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Study Shows Fathers Disadvantaged in Child Custody Cases


Stereotypes of proper parenting invariably put the father in a secondary role as the parent providing order and discipline to the household. The bulk of caretaking duties and decision making is left to the mother, who is presumed to be better equipped to provide this support. While this exaggerated dynamic is rarely seen in real life, some the presumptions seem to still hold sway in family courts rooms across Pennsylvania. Child custody is a pivotal issue for both parents and must be handled with care. Judges will review any submitted parenting plans to assess whether it provides for the best interests of the child. Thus, how courts view the proper division of responsibilities between mothers and fathers will always be a factor in the final custody order. A recent study that reviewed custody proceedings in Pennsylvania found that the number of hours awarded to each parent per week skewed overwhelmingly in favor of the mother, with the child spending 69 percent of the time with the mother and 31 percent with the father. Unlike other States, Pennsylvania does not have defined or mandated legal rules that promote shared custody, which may be contributing to the trend this study identified.

Child Custody Generally

Pennsylvania divides child custody into two areas – legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the right of a parent to make significant life decisions for the child – medical, education, religious, etc., and physical custody is the amount of time each parent is responsible for providing caretaking duties. Both parents may share these responsibilities, referred to as shared custody, or just one may have legal or physical custody rights. Even non-custodial parents are given some amount of visitation in the vast majority of custody cases, as contact with both parents is seen as important to the child’s development. Parents can negotiate their own arrangement in a parenting plan, which needs a court’s approval, or if agreement is not possible, ask the court to decide how these responsibilities should be divided. In either case, the allocation of these responsibilities is dictated by the best interests of the child, which is focused on determining the schedule and environment that is best suited for the child’s needs. Courts use a long list of factors to evaluate this issue, and are looking at each parent’s ability to provide physically, emotionally, and financially for child, as well as the child’s attachment to each and whether a parent poses a danger to the child’s wellbeing.

Issues Specific to Fathers

Pennsylvania law directly states that neither parent should receive preference in child custody decisions, but reality may not match that premise. Fathers may have a more difficult time convincing a court they should receive more than weekends and one night per week, which tends to be the norm. Since traditional gender roles are much less prevalent now than in the past, there are some factors that can help to achieve this result. Specifically, the court will be focused on which parent currently provides most of the caretaking duties and handles the child’s day-to-day schedule. The more involved a father is with the child’s routine, the easier it will be to convince a court that he should have primary physical custody. If both parents are equal caretakers, there may be a desire for 50/50 division of responsibilities. This arrangement is hard to navigate from a practical point of view, and courts will be looking at whether each parent can equally provide for the child’s wellbeing in a beneficial way.

Speak with a Pennsylvania Divorce Attorney

Making sure your child is well cared for is a priority for every parent, and if you are dealing with child custody issues, you need the advice of an experienced Media child custody attorney about your rights. The attorneys at Barbara Flum Stein & Associates understand the challenges fathers can face in this area, and will fight to get you the outcome that is best for you and your child. Contact our Media divorce firm at (610) 565-6100 to schedule a consultation.




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