History of Gender Bias in Family Law
Gender bias in American family law can be traced back to the laws of ancient Rome (Gallo, 2004) which embraced patria potestas that granted men superior legal and social position compared to females. Women and children were considered as property of men who were granted absolute rights over their children (Gallo, 2004). In deed, in the early 19th century the law courts used to grant child custody upon request. However, legal supremacy enjoyed by men faded as the society experienced transformation prompting men to relocate to industrial world away from the traditional setting of home based agriculture (Gallo, 2004). Consequently, the law started acknowledging women as primary care givers and adopted the tender years doctrine which allowed child custody to women in the late 19th and 20th century.
In the 1960s, women fought effortlessly for the formulation and implementation of laws that protected women against rampant domestic violence, sexual abuse among other violations The process was challenging and took a long time before the law to finally acknowledged violence against women as a reality consequently creating provisions to protect them (Harbour, 1998). However, in the 1990s women started using the same laws formulated to protect them to their advantage in divorce cases.
Women used false allegations of domestic violence and abuse to implicate their husbands in order to justify divorce cases and drive legitimate fathers out of their children’s lives (Harbour, 1998). This succeeded in most cases because judges restrained from questioning such allegations as it would be interpreted as prejudice against women or sound politically incorrect.
Reasons why women win custody in most divorce cases
Studies have shown that 70% of the divorce cases filed in courts is filed by women (Harbour, 1998). This increases the percentage of divorce outcomes in favor of women since most men find themselves in the defensive side whereby the entire burden of prove against all allegations planted by the plaintiff lies on them. These allegations may be true or untrue and courts should therefore seek to establish the ultimate truth before passing judgment. In addition, the family courts should avoid condoning women allegations and accusations in courts in attempt to avoid social implications associated with such failure since the law is established to ensure that justice prevails in the society regardless of ones social status or gender.
Women are very swift in filing divorce cases and the society orientation in the modern time renders women more believable than men (Harbour, 1998). Women may make false allegations ranging from domestic violence to child abuse and since the American family law is dedicated to protecting the real victims of violence from such acts, women often get their way in most divorce cases. False accusations have persisted in numerous cases and may result in devastating effects on the man’s career as well as his reputation (Harbour, 1998).
Despite evidence from recent statistics that reveal women are increasingly becoming the primary child abusers in the country, American family law still favors the mother as the best parent especially to young children (Harbour, 1998). However, some mothers use emotional and physical blackmail on their children in order for the children to incriminate their fathers on the grounds of child abuse.
Child support laws are often unfairly enforced. A woman may contest for child support in the courts which may be granted while the man who is paying the child support is denied visitation rights. This negatively impacts on the kids as well as the father giving them and overall sense of helplessness as the family law which is supposed to protect all parties equally end up serving the interest of women who are in some cases self centered and driven by personal gain. In fact, some of them are making huge fortunes from divorce settlements transforming divorce to income generating process.
Effects of gender bias on children and their fathers
It is evident that when parents decide to divorce, the children are adversely the most affected. In some cases, the parents agree on custody and visitation issues outside the court and make it clear for their children that the new arrangement is the new version of the family that will come into being after divorce (Gallo, 2004). However, in violent cases of divorce, the parents fail to rise against the prevalent hostility in dealing with such matters.
Consequently, when children witness their parents arguing over these issues, their trauma is intensified (Gallo, 2000). Angry exchanges between parents often lead them to forget the interests of children and instead use the children issues as a tool of vengeance. The man often loses child custody cases and this adversely affects him both psychologically and emotionally. The children often feel unwanted and in some cases blame themselves for the divorce.
Some mothers go as far as blaming the children or the husband for divorce leading to further psychological torture. False allegations have detrimental effects to both fathers and their children. They may lead to parental alienation syndrome in children. The concept of parental alienation has raised a lot of questions in the society raging with rampant separation and divorce for more than a decade. Children may be alienated from their father due to his alleged behavior which may or may not be true.
