Richard A. Warshak, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Throughout history, gender stereotypes have played a key role in child custody dispositions. Despite current gender-neutral statutes, men's advocacy groups claim that custody decisions continue to discriminate against fathers. Women's advocacy groups and the media counter that custody decisions discriminate against mothers. Contradictory perceptions can be traced to the imprecision of the best interest standard, anecdotal cases that have been popularized in the media, a selection bias among cases that are decided in court, the absence of reliable nonpartisan research, distortions of existing research, and implicit assumptions about which parent should get custody. Gender stereotypes that favor mothers' preferential claims to custody are not supported by research, and the primary parent presumption is regarded as seriously flawed. Rather than focus on the demands of adults, custody reform should address the needs of children.