sex discrimination in child custody and child support

In child custody and child support administration, stereotype-based beliefs about the allocation of family responsibilities are both firmly rooted and largely unquestioned.  Suppose some desirable job involved much out-of-town travel.  Suppose, in hiring for that job, an employer discriminated in favor of fathers and against mothers, on the grounds that the best interests of the children favored mothers not doing extensive, out-of-town travel.  The employer most likely would be in violation of sex discrimination laws and subject to a costly legal judgment.  In contrast, “the best interests of the child” has successfully smothered in justifications huge gender inequalities in state-awarded child custody and child support.

Sex inequalities in child custody and child support are about an order of magnitude larger than widely discussed sex inequalities in the labor force.   From 1993 to 2007, about five mothers had child custody for every father with child custody.  Across that same period, about eight mothers were awarded child support for every father awarded child support. Among parents under a child support agreement, fourteen times more mothers received physical custody than did fathers.

Gender inequalities in labor force participation, in contrast, are much smaller.  Among parents ages 25 to 49 living with at least one own-child, three mothers worked full-time for every four fathers that did.  Among parents of those ages living with at least one own-child under age five, one mother worked full-time for every two fathers that did. Motherhood matters much less in the workforce than in courtrooms making child-custody or child-support decisions.

Most persons value their children more than their jobs.  Even if sex inequalities in child custody and child support were similar to sex inequalities in the labor force, the former sex inequalities would be more damaging than the latter.

Family-court substantive and procedural law should consider the actual sex bias in the administration of child custody and child support.  Men lack reproductive rights comparable to those that women have in U.S. constitutional law and in statutory laws governing child-birth registration, giving up a child for adoption, and safe-havens that allow a mother to give up a newborn safely, legally, and anonymously.  Sex inequalities in child-custody and child-support administration exacerbate sex inequalities in reproductive rights.

Child-support enforcement keeps roughly 50,000 persons in jail or in prison in the U.S. on any given day.   Almost surely among those prisoners men outnumber women by eight to one or more.  Sex inequalities in child custody and child support are closely related to that sex inequality in punishment.

In Turner v. Rogers, the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether an indigent child-support obligor is entitled to a state-provided lawyer in a proceeding that will determine whether the obligor will be imprisoned.   Turner v. Rogers is directly about the right to counsel.  However, sex inequalities in reproductive rights and in child-custody and child-support administration place Turner v. Rogers within an extraordinary but unquestioned field of unequal protection under law.

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Related posts:

Data: custodial parents, parents awarded child-support, and labor-force participation by sex, 1993-2007 (Excel version)

7 thoughts on “sex discrimination in child custody and child support”

  1. that actually would not be discrimination employers are most certainly allowed to take children into account when hiring the only thing that is required is 8 weeks unpaid leave for new parents regardless of sex. If the employer was to bar all women then that would be sex discrimination because they are judged only on sex and not merit. However children on the other hand are a very real liability and obligation that is not only considered by employers but money lenders as well. Usually the fact of having children makes most more apt for a prospective job because they have mouths to feed and thus way more reluctant to quit and look elsewhere for better work if they are dissatisfied with there current employment.

  2. I find your post intriguing. I would like to add a thought if I may. Now more than ever women are losing custody of their children due to military service. I was married to a civilian who gained custody of our son when he was 12 months. Although I was not deemed unfit, I was not chosen to be the primary custodial parent. I was however ordered to pay over $1000 dollars in child support and cover all medical expenses. Never had I understood what men endured until I was in their place. I have been denied visitation, communication, to include basic parental rights and yet in still I have to follow the order. It is a way for the Custodial parent to control, punish and hurt the other. Most of all the custodial parent is damaging the child especially if there is no founded reason of if the alternate parent is unfit, insane and or unstable. It is understanding how and why many parents give up exhausted with the unfair system. As a first time mother I will not ever as long as there is breath in my body. I will say as a woman that WOMEN do manipulate and disregard the system but so do MEN. Men can run from a DNA test as women cannot. I agree that MOST men and women value a relationship with their children more so than a job or profession. The civil system is broken and unfortunately I do not see in the near future it changing. The state does not have the capability to support everyone nor does the government.

