Child Custody determinations are a special form of legal dispute in Nassau County and Suffolk County, Long Island, NY. Although there are two official parties to the legal dispute, often the mother and the father, the unofficial third party that is the main concern of the controversy is the child. Because the child is the main concern of the courts, the method used by most states in resolving child custody disputes is what is known as the “best interests of the child” standard. Because this standard only considers the implications on the child as a neutral third party, it is technically neutral and does not favor either the mother or the father in the dispute.
Is the “Best Interests of the Child” Standard Really Neutral?
Many professionals in the legal field would answer that the current “best interests of the child standard” is not actually neutral in practice. Statistical evidence shows that custody is disproportionally awarded to the mother of the child in most disputes. Statistically, the courts seem to believe that the mother is more often than not the party best suited to care for the child. If this were intrinsically true, there would be no dispute that awarding custody to the mother was always in the best interests of the child. In actuality, however, this is not always the case.
Why Gender Bias in Child Custody on Long Island, NY?
There are several reasons why this gender bias exists in child custody disputes.
- First and foremost, the standard used to determine custody is problematic.
- General public sentiment, and historical judicial sentiment, seems to favor mothers as guardians.
- The combination of the two creates a situation forcing the father to disprove a presumption that the mother is the better guardian, which makes it much more difficult for a father to win custody of his child.
‘Best Interests’ Standard Enables Too Much Flexibility?
Allowing courts to use the best interests of the child standard is beneficial, as it allows for flexibility in child custody decisions. Custody disputes are complicated and unique situations. Allowing judicial discretion in a standard allows the courts to tailor decisions to each unique circumstance. However, this flexibility may also be the downfall of the “best interests of the child” standard. Because a flexible standard lacks objective elements or factors, the ultimate determination lies in the opinion of the individual adjudicating the dispute. Consequently, if a judge, mediator, etc. lacks objectivity; it is his or her opinion that decides the fate of the child.
Discretion Favors Mothers over Fathers in Child Custody Disputes
Such wide discretion would not be problematic if public and judicial sentiment with respect to custody matters were different. However, the general public outlook on custody-related matters seems to be that mothers are naturally better caretakers to their children than fathers. Furthermore, a history of judicial decisions shows that judges share this particular attitude with the public as well. Some courts have even explicitly stated that if all circumstances were equal between the mother and the father, the mother should be awarded custody. Matthew B. Firing, In Whose Best Interests? Courts’ Failure to Apply State Custodial Laws Equally Amongst Spouses and Its Constitutional Implications, 20 Quinnipiac Prob. L.J. 223, 249 (2007). This effectively creates a rebuttable presumption that the mother, all other things being equal, is the better caretaker. As a result, instead of being judged by an equal standard, an unfair burden of proof is placed on the father in custody disputes. With a presumption that the mother is the better custodian, the father is placed in the position of having to prove that the mother is an unfit parent. The “best interests of the child” are considered, but in a different way than intended. The judge is not actually considering, objectively, which parent provides the best situation for the child, but whether the father has proven that the mother is unable to provide the best possible environment for the child.
Gender Bias Due Process Claims Unsuccessful
In addition, gender-biases in child custody determinations implicate several constitutional issues under the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause. Courts have interpreted the Equal Protection Clause to apply to gender-based inequalities, and the Due Process Clause to protect a fundamental right to privacy in family matters. Child custody has been assumed to be a fundamental right under the Due Process Clause. Although these clauses may seem to give legal merit to a father’s challenge of gender bias in the best interests of the child standard, these challenges have been historically unsuccessful.
“Best Interests” Standard Not Fairly Applied to Fathers
Gender bias in child custody disputes is prevalent, as mothers are awarded custody of their children disproportionately more than fathers in judicial proceedings. While the “best interests” standard is a good method to gauge the best environment for the child involved in a custody dispute, the standard is not always properly and fairly applied by the courts. Therefore, it may be time to reevaluate our societal outlook on child custody and make some real changes that would result in more equitable decisions for fathers.
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Long Island, NY Child Custody Questions?
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The law firm of Robert E. Hornberger, Esq. P.C. has regularly and successfully represents both mothers and fathers in Child Custody disputes in Nassau County and Suffolk County courts on Long Island. If you have questions about your Child Custody case, give us a call at 631-923-1910 or fill out the short form on this page for a free, complimentary consultation where we can discuss your case and advise you on the best way forward. We’re here to help.