Mothers often use certain language and expressions that intentionally leads children to develop symptoms of parental alienation syndrome while in other cases the process may be purely unconscious (Kane, 2005). In addition, emotional factors prevalent in the child may promote development of parental alienation syndrome in the child. This may occur in cases where the psychological bond between the child and the mother exceeds that of the disfavored parent (Kane, 2005).
In this case, a child has already lost the father and is unwilling to risk losing the mother. In fact the fear of loss of mother has been attributed as one of the major cause of development of the symptoms of parental alienation syndrome (Kane, 2005). Further, situational factors affect development of parental alienation syndrome. The longer the time a child spends with his mother, the stronger the bond between her and the child (Kane, 2005).
In this case the child will display tendencies of resisting to visit the other parent. In addition, a child may refrain from showing affection to the father as a result of past mistreatment resulting from doing so or similar experience on a sibling. In most cases, the mothers are often over indulging and use any available mechanisms to prevent visitation while the children reciprocate by becoming their fanatics.
Effects of fathers’ absence on children from divorced families
Consensus on research findings on the study of effects of a father’s absence in a child life as a result of divorce has not been established. Contradicting results prompts us to approach the issue by looking at the comparative studies that have been conducted on behavioral trends displayed by children in families that lack a father figure, families that have fathers who are highly involved in the children as well as families headed by a single father. Looking at these trends will facilitate our understanding of the effects of lack of a father figure in on children.
Fathers play an important role in development of children in terms of independence and intellectual skills but this is highly influenced by the level of involvement that the parent puts rather than the sex of the parent (Golombok, 2000). Studies reveal that children from divorced families had reduced level of social functioning in comparison to children from intact families. They further displayed lower prosocial and positive interactions with peers as well as behavioral deficits. In addition, children raised by a single mother stand a higher chance of developing psychological problems as well as performing poorly in school relative to children who had a father.
The real question remains as to what percentage of these deficits can be attributed to the absence of a father and whether they do result from actual absence of a male figure at home or the general lack of a second parent (Golombok, 2000). Shinn reviewed the effects of absence of the father on cognitive development and concluded that the deficits could be attributed to financial hardships anxiety and reduced level of parent child interaction rather than paternal absence (Guttman, 1993).
Fathers often appear to have considerable and unique influence on their children sex roles behaviors (Golombok, 2000). We can therefore attribute reduced levels of feminism among girls raised in families where the father was absent and less elements of masculinity among boys in these families to lack of a father figure at home. However, various researches has shown that the absence of a father has little impact in the sex role development of children and parents make insignificant difference in determining the level of masculinity and feminism in their children (Golombok, 2000). Studies on single father cases have further shown that boys have better adjusting skills if they live with their fathers than with their mother (Golombok, 2000).
Other researchers compared children in families with divorced parents step fathers and intact families on the basis psychopathology, goal directedness and school related problems (Guttman, 1993). The writers concluded from their findings that adjustment of children was negatively related levels of family conflict and positively related to family cohesiveness (Guttman, 1993). In addition, teenagers from divorced families registered lower scores of confidence levels relative to their counterparts from intact families and had a negative attitude towards their mothers. However, they found that psychological adjustment was unrelated to family structure (Guttman, 1993).
Further, these children registered low scores in terms of self acceptance, self control and sociability while other studies showed high levels of independence and delinquencies among boys who were raised by mothers in divorced families. In conclusion, the family law should be unbiased in its determination of divorce cases and should uphold the interest of the child throughout the process.
Gallo, N. R. (2004). Introduction to family law. New York: Cengage learning publishers.
Golombok, S (2000). Parenting: what really counts, London: Routledge publishers.
Guttman, J. (1993). Divorce in psychosocial perspective: theory and research. London: Routledge.
Harbour, P (1998): Gender bias in our family court system, Pearle Harbour. Web.
Kane, W. A & Ackerman, J. M. (2005). Psychological experts in divorce actions. New York: Aspen publishers.