  3. Gender bias in our courts is not a secret at all in this country. A lot of people know about it but, since it doesn’t effect them yet or at all, they don’t care, especially enough to do something about it or even complain about it. Pretty close to half the population who are involved are recipients of the funds and happy to keep the prejudices of our courts, hence, the among college-educated couples, the percentage of divorces initiated by wives is a whopping 90 percent. The states(courts) entice the women with turning the fathers of their children into endless ATM machines and awarding sole custody so the state can then get the title IVD and VAWA large incentives from the federal government based on quotas they need to meet. Fathers who can’t meet the mark are stripped of their ability to live and then freedoms and very possibly an endless cycle of funding our prisons with more tax dollars for his repeated visits to jail. This of course in-debts him even more while reducing his ability to earn a living and the child/ren is now almost completely without a father. This allows for the women to qualify for more tax funded women and infant oriented programs while putting the father in the tax funded jail. The entire family is now on the tax payers dime and the family is poverty stricken and ruined in many different ways. It’s disgusting to watch the vile people who keep this machine going for the money. Some even seem to take thrill in it as they destroy families, using often greedy and vindictive mothers who use their children as cash cows and weapons.

  4. I experienced the most grotesque discrimination. I had custody of 3 kids for 7 years, due to mothers consistent involvement with cys, child death, kids left out of school for over a year etc.

    Mother puts out a pfa and is immediately awarded custody. She 1st sued for child support. Found out that although I had sole custody for 7 yrs, I was going in arrears to her for non payment.

    She calls cys to report abuse. They take one look at her record and immediately remove kids and give them back to me. Now, me and woman required to give random drug tests, psyche evals, drug and alcohol etc.

    Mother was ordered to do so as well but said she can’t do anything, she has no income and doesn’t leave her house due to mental illness.

    So Cass and kids voice get involve because case is court active. Cys keeps saying kids are fine with me, there are no safety concerns. I had them for seven years, no truancy and all on honor roll.

    Despite a child dying in her custody, her being convicted of child endangerment, having founded allegations of abuse and neglect and not complying with a single order of the court, and having no income, living in abject poverty – Cass and kids voice recommended removal from me and placing kids with mother because I didn’t comply 100 percent with the court orders, which by the way gave me a child by her that was not hers whom I had to take care of for free.

    Pa child custody blues.

  5. As a man having primary custody of my son I feel like I am being discrimated. I live in nj and my ex wife lives in Florida. She owes over 13,000.00 in child support. So I go to court in June and have a lawyer at that. We asked for a substantial payment be made and the judge favors on behalf of my ex wife because she says I just had a baby and been on bed rest and I will be going back to work soon from maternity leave. Well she had this baby the middle of April and we went to court the end of June. The 12 weeks of maternity leave should have been over or close to over. Well it’s now august and she still isn’t working or paying on her support. Seriously if it was the other way around I as the man would have to pay of end up in jail. If I was on maternity leave as men are able to when a women has his child now I wouldn’t have that same sympathy. I would be told it didn’t matter and would have to find a way to pay. It’s not right that females are getting away with not paying support for their kids. And it’s even more difficult to have nj child support have florida enforce these payments. Seriously I need assistance on this discrination that I’m getting.

