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California law states that in child custody matters, the primary standard must be the best interests of the child. The law does not state that one parent should generally receive sole physical custody, and nowhere does the law direct judges to favor mothers over fathers.

But when parents cannot work out a child custody plan on their own using negotiations or mediation, a Family Court judge must take on the responsibility. While judges know the law thoroughly and strive to apply it fairly, they are human. Like the rest of us, they have unconscious biases that can affect their judgment.

The question of whether child custody rulings favor mothers over fathers has been controversial for decades. Many family law attorneys and parents deny that fathers do not get fair consideration; others are convinced that such a bias permeates California’s family law system. A 2018 study from the University of Illinois may provide some support for the latter theory.

Study finds apparent gender bias in child custody cases

In the study, 372 judges who had recently heard a child custody case were presented with written scenarios about custody disputes, and asked to resolve them. So were a number of laypeople to act as a control.

The judge’s “rulings” could seem to show a slight bias toward mothers. On average, they granted mothers about half a day more custody per week. That would work out to an extra two days per month and 24 days per year. To compare, the laypeople granted the hypothetical mothers about .15 more days of custody per week.

Reaching a fair result in your custody dispute

As a father, you cannot choose which judge will preside over your divorce and child custody matter. The best way for you to resolve your custody dispute with your ex is to settle out of court, either through traditional negotiations and mediation.