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Do courts really favor mothers in child custody disputes?

On Behalf of | Aug 16, 2019 | Child Custody

In the past, it was more common for mothers to retain custody of the children after a divorce. This was usually because mothers were the primary caregivers. After all, it was not until the 1960s that women began joining the workforce in larger numbers than ever before. 

Their primary role as caretaker led many courts to favor women in child custody situations. And many people believe that is still the case. But is it really true?

The short answer: Not in the legal realm

Nowadays, most states have proposed or already passed laws that increase the rates of shared custody between mothers and fathers. Virginia is one of those states. Lawmakers passed a bill in 2018 to ensure that family courts held no presumptions at the start of a child custody case. This law even emphasizes joint custody.

The focus on shared custody generally has two primary goals:

  1. Reduce any chance of favoring one gendered parent over the other
  2. Uphold a child’s relationship with both parents, if it is in the child’s best interests

Courts do still consider each parent’s roles and responsibilities, as well as who the primary caregiver is in the child’s life. But the new law still encourages courts and families to pursue shared custody.

However, some sources say a bias could still exist

The legal emphasis on joint custody undoubtedly was a significant factor in reducing any preference for one gender in custody disputes. But some studies state that eliminating a legal bias may not necessarily reduce personal bias. 

According to the Society for Personal and Social Psychology, it is often difficult for judges to ignore their own beliefs in these cases, especially if they challenge traditional gender roles.

While the study brings up some important points, it is likely that most Virginia family courts will not favor one parent over the other. But that is because they do often favor one family member in child custody proceedings.

Technically, courts favor children over parents

By law, a parent’s gender does not automatically give them an advantage over the other in child custody proceedings. However, Virginia family courts do put children first in these situations.

In child custody cases, a child’s best interests always come first and foremost. Most family courts will decide custody based on these factors long before they would make a decision based on the parents’ genders.

A dispute over child custody can be emotionally draining and stressful. But the compassionate and skilled family law attorneys at Bowen Ten Long & Bal, PC, will advocate for individuals protecting their parental rights while seeking child custody.