  6. Now to add to the story I sent earlier. When I got together with my ex wife I didn’t know she had 3 children. She always told me that the kids her father had at the house were her brothers and sister. Anyway come to find out after I have custody of our son and she moves to florida and I talked to her dad and I find out they were her kids that he has custody of because dyfs took them away from her. She also owes him a larger amount if child support than she owes me. He also lives in nj. See a pattern of how nj doesn’t get the child support for out of state owers? Also before she moved to florida she was pregnant again with twins that werent mine. I found the hospital information after she left. Not even sure where they are. I don’t know if she miscarried, the father of the babies took them? Idk. But she moves to florida and now has 2 more children. The latest being born mid of april. So she can’t pay for the kids she has and she has more. Anyway, I go to court in June to have her pay substantial amount against the 13,000.00 and as you saw in last sent message it was shot down. I also had requested that dyfs investigate on allegations that my son made and the school 2 yrs in a row had called dyfs about it. With her history of dyfs taking away the 3 other children. Judge says to call off dyfs the kid needs his mother. Seriously. Then my son was supposed to go to summer school because he learning disabilities. She claims to the judge that I am alienating my son from her and that she can teach him the summer work. So the judge says she will teach him and she has to get the stuff needed from the school. So anyway she has the material from the school that I dropped off at the airport when I met her to take my son to florida. She signs the paper of what needs to be completed. That was July 3, 2015. So because she always does back door things to get out of doing anything she calls the school on June 10, 2015 and says the work is too hard for my son. Seriously she had him for a week and she is getting out if doing the workbooks? And the school didn’t inform me and I am the primary caregiver. So of course I have my lawyer again to see what can be done. But this is just rediculous that a women doesn’t have to take responsibility but a man has too or consequences will happen.

