There has been a back and forth trend in custody and visitation legislation preferring one sex to the other. The first custody laws in the United States automatically granted father custody of the child unless he was determined to be unfit, unavailable, or agreed to grant the mother custody. Later, the “tender years presumption” replaced the paternalistic custody laws. Under this new presumption, mothers became the preferred custodian because they were seen as nurturing and in the best position to provide children with the care they needed. Eventually, this notion faded because it merely perpetrated a gender stereotype and opponents argued that it was unconstitutional. Under the California Family Code today there is no stated gender preference. However, both men and women argue that gender bias exists in the courts against their respective sexes.
The Father’s Rights Movement began in the 1970’s as a new perspective on which parent is the preferable custodian in a custody dispute. Supporters argue that the family courts are consumed with gender bias against men and blindly award support and custody to women by virtue of their sex. These groups promote changes to family law that emphasize the rights of parents or the child’s rights to both parents.
Divorce lawyers have begun targeting husbands who may subscribe to the notion that the family laws and courts are predisposed to favor women. This new type of law firm advertises to men through sports magazines, on the radio, and on television. It targets programming most often viewed by men and less likely to be watched or listened to by women. The men who hire the “divorce for men” law firms fear losing their children and money on the basis of gender. They argue that women are automatically awarded custody and spousal support because of the existence of gender stereotypes and bias. One such firm claims to “specialize in men’s issues.” This statement is based on the assumption that “men’s issues” exist currently in San Diego family law courts. The controlling standard in any child custody and visitation case is the best interest of the child. When considering the various factors outlined by the family code, there is no indication that the gender of each parent should be addressed at all.
Fathers are not the only parents alleging gender bias in the San Diego family court system. In cases of domestic violence, women claim that judges are predisposed against them. In cases involving children, mothers argue that their claims of domestic violence are perceived as merely a tactic to gain an advantage in a future child custody and visitation proceeding. Thus, the argument follows, judges are hesitant to believe their claims of abuse and deny protection based on gender. Further, this belief that mothers are lying about abuse negatively impacts their position in the custody and visitation portion of the case. Whether or not gender bias significantly impacts judicial decisions in San Diego is unknown and these arguments of discrimination may simply be legal tactics used to gain an advantage in court.
Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.