Family Court Bias Against Mothers: Real or Not?

Conversations about bias in family court tend to focus on fathers. However, there can be family court bias against mothers as well.

This doesn't mean there are laws in place discriminating against mothers. In fact, many jurisdictions forbid making custody decisions solely based on a parent's gender.

Any bias lies with the individuals in the court system. Also, operations within some family courts favor fathers over mothers — particularly in cases of alleged abuse. But, overall, bias is rare.

To protect your child's best interests, identify any biases against mothers in family court and take action to combat them.

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Gender bias in family court

Gender bias is when a person is treated differently based on their gender.

A study of gender bias in family court found that mothers are often held to a higher standard of proof for abuse claims, are less likely to be believed, and are commonly blamed for their abuser's actions.

The same study found that fathers who allege that the other parent has unfairly alienated them from the child are twice as likely to get custody as mothers who allege the same.

Bias against fathers exists, too. Traditional gender roles characterize fathers as less capable parents. Due to this, some judges may not name the father a custodial parent, even when he is the best fit for custody.

At the same time, the perceived mistreatment of fathers in family court can feed into biases against mothers. With father's rights groups gaining traction, some courts feel more pressure to award joint custody even when it is not in the child's best interest.

Family court bias against mothers

The family court itself is not biased against mothers.

Yet, some family court processes disproportionately affect mothers. For example:

  • The parent with more money has more resources to litigate. Typically, this is the father.
  • Abusers might gain access to their victims, who are overwhelmingly women, through court. Even if they don't get to speak directly to the victim, they might use the process to exhaust or manipulate them.
  • Courts that recognize parental alienation syndrome might open the door to abusive fathers weaponizing the claim against mothers.

The judicial biases that exist against mothers have roots in misogyny (dislike of or prejudice against women). Stereotypes that women are conniving, untrustworthy, selfish and difficult can all affect how women are viewed in court.

Bias might lead someone to think a mother only wants custody to spite the children's father. If the father hasn't seen the children in a while, they may assume it's the mother's fault for being difficult to communicate with. If she claims she or her children have been abused, she may be accused of lying to get custody.

If a child resists visits with their father, the mother is often accused of trying to alienate the child from the father. While this may be true in some cases, in others, the child has a valid reason to not want to be with the parent.

While a mother's traditional gender role as the child's primary caretaker could benefit her in family court, it could also backfire. More women than ever have careers of their own. Some judges with more traditional values see working women as having chosen a career over motherhood. Based on that assumption, the judge may rob them of time with their children.

How mothers can combat bias in family court

Though it may seem an insurmountable task, there are things you can do to reduce the chance of family court bias affecting the time you spend with your child.

Try to work with the other parent

The best way to avoid judicial bias in family court is to keep the decision out of the court's hands. If it's safe, try to negotiate an agreement with the other parent. If you can't negotiate one-on-one, try an alternative dispute resolution method that involves a third party like mediation.

Hire a lawyer

An attorney will make sure you're heard in court and let you know the evidence you'll need to support your case.

A lawyer is especially important if your case involves difficult matters like abuse. It's common for people accused of abuse to hire criminal attorneys to handle both the allegations and family matters. These attorneys are more aggressive and often try to "break" the accuser, making it very difficult for a self-representing litigant to handle.

Reach out to organizations for help

Seek out organizations for additional support. Your local legal aid office could help you fill out court forms and cover court costs. If you're a victim of domestic violence, you can find safety plans and be connected to the proper professionals who can help you.

Make a parenting plan

Creating a parenting plan shows the court you've thought through your pursuit for custody. It shows you're prioritizing your child's needs and have a plan for meeting them. If you think you'll be able to work with the child's father, including visitation time for them will show you're willing to co-parent and are committed to keeping them involved in your child's life.

If you're pregnant, it's recommended to tell the other parent promptly so you can start working together. Learn about what the father can and can't do while you're pregnant.

Have all your evidence in order

Since evidence shows that family courts sometimes place a higher burden of proof on mothers — especially if they allege abuse — have everything related to your case in order. Be ready to answer questions about how each piece of evidence relates to your claims.

Preparing for court as a mother

When you're a mother 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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