What is the Fathers' Rights Movement?

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Traditionally, mothers were considered the primary caretakers of children, but in recent years, more fathers are seeking custodial rights. This lesson will review the Fathers' Rights Movement as it relates to child custody.

Dave and Janet's Divorce

After almost 13 years of marriage, Dave and Janet have decided to call it quits. They have two minor children ages 6 and 8, and custody decisions need to be made. Dave and Janet both want primary custody and cannot come to an agreement. When efforts to mediate fail as well, the decision will be left up to the court. Since courts generally favor awarding custody to the mother, Dave is concerned that Janet will have an advantage simply because she is the mother and wonders what exactly his rights are.

The Fathers' Rights Movement - Some History

Prior to the 1970s, divorce, or legal separation of marital ties, was rather uncommon. Couples, especially those with children, tended to stay together even if they did not get along. Divorce was stigmatized by society and only deemed acceptable under worse case scenarios. Societal expectations dictated that parents should stay together for the best interest of their children.

The late 1970s, however, saw a marked increase in the number of marriages that ended in divorce. This can be partly attributed to the rise of feminism and the fact that more women were asserting their rights and claiming their independence. Women were encouraged to leave bad marriages by filing for divorce, and the stigma associated with divorce was lifted even when children were involved. In addition, women were seeking advanced degrees and entering the workforce in large numbers. The traditional roles of women as housewives and men as providers were forever changed.

The increase in divorce rates is what started the fathers' rights movement. Because of the traditional role women had assumed for years as the primary caretakers of children, it was presumed that the courts favored mothers in custody cases even when both parents were equally capable of caring for their children. The fathers' rights movement sought to bring about change in family law and child custody cases by ensuring that fair and unbiased custody decisions were made.

Central Issues of the Fathers' Rights Movement

Advocates of the fathers' rights movement are concerned with several issues related to the rights of fathers. These include:

  • preventing discrimination against paternal custody in divorce cases
  • promoting shared parental responsibility that allows both parents to have equal custody time
  • seeking legal recourse for fathers when mothers don't respect visitation or custody rights
  • allowing fathers to take time off from work for the birth of a child
  • involving fathers in decisions related to termination of pregnancy
  • ensuring equality in child support judgments

Some Data

Statistics tend to show that progress has been made in assuring that fathers are given greater rights in child custody cases. A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin found that there was a significant decrease in mothers receiving primary custody of their children over an approximate ten-year period in the state of Wisconsin. Court decisions that ordered both parents to have equal custody rights also doubled in the same period.

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