February 5, 2010
Is 50/50 unfair?
This breakdown has become increasingly common in divorce cases involving children, where fathers who seek primary physical custody are now awarded primary custody about 50 percent of the time, according to Working Mother Magazine. Should we be surprised by this? On the face, it seems fair, but some casual digging reveals just how jarring this is for the family law system.
Traditionally, mothers could expect a certain degree of sympathy in child custody cases. They were widely considered the nurturing parent — packing lunches and bandaging scrapes while the father worked. When marriages fell apart and parents sought custody, the mother often had the stronger case.
However, this is gradually changing. The increasing number of fathers being granted primary custody is most likely the result of a few, major factors.
First, there are fewer stay-at-home moms. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “more than half of mothers with young children work.” This is compared to about 30 percent of mothers in the 1970s.
Not only are more mothers working, but, more often, they serve as the family’s primary breadwinner — taking over a role that, until recently, was overwhelmingly male-dominated.
On the flipside of this shift, more fathers are now filling the role of stay-at-home dads, a concept that would have been almost completely foreign a few decades ago. Also factoring into this trend is the fact that men have been hit much harder by the current economic downturn.
Men fill the ranks of about 75 percent of those who have lost jobs since the economy turned sour and, facing unemployment, have found themselves in new roles as stay-at-home dads. When divorces occur, these fathers are then able to argue that they spend more time with their children and are more active in their upbringing.
It should be noted that this argument isn’t new. For years, this exact same point was applied on behalf of stay-at-home moms, who were more present in their children’s daily activities.
The shift in fathers gaining child custody is not simply due to a reversal of roles, but the court’s recognition of this reversal. Today, judges seem more willing to let these arguments stand on behalf of fathers seeking custody.
Supporters of this shift consider this turnaround to be fair play. For years, mothers were awarded custody due to their role as the nurturer and day-to-day care provider. As fathers move further into this role, it seems natural that they should be rewarded with child custody.
Still, others see this as a form of punishment for women who dare to make a living and support their families. Why should mothers be considered less nurturing simply because they support the family financially?
Regardless of position, the trend of fathers with primary custody seems to be here to stay — at least for the time being.