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FindLaw Survey: Do Divorce Courts Favor Men or Women?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 07, 2015 10:55 AM

For many people, divorce can feel even more adversarial than a criminal case. Too often, people feel like the court is biased against them.

So, is it true? Do divorce courts favor men over women, or vice versa? We don't have the answer here, but we do have some interesting results on what people think, especially once they have been in court.

FindLaw Survey

FindLaw.com just conducted a survey asking 1,000 men and women if they believe divorce courts favor men or women. The results are not surprising. Fifty-seven percent of men believe that the courts favor women. However, of the men who have been through divorces, an overwhelming 74 percent believe that the court is biased towards women. Conversely, 58 percent of women believe that the court is fair to both men and women. Interestingly, women who have been through divorces are more likely than single or married women to believe that the courts either favor men or show no bias at all.

Divorce is contentious, and it is easy to see how both sides may feel disadvantaged by the proceedings.

Bias against Fathers' Rights

Usually, the main focus of the court in divorce and custody proceedings is the best interest of any children involved. But, in some ways, the law is sometimes slightly more favorable to mothers than to fathers.

Pre-natal Health Care

Before a child is born, the mother retains most decision-making rights regarding an unborn child. If mother and father disagree on treatment, the mother's wishes will often outweigh the father's. This is not because the law favors mothers over fathers. Instead, the law views healthcare decisions as an individual right, and is very reluctant to force the healthcare decisions of the father on the mother.

Also, privacy laws allow mothers to prevent fathers of unborn children from being present at doctor's appointments or look at the mothers' test results. Once the child is born, fathers do have the right to see the child's medical records.

Abortion

In the case of abortion, the mother's wishes again trumps the father's wishes. When the two disagree, a father cannot require or prevent a mother from having an abortion. In Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, the Supreme Court found that since the woman carries the pregnancy, she has the power of choice. Any law requiring a father's consent for an abortion is unconstitutional.

Custody

In the case of unwed mothers and fathers, the mother often has custody of the child first. The father must establish paternity in order to gain access to the child. Rarely does the court award sole custody to an unwed father unless he can show that the mother is unfit to care for the child.

According to a 2011 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, 82.2 percent of custodial parents are mothers, while only 17.8 percent are fathers. These numbers have not changed significantly since 1994. Among custodial parents, 54.9 percent of custodial mothers were awarded child support. However, only 30.4 percent of custodial fathers were awarded child support.

Adoption

Adoptions generally required the consent of both the mother and the father. However, in the case of unwed parents, the father, again. must first establish paternity to gain the parental right to object to adoption. Failure to do so would demonstrate the father's lack of commitment to parenting the child. Courts have often ruled that fathers unaware of the existence of their children may not later object to the children's adoption.

These quirks in the laws may be why many men feel that the court is biased against them. What do you think? Do you believe that the court favors men or women?

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