Child custody laws are generally supposed to treat fathers and mothers the same, but the truth is it does not always work that way. The legal system often favors mothers and treats hard-working fathers like deadbeats. Gender stereotypes, current and historical, are largely to blame. For this reason, child support attorneys for fathers are often better if they specialize in the unique challenges faced by fathers.
The Tender Years Doctrine
America’s legal system developed from the British Common Law, often as influenced by a book from the 1700s called Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law of England. Blackstone somewhat infamously said that “the husband and wife are one person in law…the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage…” Not surprisingly, in early America fathers had basically unlimited authority over their children.
That all changed in the early 1800s, as states began to favor mothers under what is known as the Tender Years Doctrine. The idea was simple. The role of the mother was deemed so important in a young child’s life that mothers were given preference in custody disputes. This preference lasted from the late 1800s until the 1960s, especially for unwed mothers and for young children.
In 1973 the Family Court of New York found that the Tender Years Doctrine unconstitutionally deprived fathers of their rights and fathers’ rights groups scored a string of victories after that to the point where the doctrine has been abolished in most of the country.
Most states now follow the gender-neutral “best interest of the child” test.
The problem is that the test is a bit squishy, and many courts will still have a bias towards finding that giving mothers custody is in the best interest of the child.
Fathers’ rights are unique
Today there are groups like the National Fatherhood Initiative which seek to promote the role of fathers in healthy families. These groups know that fathers face some unique challenges.
For example, child support often becomes a barrier to emotional connections between a father and his children.
A father may be struggling and unable to pay his support on time, and this can lead to strife with the child’s mother. That strife can lead to the father feeling that he cannot connect with his child.
Hire an experience child support attorney
Experienced child support attorneys for fathers will usually strongly encourage an emotional connection between a father and his children, though. Fathers tend to do a better job with their support when they are involved in the child’s life. Moreover, children benefit from having the love and support of their fathers even if the father is struggling financially.
It is important to understand that a father generally should not be required to pay more than he can.
If a father is unable to pay his court-ordered support, then he should probably try to have the court’s order adjusted.
An attorney that works primarily with fathers will often have more success with support modification issues. Usually, a father must demonstrate something has changed since the original order before it can be adjusted.