  7. Dear Senator
    I am contacting you on a matter of great importance which is affecting many children, fathers, and families. I am the father of a 5 year old daughter who is the most important person in my life. I am Defense employee with 32 years in civilian service working with Defense contractors, honorable discharge from military service and 10 years overseas duty working with foreign Ministries and the American Embassy in Rome.
    In 2012 my child’s mother left our home for the second time without notice or warning, taking our child without any information of their location to me for the following month. Eventually I found them and this time I petitioned for child custody. The mother who I loved dearly suffers from borderline personality disorder a condition which is not immediately recognized. She is on daily medication and 95% of the time considered a normal wonderful person. We did not fight and rarely argued but when she exhibits (annual) non-violent anxiety attacks she is completely unpredictable. I will forego further details at this time. At Islip family court I experienced 7 months of short adjournments which totaled $32,000., of my personal savings only to arrive at the trial date to be informed that her medical records which were supposed to be attained by my attorney with the help of the court had not materialized. I was advised to settle in the realization of my chances for a father custody decision. During this time I was not allowed to express any information or serve the court with any facts. The court in return never requested any (in establishing a determination on “What’s best for the child”) and her (mom) automatic position of primary custodian was solidified. The court will say that we came to this agreement, but surely it can be established that my endeavor for father custody was genuine and in fact limited to the extent of my finances, finances which were wasted. What cannot be established is the reason for indefinite adjournment’s and deficiencies in “process fact gathering” prior to decision making (If a decision is ever reached) by the courts. This is a very traumatizing system of justice. During the time that I waited, the attorney’s meter for payment was always running without any guarantees of a thorough or even a superficial investigation of the case or the parents on the part of the court.
    Advocating separation of family, the court does not investigate fault on most separations where there is no evidence of abuse. An adult parent is allowed to leave a family and in many cases take their children away from the other parent even without any significant cause, because they can (no fault divorce or separation). If this “family break up / abandonment ” could only be traced to the leaving parent’s reasons, immaturity or opportunism, (again with no history or any evidence of abuse) and used to decide a fair decision for custody, perhaps many children’s futures could be saved from a legacy which is proven to be both destructive and repetitive. Why can’t the legislature realize that this adult decision to leave should not justify taking children away from their home and punish the child and the other parent, while disrupting the children’s home and family upbringing? If only the courts were mandated to conduct this background investigation automatically, understanding through intelligent authorities and systems of law that “they could not assume to do less!” when adjudicating in such a grave matter, then these injustices would diminish naturally. In the present legal system / family courts, the court will not work to establish the reason or cause for determining whether this action to leave, which usually has serious implications on the welfare of the children, was in fact justified. Further, the court will penalize the parent who was abandoned by allowing the other parent to take primary custody away from the abandoned parent without cause. The legislative and justice system then goes further by awarding support payments to primary custodians which encourages this perpetual action to others since it is now perceived as rewarding in our society by all those who would attempt this action. This further damages the father – child relationship and adds other future implications to include visitation abilities / problems. The Legislative and judicial system henceforth advocates the separation of family in America, henceforth 65-80% breakdowns in family and existence of children in one parent homes as a result. These children are now lessoned in a broken family upbringing (another great subject for discussion) and see separated adult relationships as the norm. (65 & 80% divorce rate in 1st and second marriages by many statistics).
    By right of law, an adult has the right to choose to leave a relationship. An adult who chooses to leave a relationship should not have the immediate right to take the children of mutual parenting without reasonable cause. Reasonable cause is to be established by a ruling court through an investigative effort, automatically. Lack of investigative effort by the court should rule out any court involvement in “custody decisions”. If they cannot perform the job correctly they should not be in the business of such a serious adjudication. Attorneys in this process should be either affordable / paid for actual trial time only / provided by the State / or unnecessary based on available evidence and facts from the parties / parents or lack thereof.
    How would the enforcement of gender equality in the American family courts affect these national separation statistics and child confiscations/childhood family breakdowns? Especially, when there is no valid or moral reason presented for separation and nothing to be gained monetarily / custodially? Especially when the majority of the causes for separation involving children are frivolous and unsubstantiated? You may ask how I can make this claim and I will tell you that the majority of the cases which decide or automatically allocate custody have no historical or character evidence gathered by the court on either parent within the court libraries, as they do not have on me or my child’s mother. The courts force a settlement between the parties, with all knowing that it is the mother who must be proven incompetent. The courts and attorneys extend and prolong trial despite the lack of any investigation in most cases. I would not mind endless adjournments but who can pay for them? I have had private contractor’s perform jobs, but payment was only allocated for their completion, not for how much time they decided to take for their work to be completed (blank check). Justice can be painful which is why it must be fair and just. Statistically 90% of custody decisions in America are for the mother. Statistically 80% of incarcerated young men and 80% of woman experiencing unwed teen pregnancies come from fatherless homes. (Sources upon request)
    Although the new policy dictates “What is best for the child”, no steps or automatic court protocol is exercised (by the court) to establish any facts or justification for primary custody decisions. How can a decision for “what is best for the child” be conceived with this lack of information / facts? They do not adjudicate with facts collected and provided from both sides of the parent’s corners or by investigation.
    They completely dismiss the fact that some parents cannot afford investigative attorneys and that lack of investigation due to lack of large funds prevent a fair hearing to enable a decision for “what’s best for the child”. The uncapped costs imposed on the parents to maintain a case for custody is barbaric. This is a very advantageous tool for the court and the mother, as it is as dangerous for the opposing parent and child; again I was not litigating for a luxury asset of monetary value or business dispute, but for the custody under fair trial, of my child. For any social establishment to believe that taking a child from a father is less painful than taking a child from its mother, that society or establishment is mistaken, as it would be for accepting this as justice.
    Can the legislators and judges imagine or are they even in a position to imagine what it is like to have their child taken away from them? Do the law makers understand the gravity of personal suffering that this system is being allowed to impose and sentence on fathers? Directly or indirectly, the gravity of suffering is the same. Directly or indirectly statistics show that this system of bias and procrastination is not accidental but deliberate. Judicial process for custody and matters of children must be changed as with the personal cost to attain justice in these matters involving children. If the courts are not capable or prepared to handle these injustices they should not be in the position to act in a responsibility that they cannot accomplish justly. If the legislators are not willing to make the necessary changes then they should be alleviated the authority of law in this arena (originally belonging to the church not the state). This is a matter of my child, my flesh and blood, and the future of her physical and mental health; the children are the first victims here. The consequences of this injustice on overall social stability are immeasurable.
    I have listened to fathers within my social circle and fathers who attend support groups. This injustice is one of the greatest of our time, potentially affecting up to 50 million men in this country today, the ignored damage to children immeasurable. We have not experienced such unfairness in this nation since the periods predating the rights movements, and times prior to the 13th, and 14th amendments.
    I am requesting a cooperative effort for change in laws or court protocol regarding custody. Your counsel and involvement on this matter is requested.

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