Fathers seeking primary custody of their children in divorce cases are awarded it about 50 percent of the time, according to a report by Working Mother Magazine. The data is a sign of the changing atmosphere around child custody for fathers, where mothers have historically held an advantage due to the opposing stereotypes of the nurturer and the breadwinner.
Some of this change can be traced to the slowly accelerating aftereffects of the shift away from the “Tender Years Doctrine” that often explicitly favored the mother in child custody cases. By the mid-1990s, most states had moved from maternal-preference to statutes that were more gender-neutral. This new legal philosophy was based around the best interests of the child. While the interpretation initially continued to favor mothers, “best interests” has seemed to reflect the shift in gender roles in many families over the past decade.
Today, some women and family law attorneys are now voicing concerns over the devaluation of the contributions of working moms to parenting in child custody for fathers who stay at home. This is a mirroring of the arguments heard from the father’s rights movement in previous decades. Both groups decry what they say is an uneven playing field for the working parent and see the supposed bias in child custody as a punishment for supporting a family.
The recent downturn in the economy has also had an effect on child custody for fathers, as more than 75 percent of laid-off workers have been men. In early 2010, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history, and the percentage of mothers who are working and also raising young children has grown to more than 50 percent–up from 30 percent in the 1970s. This has led to more fathers spending more time in the home taking care of their children. Some experts have even suggested that this is part of a larger, systematic shift in power between the genders that could be due to modern society favoring female workers and women in general.