For men and women in their 30s who have decided to get divorced, child custody battles can become the focal point of that split. The kids are still in school, they live at home, and they still need substantial care. You're typically not talking about caring for a 17-year-old for a year before he or she goes to college. You may have kids who are just starting school or who were just born. You're talking about their entire future as children.
It's often said that mothers get preference in child custody battles. Though some dispute this or the reasons for it, reports have shown that mothers tend to be given custody more than fathers.
However, when a significant amount of wealth is involved, and one spouse controls most of that wealth, it's been suggested that this disparity can unfairly swing the case in favor of the richer parent. The basic idea is that the wealthier parent will make a better parent because he or she can buy more for the children, whereas the lower-earning spouse may struggle to make ends meet even with child support. If the court does take this position, some suggest that it would heavily favor fathers, because:
- Women average 77 cents in earnings for every dollar that men earn.
- Childcare is so expensive that some women drop out of the workforce to raise their kids, feeling it's not worth it to pay nearly their whole salary to someone else just to care for the kids. This can mean that women fall behind in the workforce or are entirely unemployed during the divorce.
- It can be very hard to start a career again once stepping aside to raise the kids. When divorce is first mentioned, a mother who quit her job seven or eight years ago probably can't start her career back up instantly.
Of course, there are always exceptions, so it's dangerous to speak in absolutes. There are men who quit their jobs to raise their children while women forge out very successful careers. But, based on observations of those who have been through contentious divorces, these points follow the general trends. These trends can be eye-opening. They show that men who are high earners could, indeed, get preference in child custody cases because of their wealth.
Experts warn that having more money doesn't make a father - or mother, for that matter - a better parent. There is something to be said for being able to provide for the child, but child custody should not be based solely on who can buy more extras. Wealth should only really influence the decision when one parent can't provide for the child's needs, providing a healthy upbringing, and the other can. Even in these situations, no matter who gets custody, child support payments are often used to level the playing field and ensure that the child's needs are met.
Above all else, the child's best interests should drive the case. Parents need to know their rights and their legal options if they think the other parent is unfairly getting an edge.