It used to be unusual for a father to receive custody of his children in a divorce. In recent years, however, more fathers are insisting that they be awarded either sole custody or joint custody of their children. This has led to a mistaken perception that fathers are having to fight against the current child custody laws in order to exercise their rights as parents. The truth is that the laws here in California and around the country do not mention gender, but instead put the focus where it should be -- on the best interests of the children.
Of course, what is often in the children's best interest is to have equal access to both parents, but the realities of making such an arrangement work when a California couple divorces or separates may be too complex to overcome. Therefore, judges have the unenviable task of using largely subjective factors to make a determination of how to best ensure the safety, happiness and appropriate development of the children. Under ordinary circumstances, the courts will attempt to make a decision that is least likely to disrupt the children's lives. In many cases, keeping the children in the same home, school and neighborhood will help accomplish that goal.
Outside of maintaining the status quo for the children's day-to-day lives, the courts also consider factors specific to each parent. A parent's health (both physical and mental) is examined, along with any potential abuse of drugs or alcohol. If there is a history of excessive discipline, domestic violence or child abuse, those factors are certainly going to affect who is given primary custody of the children. Other special needs of the children are examined as well.
These are just some of the factors taken into consideration when a court makes a ruling regarding child custody. The strengths and weaknesses of each parent are equally weighed. The difference between the past and present may simply be that a major shift has occurred in how society views the roles that each parent plays in raising the children. Since more fathers are taking on the primary responsibility for the care of the children during the marriage, they are also being awarded custody more often.
Source: FindLaw, "Focusing on the "Best Interests" of the Child", Accessed on June 3, 2015