Exploring Gender Stereotypes in Family Court
When you are going through the complications of the divorce process, you sometimes can feel that the deck is stacked against you, and you are not sure why. You may have a good and stable job. You may be able to provide your child with just as loving and stable of a home as your co-parent. You may have behaved like a perfect gentleman during the course of your marriage, and it just did not work out.
You may be willing to accept a certain amount in alimony that you are willing to pay. You even may be willing to pay extra in child support, because you are an active and devoted father, who wants to give your child the best life possible.
You still may feel like you are getting the short end of the stick in the divorce experience. You may not have a sufficient amount of parenting time. You may not be getting the assets that you are looking to retain. Whatever the case may be, you may feel that because you are a man in the divorce process, you automatically are responsible for more and retain less.
This is why it is imperative to hire a family law attorney who understands the unique struggles that men and fathers go through during divorce and child custody proceedings. They will help you navigate the complicated waters of the process with your best interests in mind.
If you are a man or father facing difficult challenges in family court, you may be able to trace back the gender stereotypes that pervade the family court system to colonial England.
Tender Years Presumption
The Tender Years Presumption, often referred to as the Tender Years Doctrine, was adopted in United States Courts in 1881, but it mirrored English Parliament common law practices regarding custody, dating back to the early 1700s.
This presumption stated that children should remain in their mother’s care following a divorce, due to the societal perception that mothers were best equipped to meet the needs of a child, according to The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Family Studies.
Reformations came during conversations regarding sexual and gender equality, when states began finding this presumption to be in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
However, the presumption stood long enough that many courts to this day do not keep the best interests of the child in mind when deciding child custody and child support.
Child custody issues
The evolution of society and the roles of spouses in marriage have given way to the idea that wives easily can outearn their husbands. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 37 percent of married women have a higher income than their husbands, and the employment rate of married mothers has increased from 37 percent in 1968 to 65 percent in 2011.
Parenting roles also have experienced the same type of evolution. The number of fathers who do not work outside the home is approximately 2 million, as of 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. This is a significant increase from the 1.1 million that it was, as of 1989.
A 2014 assessment, conducted by The Huffington Post and the University of Minnesota, approximated that 1.9 million fathers remained at home with the kids, accounting for 16 percent of the stay-at-home parent population.
Of those stay-at-home fathers, 21 percent of them stated that their main reason for staying home is to care for their family or home. The Internet and technology has given way to opportunities to work from home, while balancing the responsibilities of being an active parent.
In these situations where fathers have the ability to provide the best home possible for the child, it is the duty of the family courts to rise above the stereotypes and consider it.
Child support issues
In the same vein, family courts that award fathers custody of their children need to put child support agreements in place. While one of every six custodial parents were fathers, only a quarter of custodial fathers had a legal child support agreement in place, according to fivethirtyeight. Of custodial fathers, 32 percent of them did not receive any of the child support that had been awarded to them in 2011, in comparison to the 25.1 percent that custodial mothers receive.
The most common amount of child support due to custodial mothers is $4,800 annually, of which, $2,500 typically is received. In contrast, the median amount that custodial fathers are due is $4,160, and fathers only receive 40 percent of the amount that they are due. In fact, custodial fathers in the United States were owed a total of $1.7 billion.
Do what is best for the child
As a father, you are tasked with the privilege of providing the best life for your child possible, and whether you receive child support or extended parenting time or not, you are going to do your best. However, accomplishing that task should not be an uphill battle, made worse by pervasive gender stereotypes in the family court system.
Family courts should recognize this and act based on the best interests of the child in each individual situation, rather than allow these outdated ideas to prevent children from engaging in the best life that they possibly can.