Role of Gender in Custody

Many parents who are considering custody litigation still assume or inquire as to a gender preference in custody. It is true that moms used to be the preferred custodians for minor children over dads. During the early twentieth century the custody laws of nearly all the states endorsed this view as well. There was a shared misconception that moms would be the better parents based on their natural nurturing instincts. This was especially true of young children or children of “tender years.” In fact, a legal principle termed the “tender years doctrine” called for mothers to have custody of children until they were at least approaching their teenage years.

However, at this point, there are no remaining custody laws that include a presumption in favor of one parent over the other based solely on gender. The Supreme Court of the United States found that the tender years doctrine was a violation of the Fourteenth amendment of the Constitution, providing for equal protection for all, since it impermissibly discriminated against men based on their gender. The tender years doctrine was replaced in most states with an analysis based on the best interests of the child. Pennsylvania is among the states that uses a best interest analysis and the statute discussing the factors to be considered under a best interests analysis is 23 Pa. C.S. 5328. So whether you are a mom or dad, your opportunity to receive custody is the same. It is important to become familiar with the relevant factors in a custody decision and determine which factors weigh in your favor in order to present a winning argument for custody.