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What role does gender bias play in child custody disputes?

If you are about to divorce and know that a child custody battle will be necessary, do you worry about whether your gender will be an asset or a liability? Many men fear that the latter will be true. It is commonly believed by both men and women that family courts are biased toward mothers in matters of child custody.

Historically, this was case, in part, because women tended to be stay-at-home moms while men worked outside the home. There was also a belief (which has not completely gone away) that children need to be with their mothers at least until about age 7 or so. Is mother bias still a problem in the United States? How about here in Washington?

Unfortunately, these are questions without clear answers. Women are still statistically more likely than men to be granted primary child custody, but the balance is slowly shifting. Family law judges sometimes decide that giving the father primary custody would better serve the interests of the children. More often, however, judges try to keep both parents involved whenever possible - even if the custody split isn't 50-50.

The perception that courts suffer from mother bias can be damaging regardless of whether or not it is true. Some men who want to stay actively involved in their children's lives may feel that pursuing custody would be a futile pursuit. They might instead settle for paying child support and seeing their children just two weekends per month.

The issue of child custody should not be reduced to gender stereotypes or campaigns for fathers' or mothers' rights. Rather, it should be about honoring parental rights and making decisions in the best interests of children. It doesn't matter if your kids call you "mom" or "dad." If custody is important to you, please make your concerns known and seek the help of an experienced family law attorney.

Source: Slate, "Dad's Day in Court," Hanna Rosin, May 13, 2014

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