Why Child Custody Has Changed in California

Growing up, you can probably remember that most children of divorced parents seemed to live primarily with their mothers. Such children would live with their mothers the majority of the time, while they’d see their fathers once a week for dinner and every other weekend – that was a typical child custody and visitation arrangement in the 1980s and 1990s. Fast-forward to today, and much has changed.

Today’s child custody laws are “gender neutral.” The California family courts no longer give preference to a mother over a father, meaning, fathers have equal consideration in a child custody case. In light of this, the question is, “Why have the family courts changed so fathers are given the same consideration as mothers?”

Societal Shifts Have Impacted Child Custody

Our society has changed dramatically since World War II, especially since millions of women had to turn in their aprons for full-time jobs while their husbands were away at war. Today, working mothers are no longer the exception, they’re becoming the norm. This alone has changed family dynamics. More (and more) children are being born to mothers who work full-time before their children are born, and who go back to work after six weeks of maternity leave.

What does this mean? It means that millions of American children have not one, but two parents who work full-time. Mothers are not necessarily the primary caregivers; this responsibility is often shouldered by mothers and fathers equally. Not only that, but never before have we had so many stay-at-home fathers as we do today. If a mother is the breadwinner and the father takes care of the children full-time, shouldn’t fathers receive equal consideration in child custody disputes?

Factors that contributed to amended child custody laws:

  • More women working because of World War II
  • The rise and popularity of feminism
  • The rise in women in the workforce
  • The number of men being primary caregivers
  • Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide
  • The support of gender neutrality

We mentioned the rise of women in the workforce and how this has changed parents’ caregiving roles. But what do the statistics say? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 74.6 percent of women are working in the civilian labor force. Of all U.S. workers, nearly 47 percent are women. What’s more, women own nearly 10 million businesses in the U.S.

“Seventy percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent employed full-time,” the DOL reports. What about female breadwinners? According to the DOL, mothers are either the primary earners or the breadwinners of 40 percent of American households with children under the age of 18. So, those statistics certainly explain a few things in regards to the changes in child custody laws.

Joint Physical Custody After Divorce

With the shift in society’s views towards child custody, the family courts across the country have begun to lean towards joint physical and legal custody arrangements, and in many cases, this is a very good thing. In the 1970s and 1980s, countless fathers of divorce fell by the wayside. Back in those days when parents would split up, the dads would often fade out of the picture, while the single mothers would essentially raise the children all by themselves. This often happened because fathers were seen as expendable, while mothers were considered to be absolutely vital.

Since then, numerous studies have been conducted on the negative ramifications of an absent father and the advantages of joint physical custody. When children spend at least 35 percent with one of the parents, rather than living with one parent and having visits with the other, children experience better relationships and they do better socially, academically, and psychologically. They also get better grades, are less susceptible to anxiety and depression, and are likely to drink alcohol, smoke and use illegal drugs.

Edward Kruk Ph.D. writes in Psychology Today, “I am persuaded, by the weight of scientific evidence, that equal parenting is a viable option to the present destructive adversarial ‘winner-take-all’ ‘primary parent’ divorce system, for both young and older children, and for those in high conflict as well as cooperative households.”

In the absence of domestic violence, substance abuse, crippling disability, criminal behavior, and serious mental illness, joint physical custody can be an excellent alternative for divorcing parents, especially if the parents intend to continue living near each other. If you are considering a joint legal and physical custody arrangement, here are some tips on making that objective a success:

  • Live close to your former spouse so it will be convenient to pick your children up and drop them off.
  • Live in the same school zone as your children.
  • Enter an agreement with your former spouse to treat each other with dignity and respect regardless of how you feel about each other.
  • Get involved in your child’s extracurricular and school activities.
  • Be flexible with your spouse about scheduling and expect him or her to do the same.
  • Don’t make school and extracurricular events awkward. Be nice to your former spouse, smile and help your children feel comfortable.
  • Don’t badmouth your former spouse to teachers, neighbors and other members of your community.

“For decades, there was a widely held belief they should have one home with the primary caretaker, often the mother. But that status quo is changing,” Belinda Luscome wrote in TIME Magazine. According to Michael Lamb, who teaches psychology at the University of Cambridge, with the exception of a mitigation factor, such as child abuse or mental illness, many experts agree that children are happier and healthier when they can maintain and build meaningful relationships with both parents, and this often translates to spending a significant amount of time under each parent’s roof.

Related: “Tips on Writing a Parenting Plan”

Need a Los Angeles child custody lawyer? If so, contact our firm to schedule a free, confidential consultation.