Many fathers in Illinois are afraid that they will be treated unfairly if they go to family court to resolve a child custody dispute. While this is a common belief, it may speak more to a historical situation than to present-day legal practices. In the past, mothers were far more likely to be primary caregivers. Fewer women worked outside the home for reasons other than necessity, and many women were systematically denied access to and opportunities in the workplace. In addition, fathers were viewed mainly as providers rather than as nurturing figures in a child's life.
These kinds of gendered stereotypes affected family court decisions. Children were far more likely to be placed in the primary custody of their mothers. Fathers were awarded visitation, but joint custody was rare. However, family courts have since taken a different approach. In most places, joint custody with a strong relationship with both parents is preferred by the courts. Scientific research backs up the importance of a close relationship between children and both parents, absent an environment of neglect or abuse. Family courts should make their decision based on the individual case and the best interests of the child, not beliefs about gender and the proper role of each parent.
Of course, some judges may still struggle with outdated or stereotypical beliefs. Fathers may feel that they need to do more to prove that they have a loving, nurturing role to play in their children's development. This may be especially true if the child in question is very young. However, public policy tends to prefer a joint or shared custody model.
Parents who divorce or separate are often most concerned about how to preserve their relationship with their children. A family law attorney may be able to help fathers and mothers secure a fair child custody agreement and visitation schedule.