How do courts view mothers who abandon their family during a divorce?

How does the court view mothers that abandon their family during a divorce?

Generally, with disbelief, at first. Why? A few reasons.

One, to its credit, our culture still holds the concept and institution of motherhood in high esteem, so most people (and judges are people) believe that mothers are good, devoted caregivers. Most mothers are just that. So it is not easy to accept what our senses are conveying when a mother behaves contrary to our cultural expectations. We tend to see mothers as we want to see them, not as they always are.

Two, few bad mothers are honest with the court about being bad mothers. So the false face that most bad mothers present to the court is (primarily, but not solely, because of point number one) not only hard to detect as false, but easily accepted or acceptable as genuine.

  • One way bad mothers divert attention from their faults and misconduct is by blaming the fathers for those faults and misdeeds. Just as we tend to put mothers on a pedestal in our culture, we unfairly tend to see and treat many fathers as second-class parents. The feeling is like, “Yeah, they are important to a child’s upbringing, I guess, but they aren’t as vital and important to a child’s development as a mother, so we give dads less of the benefit of the doubt.” This is so wrong for so many reasons, but nevertheless it happens so often.
    • If kids are abused or neglected, bad mothers blame the guiltless fathers with a high rate of success in court. For example: violence perpetrated by men can be more severe than violence perpetrated by women, so if a child is a victim of domestic violence, it’s easy to assume Dad is the perpetrator (interestingly, FBI statistics show women commit just as much, if not more, domestic violence than men). If Dad has a full-time job, it’s easy to presume that Mom is the full-time caregiver, not a lazy slob who drinks herself numb every day and lets the kids run amok until Dad gets home to restore order and attend to the children’s need.

Three, even when a bad mother’s defects are unavoidably and undeniably exposed, many courts possess surprisingly great supplies of sympathy and forgiveness that they would rarely or not so readily extend to a father. It so often gets framed like this, for example: a mother who abuses drugs or alcohol is a victim whose substance abuse is a cry for help. A father who abuses drugs is a narcissist who lacks self-discipline. A mother with crippling mental health issues is deserving of our concern and rehabilitation. A father with crippling mental health issues is a danger against which the children need protection. I’ve personally witnessed many cases where mom was abusive and/or neglectful and dad was not, yet mom was awarded primary physical custody of the children because the court felt so strongly that the kids “need their mother,” that somehow mom had earned the right to be the custodial parent by virtue of being a woman, and that mom could and would overcome her shortcomings (not because there was credible evidence that she can and wanted to overcome those shortcomings, but because the court had to make such a finding to justify the award of custody to the worse of the two parents).

To be clear, I am not telling you that courts cannot identify bad mothers or that they cannot or will not shield children from bad mothers. Many people—moms and dads alike—when discovered for the mediocre, even dangerous, parents they are, are not awarded child custody and/or are subject to supervision around their children. It can and does happen. But that is not what discussed here. In response to the question of which parent among mothers and fathers gets undeserved breaks more in divorce cases, it is mothers hands down. Now you know some of the main reasons why.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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