Why is there Gender Bias in the Family Courts?

I’ve searched high and low, and a lot of the articles I’ve come across seem to evade fully answering the question. Some believe the bias doesn’t exist. For those in the midst of a court battle, you’re more than likely aware of the discrimination. Perceptions aren’t concrete, but numbers are. I’ve already talked about how mothers are the sole custodial parent in more than 70% of cases settled in court. Only about 7% of cases conclude with the father having sole custody, leaving roughly only 20% of cases ending in shared custody. If both parents are capable, why is the lattermost number so low?

The most common reason I’ve come across is that the courts perpetuate the social construct of gender roles. Ie, men are breadwinners, women are caregivers. Most of us know this is an outdated and limited concept, however, there are those among us who haven’t come to terms with this – either consciously or subconsciously.

This seems to be the most likely explanation for the bias, but I still don’t think that’s the whole picture. Throughout my research, I’ve come across unsubstantiated claims as to why the court is in the woman’s favour: the law favours women, men have fewer rights, etc etc. Seeing as I’m not an expert in law and none of those articles cites reputable sources, I’m not going to indulge in those theories (yes – I realise the perpetuation of gender roles in family court is just a theory as well, but it seems to be the best fit thus far).

Another theory I have is that any allegations of drug use or domestic violence are extremely damaging towards innocent fathers. Whilst I concede that family violence is a major problem and that all claims should be taken seriously, false accusations can diminish the chances of shared custody being granted.

 

Still, I feel something is missing – something that gives a better explanation on why there is such a skew towards mothers receiving sole custody. What do you think?

Profile #3 – False Accusations

This story is a little different from the others I have written about. It is a situation my friend Sarah* went through in her young teenage years with her mother and stepfather. It didn’t result in a divorce, but it does include a severe manipulation of the truth that had last effects on their family. 


 

Sarah’s* stepfather had always been more of a parent to her than her biological dad. Dave* had married in to the family when Sarah was a preteen and raised her and her sisters as if they were his own. Sarah’s mother, Mel*, was always a temperamental woman, quick to anger and give harsh judgement to her children. Dave, on the other hand, was the mediator between the girls, lowering the sky-high oestrogen levels in the house.

Mel’s temper manifested itself in verbal and physical outbursts towards her children and partner. In one particularly heated argument, Mel smashed a glass, cutting her hands and arms in the process and ran throughout the house, spreading blood on the walls. She then called the police on Dave. He was escorted away, charged and convicted, and spent a number of months in prison.

Sarah says her stepfather was tempted to file for a divorce after he returned from jail, but he knew he had no chance of fathering his stepdaughters with a violent conviction against his name. He is with Mel to this day, working on their relationship and her anger issues.

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Due to the sensitive nature of the story, I have been unable to talk to Sarah about the current state of her family. The purpose of telling this story is to give an example of the kind of situations families are in and the false accusations that have lasting effects on the lives of those involved.

 

*names have been changed to protect those involved.