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Resolving disputes creatively

Shifting gender expectations affecting child-custody disputes

With divorce widely reported as ending about 50 percent of all marriages in the United States, many couples face tough decisions when it comes to a variety of issues, including property and asset distribution and spousal support. One of the most emotional issues, however, is child custody.

According to one recent study, Americans seem to favor joint custody, but believe family law courts are biased toward mothers. A recent series of high-profile cases, such as that of actor Jason Patric, have put a spotlight on the issue of fathers battling for custody. Patric and many others have become part of a fathers' rights movement that says that the belief that mothers have more rights to custody is outdated. They believe courts across the country should consider joint custody first before sole custody, except when the father presents a danger to the child.

Other observers think the situation has changed substantially in the last 40 years. Judges often no longer assume that mothers are more nurturing and better able to meet their children's needs. They see economic changes that allow many women to have better careers and incomes, and a chance to acquire their own assets and properties, making them more capable of supporting children, sometimes to the point of paying child support to fathers who demonstrate a desire to be custodial parents.

The majority of custody battles are eventually settled peacefully, but some can and do turn ugly. Gender is becoming a less decisive factor as courts consider such issues as the incomes of both parents and the best interests of the child.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, "Divorce and custody: Dads getting a better deal," Hanna Rosin, May 18, 2014

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