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Are mothers favored in child custody cases?

The prospect of dividing parental responsibilities and custody of the children is often a great source of worry for many parents. After all, they want to do what is best for their children, but dividing time with the children can be emotionally stressful for everyone involved.

One of the most common worries that parents – particularly fathers – have is if family courts tend to favor one parent over the other. Is this true?

This has been a persisting concern over the years

The worry that family courts favor mothers in custody cases has been common for many years.

However, there was a basis for this concern in the past. Mothers often received primary custody in past decades – especially if children were still young. This is often because, for many years, mothers were:

  • The child’s primary caregiver; and
  • Often stay-at-home parents.

After all, it was not until the 1960s that women joined the workforce in large numbers.

The idea of traditional gender roles also influenced this idea that mothers should maintain custody of the children, as past perspectives saw women as a caretaker in the home, and men as the income-earner supporting the family.

This is not the case in divorce matters today

Family courts will consider several factors when allocating parental responsibilities, including, but not limited to:

  • Who the primary caregiver was during the marriage;
  • Each parent’s mental health; and
  • The needs and best interests of the child.

However, Illinois law does not consider a parent’s gender when determining child custody in a divorce.

Unmarried parents might face different challenges

When parents of a child are unmarried, usually mothers retain physical and legal custody of their children. The biological father is not considered the child’s legal father in these cases and therefore cannot pursue any form of custody. In these cases, fathers have to complete extra steps to obtain custody, such as establishing paternity.

Even so, this is a matter established by the law – it does not mean that courts generally favor one gender over the other when it comes to custody cases.

Allocating parental responsibilities can be stressful, but speaking with an experienced family law attorney can help parents understand their rights and protect their family’s future.