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Why Do Women Win Most Custody Battles?



According to some estimates, only about 10 percent to 15 percent of divorced or single fathers have sole custody of their children. The remaining fathers have either joint custody or no custody of their children. Why do women win custody in such high numbers? There are many reasons.

First, it's important to remember that statistics don't tell the whole story. They fail to take into account the fact that:

  • Couples often privately negotiate custody agreements, and these statistics include couples who have voluntarily agreed that the mother should have sole custody as well as couples that have agreed to joint custody.
  • When children are born to single mothers, the mother automatically has physical and legal custody unless the father steps forward to claim paternity and ask for some form of custody.

It's also important to realize that men are being awarded custody more frequently today than they were 10 or 20 years ago.

Why Do Women Win Custody?

There are many reasons why women win custody in the overwhelming number of cases. Chief among them: Because that's the way it's always been. Traditionally, men worked and women stayed home to raise children. Although that is less frequently the case these days, there is still a bias toward women in child custody cases.

From a biological perspective, we are more inclined to think of the mother-child relationship than the father-child relationship. Many people make the automatic assumption that women are more nurturing as parents than men.

In awarding custody, judges will decide what's in the best interests of the children. In determining "best interests," the judge will look at a number of factors, including:

  • Which parent has the most suitable character and temperament to serve as custodian?
  • What is the child's relationship with each parent?
  • What child-rearing skills does each parent have?
  • Does either parent have an illness or habits that may harm the child?
  • Which parent will provide the best home environment?
  • Does the child have stronger emotional ties to one parent?
  • Is one parent better suited to meet the child's special needs?
  • Who has the child been living with?
  • What is each parent's employment status?
  • What is the financial status of each parent?
  • What is each parent's apparent motive for seeking custody?
  • Is either parent unfit to have custody?
  • Which parent is the most likely to allow the child to continue his or her relationship with the other parent and extended family?

Some of these factors have a natural bias that favors mothers over fathers.

Is Joint Custody a Better Goal?

Arguably, we shouldn't be focusing on why women win custody more frequently, but why more parents don't seek joint-custody arrangements. Barring cases where there is physical or mental abuse or neglect, joint custody may be better for kids and their parents in the long run. According to an article in the Journal of Family Psychology:

"Robert Bauserman, PhD, of the Baltimore Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, reviewed 33 studies that examined 1,846 sole-custody and 814 joint-custody children. Both groups of children were compared with a sample of 251 kids in intact families. Bauserman found that children in joint-custody arrangements had fewer behavioral and emotional problems, higher self-esteem and better family relationships and school performance compared with those in sole-custody situations. And he found no significant difference in adjustment among children in shared custody and those living in intact family situations. Joint-custody children probably fare better, according to Bauserman, because they have ongoing contact with both parents."

How Can You Win Custody of Your Children?

Regardless of whether you're a man or woman, if you want to win custody of your children, you have to demonstrate to the judge that granting you sole custody or joint custody is in the best interests of your children.

To demonstrate that granting you custody is in the best interests of your children, follow these tips:

  • Get temporary custody of your children
  • Show that you are actively involved in your children's lives
  • Create a safe, nurturing home environment for your children
  • Do nothing to sabotage your children's relationship with their other parent
  • Be dependable: Be on time to pick up or drop off your kids, and avoid rescheduling or cancelling plans with your children.
  • Be calm if you need to discuss the custody negotiations with your children.