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)

4 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.

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