If you're a father seeking primary custody of your children -- or, at a minimum, even parenting time -- is it possible to get fair treatment in court?
In theory, yes. In practice, however, judges may be prone to letting outmoded ways of thinking affect their decisions. That can include an antiquated view of the role of a father in a child's life and the presumption that women are more suited to raise children than men.
Years ago, most family courts in the United States followed what was known as the "Tender Years" Doctrine. Essentially, the courts believed that small children needed to be with their mothers. Fathers who wanted more than sporadic visitation rights with their young children were at a serious disadvantage. They generally couldn't rely on the argument that they should have equal custody of a child simply because they were that child's father. Instead, they had to prove that the mother was somehow unfit.
Today, judges in Hawaii and elsewhere are supposed to consider the best interests of the child when making decisions about custody. It's generally acknowledged that both parents should play an active role in a child's upbringing, absent any serious concerns about a parent's abilities or behavior.
Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that you won't encounter a judicial dinosaur in the courtroom. Many fathers and their advocates report that there is still a pervasive attitude among older judges that fathers don't need equal parenting time and that children -- especially young children -- are better off in the sole physical custody of their mothers. Men's rights advocates say that fathers often are at a disadvantage -- still -- when it comes to custody fights.
Indeed, the statistics seem to bear that perception out. In 2003, a survey of Minnesota judges revealed that more than half believed children simply belonged with their mothers. A 2013 study in Nebraska showed that mothers were awarded primary or sole custody 72 percent of the time.
You can't guarantee that the judge in your custody case will have a modern mindset when it comes to the equality of parents and gender roles. You can, however, make sure that you have an experienced representative by your side to protect your rights as you fight for custody of your child.