Does a Parent’s Gender Matter in Custody Decisions?

When couples are fighting over child custody, there is a pervasive myth that the courts will usually prefer a mother over a father when issuing an order. While this might have been true in the past, times and attitudes have changed. Currently, courts grant custody based on the best interests of the child; that is, focusing on how the child will be raised, nurtured and supported, and they usually prefer parents to share these responsibilities equally.

Understanding Custody

The first thing parents should do when seeking custody is to learn about and understand the different types of custody and what they entail. When courts speak about custody, they refer to two main types: physical and legal. When physical custody is granted, the specifics of where the child will spend their actual time are established. When legal custody is granted, the specifics about who will make legal decisions pertaining to the child’s education, health care, religion and other important details are established. For each of these two types of custody, parents might be granted primary custody, joint custody, or sole custody.

In most situations, parents are granted joint legal custody, where both parents are involved in making the important decisions regarding their child’s upbringing. Physical custody is more nuanced though courts still prefer parents sharing custody or joint custody. Primary custody is granted when the child will live with one parent the majority of the time, and the other parent has visitation rights. Sole custody, legally and physically, is rare and is granted when there are very specific conditions, and the court feels that living with one of the parents threatens the best interests of the child. A New Jersey family law attorney can help you understand the details when it comes to custody issues.

The Best Interests of the Child

The goal of all child custody decisions is to ensure that the child grows up in a stable, loving environment where they receive love and support. Stability is important, both emotionally and physically, so courts want to make sure that the child will be equally comfortable in the home of either parent, particularly when they move from one home to the other around the parenting schedule.

Factors That Affect Custody

When courts are deciding how to award custody, they look at a variety of factors that can affect the child’s well-being as they grow up. A parent’s gender is not one of them as these factors focus on where and with whom the child’s physical, emotional and mental health will be best protected. In many cases, both parents can equally provide the necessary nurturing and support for the child, and this is what the courts prefer. In others, different parenting arrangements are made depending on the family’s circumstances. Some of the factors that courts consider when making custody decisions include:

  • Each parent’s physical and mental health
  • The child’s physical, educational, emotional and health needs
  • The child’s preference about which parent they would like to live with if the child is old enough
  • The relationship between the child and each parent
  • Each parent’s behavior when it comes to encouraging the relationship with the other parent and the child
  • Any history of physical abuse, domestic violence, neglect or substance abuse in the family

Preparing for a Custody Case

During a custody case, both parents will be required to present evidence to support their petition. You need to be ready to show the court that you have your child’s best interest in mind. You can seek guidance from our New Jersey family law attorney, who can explain the laws regarding custody and can help you prepare your evidence.

Morgenstern and Rochester Can Assist You with Your Custody Process

We know that your child’s well-being is the most important to you. You can contact us at (856) 489-6200 for a consultation or visit our Cherry Hill office to get started with your process.