorce cases rose in the mid-20th century. The common belief was that fathers, preoccupied with work and not inherently nurturing, were fitter to pay child support than they were to have custody of the children.

There's also bias against mothers. For example, when some mothers allege the father of their child has been abusive, they are accused of parental alienation.

Family court bias against fathers

Are family courts biased against fathers? No. The custody laws in many jurisdictions explicitly state that custody decisions cannot be based solely on gender. In the eyes of the law, all parents, regardless of gender, are held to the best-interest-of-the-child standard.

If bias exists, it comes from the individuals working within the court system.

A judge with a more old-school mentality may be tougher on fathers than they are on mothers. They'll ask harsher questions about your parenting ability — especially if you have a daughter — and your willingness to dedicate time to the children. These judges are also more likely to award fathers minimal parenting time, like weekends only.

Your own lawyer can have gender biases. They might steer you, as a father, toward settling for minimal parenting time. That's why it's so important to interview lawyers before you choose one.

How fathers can combat gender bias

If you expect to encounter bias in family court, be proactive. The following tips could help you get the time with your children that you deserve.

Know your rights

Fathers have rights just like any other parent. Some fathers have their rights violated because they do not know them. Learn what you can and can't do before your baby is born, and learn your rights and responsibilities as a parent.

Remain an active part of your child's life

A Pew Research study found that 63 percent of fathers believe they spend too little time with their children.

Going a stretch of time without seeing your children will hurt your case for custody. That time away from your child gives the mother the chance to prove she's the primary caretaker. Since stability for the child is a factor in court, this could work against you.

Do what you can to stay involved. Whether it's regular visits or attending school recitals and football games, be the best parent you can be. If the other parent denies you visits, keep records (texts, emails, etc.) to show you tried. If you have some sort of visitation agreement with the other parent, get it in writing. Compare the actual parenting time to the time you were promised.

Try to reach an agreement with the other parent

Negotiating an agreement keeps the court out of custody decisions. Then, you don't have to worry about a judge's possible bias.

Be assertive about how much time you want to spend with your kids, but don't ask for more time than what you can handle. If you miss visits, the other parent could have cause to take you to court and get your time reduced or cancelled.

If you can't reach an agreement, apply for custody orders as soon as possible

Some fathers choose to avoid court, thinking it would only be a waste of time and money because the outcome is predetermined. However, if you can't reach an agreement with your child's mother, it's the only path to ensure you see your child regularly.

It may take months for you to get a court date, so the sooner you apply, the better. Applying for custody early shows you're making an effort to see your children. (If you were not married to the child's mother, you'll need to establish paternity first.)

Hire a lawyer

Although you may not want to take on the costs that come with a lawyer, having one can make all the difference in your case. When you represent yourself, there's a risk you'll miss essential points that could make your case convincing. Plus, lawyers are often familiar with the judges in the court system and how they operate.

Find a lawyer who knows how to address things when a father's rights are being violated. If they can prove the judge or jurors (if applicable) are biased, they could get them replaced.

Know important information about your child

The judge may quiz you on basic information about your child. Make sure you know things like their favorite color, where they go to school and when their next doctor's visit will be. Knowing this could help prove you're an active part of your child's life.

Show that you provide care for your children

Whether or not you're the child's primary caretaker, proving that you have provided care will show the court that you're fit for custody.

Keep a journal to document the things you do for your children, like preparing dinner and helping with homework. You should also track expenses for things like haircuts, doctor's bills and clothes to show you're contributing.

Preparing for court as a father

When you're a father seeking custody of your child, preparation is key. Custody X Change can help.

To set up the perfect custody and visitation schedule, click on the "calendar" tab. You can also enter the schedule you currently follow.

Above the calendar, you'll see parenting time percentages. The printable report could prove you have been an active caregiver, boosting your case.

Clicking on the "parenting plan" tab allows you to design a parenting plan you can give the court to show you're prepared for a future with your child.

Use Custody X Change to show the court why you deserve custody of your child. It can save you thousands in lawyer fees.

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