In custody cases, do courts favor mothers over fathers?

Officially, the answer to this question is a resounding “No”. The gender of the parents is not included among the factors that the court considers when deciding on the best interests of the children in a case involving child custody. Maryland law on child custody includes no preference for the mother or the father.

Unofficially, the answer is “Sometimes”. It is a fact that mothers do obtain custody more often than fathers. One could debate the reasons for this, but I believe that there are three possible reasons. First, some judges may unconsciously believe that mothers are better parents than fathers. When deciding on custody, their bias may creep into their decision, even if they don’t mention gender as their ultimate justification.

Second, more mothers than fathers insist on obtaining custody and, therefore, request custody more often and are more persistent in their request for custody during the long duration of the court proceeding. And third, mothers’ lives may tend to be better able to accommodate having custody of children—often having a stronger network of family and friends who are able to share the burden and often having less demanding work schedules.

Based on my experience practicing family law in Anne Arundel County and other counties in Maryland, I believe that the second and the third possible explanations account for most of the cases in which, between two equally fit parents, the court awards custody to the mother rather than the father.

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