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Testing the fathers' rights hypothesis of unfairness toward men

It’s certainly no secret in the terrain of family law: Men -- many males, indeed -- believe without doubt that courts are typically predisposed against their interests and far too often side with women almost instinctively.

And that perceived inequity is said to extend across a wide plateau of important considerations, from paternity, legitimation and child custody/visitation to child support, spousal maintenance (alimony) and additional matters.

How true is that? Do fathers’ rights advocates have a legitimate claim that judicial outcomes in family law matters far too frequently favor female litigants?

Talk about your sensitive subjects. The answer to such a question will of course depend on the party being asked, with the fathers’ rights debate being, above all, an animated subject with arguments that both bolster and refute the positions of participants on both sides.

Notwithstanding what research might indicate, though, myriad studies show that many men simply do harbor reservations about being treated fairly in court. They hesitate invoking the legal process, and they fear the worst when a court order issues.

Is that fear justified?

Judges are human beings and, even though they are highly trained, they still bring a certain set of values, ethics and personal viewpoints to their jobs. It seems unarguable -- and few commentators in fact do argue it anymore -- that courts did routinely favor women in family law matters for decades.

Many writers and researchers stress these days, though, that perceptions about male and female parenting roles have changed materially from earlier years and that court outcomes clearly reflect a changing judicial viewpoint. One child custody-related study revealed, for example, that shared custody orders approximately doubled over a recent decade.

Things are unquestionably different nowadays than they were in former years. More women work outside the home. More men tend to household tasks and have assumed a child-rearing role inside the home.

Family law outcomes necessarily reflect such changes. As a result, the fathers’ rights debate has been modified somewhat in its tone and particulars.

That doesn’t mean it has been muted, though. It seems a virtual certainty that fathers’ rights issues and arguments will centrally mark the legal landscape for years to come.

Source: Slate Magazine, "Dad’s day in court,” Hanna Rosin, May 13, 2014

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