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Does the tender years doctrine still affect fathers’ rights?

Many fathers insist that family courts still favor mothers over them when it comes to granting primary custody of a couple’s children. Even though the “tender years doctrine” was abolished by many states, including Pennsylvania, there still appears to be a preference toward women by family court judges. If this is true, the fathers’ rights movement still has much work to do.

The tender years doctrine dictated preferential treatment to mothers in custody cases, especially if the child or children involved were very young. Now, however, it is the best interests of the child that is supposed to be the guiding force behind a custody award. Some fathers contend that the name may have changed, but the outcome is the same.

The fact of the matter is that, overall, more women are still awarded primary custody of a couple’s children. Fathers are making headway, but progress is slow. One father fought for nearly three years for joint custody of his child, but was advised to sign a settlement agreement that he was not entirely happy with under the premise that his ex-wife retained the power in the parental relationship.

The letter of the law in many states, including Pennsylvania, is now written to be gender neutral. It is not supposed to matter whether the gender of the custodial parent is the male or female. As fathers’ rights issues continue to be pressed in court, any lingering gender bias with respect to child custody proceedings may be eliminated. In the meantime, many fathers continue to claim that some judges simply conclude that the best interests of a young child is to remain with his or her mother, regardless of the underlying facts.

Source: Al Jazeera America, “Tender years” make it tough for dads, Theodore Ross, Jan. 16, 2014


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