Fathers Should Prepare for Possible Bias in Custody Hearings

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For the last two decades, divorce rates for New York have hovered around 7%, and about half of these marriages have minor children. When the family structure collapses, New York law calls for courts to be gender-neutral when considering child custody cases. Despite that, unconscious bias in custody decisions may still exist.

Our legal team at the Law Office of Dennis R. Vetrano, Jr., LLC believes fathers’ rights are parental rights. If you think you are being discriminated against, call us (845) 605-4330. We can review your circumstances and offer sensible legal advice on possible steps we can take to represent your concerns before the court.

Discriminatory Doctrine Was Basis for Unfair Decisions

In 1973, Judge Sybil Hart Kooper of the Family Court of New York reversed a custody decision that went to the mother based on the Tender Years Doctrine. This philosophy stated that mothers are better equipped than fathers to care for minor children. Prior to the 1970s, New York and many other states had custody laws that expressly favored the mother.

In her ruling, Judge Kooper said that any presumptive preference in favor of maternal custody violated the father’s right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. By 1990, 39 states had changed their family law codes to reflect gender-neutral custody determinations, and all states have made now made that shift.

That landmark decision by Judge Kooper shifted custody laws in New York to consider criteria to determine what’s in the best interests of the children without any reference to the gender of the parent. Despite this change, about 90% of all court-decided custody decisions go to the mother.

Unconscious Bias Is Still Gender Discrimination

Tender Years Doctrine no longer exists in law, but that doesn’t mean it’s been erased from hearts and minds. Even the words used during legal proceedings help plant bias. Unconscious labels used during proceedings like “mother” suggest certain positive impressions while using the word “man” instead of “father” can have negative impacts. Using such language reduces the father to a financial provider and not an active participant in parenting the child.

Women work outside of the home and travel for work, but men are more commonly penalized for doing so.

Biases against fathers during custody hearings can show up in the following ways:

  • Laws and rules designed to guard against bias are not uniformly enforced
  • Courts can favor mothers who demonstrate close bonds with their parents
  • Fathers’ work schedules are used to portray an inflexible job with limited availability for the children
  • More men are characterized as being verbally abusive
  • Men are more often portrayed to be bad parents because of their work schedule

Counteracting Unconscious Bias

Traditional family roles are no longer the norm today, yet some courts effectively still act as they do. When a father is seeking primary or full custody, failure to acknowledge that biases still exist can make their custody case an uphill battle. There are measures that should be taken to neutralize gender discrimination in the courtroom.

Cultural and historical beliefs are hard to extricate from family court. Providing the best evidence to articulate a father’s share of parenting skills and time with the children is critical for a judge to review. Because the wife was the primary caregiver of the children prior to the dissolution of the marriage does not automatically disqualify the father from taking on those responsibilities after the divorce.

Other helpful hints for divorcing dads include the following:

  • Keep records. Write down when you see your kids, your purchases for them, your communication efforts with your kids and your spouse, and anything else you think is significant.
  • Don’t move out. Putting aside your differences with your wife to help with the children will show that you are prioritizing your family.
  • See your children often. Take time to go to their games and recitals. Pick them up from school. Making these efforts will help everyone’s well-being.

Fight Bias Against Fathers in Child Custody Cases

Laws have changed but deep-seated feelings and assumptions don’t disappear with the passing of a new law. Your attorney must recognize this and prepare accordingly.

If you are a father who is seeking custody, speak with one of our attorneys about your case. We believe that taking a proactive stance will put your case on firmer ground and better demonstrate what is in your children’s best interests.

Schedule a consultation by calling the Law Office of Dennis R. Vetrano, Jr., LLC at (845) 605-4330 or by submitting our online form.

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