In divorce cases, child custody and child support (its possible financial corollary) have, traditionally, been skewed heavily in the mother’s favor. But changing legal doctrines, social mores and economic factors have been changing the balance.
Statistics from recent decades show that women were consistently awarded custody of children from 1993 through 2007 — 83 percent to 85 percent of mothers won custody of their children during that period, while only 15 percent to 17 percent of fathers won custody. Over the same 15 years, 57 percent to 64 percent of mothers who won custody of their children were awarded child support, while only 36 percent to 40 percent of fathers who won custody of their children also were granted child support.
However, more men and fathers have now begun to win their cases.
The equal rights movement and society’s changing attitude toward the role fathers play in child-rearing have improved the chances a court may award custody to a father. But a fundamental shift in legal doctrine has also made an impact. Most states abandoned the “tender-years” doctrine, the long-held court presumption that women are more suitable caregivers than men for children under the age of 7, in 1994.
More recently, economic forces have helped make more fathers into primary parents. The recession that began in December 2007 took a higher employment toll among men than women, particularly due to the fact that the construction and building trades, professions that men dominate, were hit very hard. At one point during the recent recession, only 80 percent of men were employed (down from 88 percent before the start of the recession), representing the lowest figure for that statistic since 1948, and respectively, the biggest drop ever.
Men lost jobs at a faster rate than women during the recession, and women regained them at a faster rate than men. Even as late as August 2013, the unemployment rate among women stood at 6.8 percent while hovering at 7.7 percent for men.
As a result, a larger numbers of unemployed fathers became stay-at-home caregivers for children, while their still-employed mothers became the family’s primary breadwinners.
From a legal perspective, more men can now argue that they spend more time with their children than their working spouses do. That phenomenon could soon be reflected in the results of upcoming custody battles.