In response to concerns that fathers were not being given equal treatment by the courts in child custody decisions the fathers’ rights movement was born.
Described often as a social movement, members of the fathers’ rights movement call their efforts a civil rights movement dedicated to ensuring fathers have an equal opportunity with mothers to be awarded custody of their children. The movement has become increasingly vocal, and is a powerful force in efforts to eliminate gender bias in family courts and state statutes governing custody and child support decisions.
The fathers’ rights advocates strive to create an equal footing for mothers and fathers in state statutes and family court proceedings to determine custody of children and child support orders. The fathers’ rights groups work to abolish legislation and root out judicial bias favoring the mother in custody and child support disputes. Many advocate for a legal presumption of joint legal and physical custody as being in the best interests of the children with sole custody being awarded only when one parent is shown to be incapable of raising their children.
Prior to the twentieth century the courts treated children as the property of the father and following a divorce the father was typically given custody of the children of the marriage.
That presumption changed in the twentieth century with the advent of the “tender years” doctrine which turned the presumption of parental custody completely the opposite direction. The “tender years” doctrine created the presumption that children of a failed marriage should be placed in the custody of their mothers absent a showing that doing so was not in the child’s best interest.
Father’s rights groups relying on research showing the absence of a father from a child’s life can contribute to negative behavioral and unhealthy emotional consequences actively lobbied state legislatures to replace the “tender years” doctrine with the more equitable “in the child’s best interest” test. Many courts found the “tender years” doctrine to be in violation of the father’s rights to equal protection under the Constitution.
Today most states use a “best interest of the child” test in their custody determination statutes.
There are both liberal and conservative branches of the father’s rights movement. Both groups agree the family court system discriminates against men; the two factions disagree on why men and women differ and the importance of the traditional roles of men and women in the rearing of children. The liberal members of the movement believe the difference between the sexes and their traditional family roles is a cultural phenomenon and support equality between men and women and flexible family roles. The conservative branch believes that men and women are biologically different and the traditional family roles of men and women are appropriate.
The movement members characterize their work as important not just for fathers but also for children by increasing the likelihood of children in families which separate or divorce being raised jointly by both parents, and who are benefiting from all the social, academic, psychological and physical benefits of joint custody.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, check out this article from ExpertLaw on the Fathers’ Rights Movement and child custody law.