Do Mothers Get Physical Custody More Often Than Fathers?

Posted on May 26th, 2021

Pennsylvania currently uses the “best interest of the child” standard for child custody, which legally means the court has to look at both parents fairly. There are no longer any legally backed assumptions that a child should live with their mother after a divorce because the mother is arbitrarily better for the child. This means that in the Keystone State, physical custody is awarded to the parent who proves to be the better primary custodian, or caregiver.

If two parents agree, they can both share physical custody, and be awarded joint physical custody. Also, if both parents both prove relative equals as caregivers to the court, they can receive joint physical custody. Otherwise, the court will decide who is awarded custody and what kind based on a few factors: who is the best primary caregiver, the bond between you and your child, the bond between your child and the other parent, and more.

In Pennsylvania, the courts tend to prefer joint custody to keep both parents in the child’s life. The goal is to reduce the risk that one parent’s relationship with their child may dwindle after the divorce. Then, in the cases where that’s not possible, mothers tend to receive sole physical custody more often than the father.

Why is this the Case?

Last year, single/divorced mothers with physical custody of their children made up “25% of all mothers living with children,” while single/divorced fathers with physical custody of their children made up “less than 8% of all fathers living with their children in the U.S.”

If the law dictates that the courts cannot prefer the mother over the father based on outdated values, why are women still commonly awarded custody by a large margin? Turns out, there are several key factors that play a part in the court’s decisions on custody. Mothers commonly being the parent with physical custody is more a result of common circumstances and less a result of court bias.

Primary Caregiver

We mentioned the concept of a primary caregiver before; the person who takes care of the child’s most basic needs on a regular basis. These needs include feeding, bathing, grooming, and clothing the child as needed.

While more women are in the workforce today compared to one or two decades ago, women are still more likely to be the primary caregiver than men. There are more at-home mothers than fathers today, though that number is changing. Even in homes where both parents work, it’s common for couples to agree that mothers spend more time with their children.

A Positive Parent-Child Bond

This fact is typically directly linked to the primary caregiver, but not always. The bond between the parent and child is important to dictating who is the most capable of raising them if left without the other parent’s help. It’s common for the parent who spends the most time with the child to have a stronger relationship with said child, than a parent who might be distant, figuratively and/or literally.

If the couple does not agree on whether one parent has a stronger bond than the child, the court will look at the evidence each parent provides. At times, the judge will speak to the child[ren] on the matter. When joint custody cannot be established, the court has commonly awarded the parent with the stronger parent-child bond, sole physical custody. Commonly, for many different reasons, this has been the mother.

A Negative Parent-Child Bond

Sometimes, it’s not necessarily that one parent seems like they have a healthier bond with your child, but that one parent has a negative bond. If one parent hasn’t tried to garner a healthy relationship with their child, the court takes notice. The court especially takes notice of any reports of one parent trying to poison their child’s relationship with the other parent.

Even if your bond with your child is not as strong as you would like it, if your ex is proven to be mentally manipulative and/or abusive in any way towards you or your child, you would receive child custody. Sadly, it’s not entirely unheard of for broken homes to contain an abusive parent.

Statistics show that in the United States, “1 in 4 women” experience some form of physical violence from their partner, which is less than “1 in 9 men.” Abuse of any kind is serious, but when women are more often the victim than men, this would affect how many cases would see the mother given sole physical custody to protect the children. While mothers have been found to be guilty of child abuse more often than fathers, this is commonly not proven or known to the court at the time of the divorce for a number of reasons.

Parents Themselves Agree that a Child Should be with Their Mother

Believe it or not, “census data reports found that in around 51 percent of the cases involving the custody of the child, both parents mutually come to the agreement that mothers should serve as the custodial parent.” Why and how these parents decided this, we are not privy to. This does change the fact that other divorcees commonly decide to give the mother sole physical custody.

These times when the parents agree, rather than the courts, do affect many statistics inquiring into whether one gender commonly gets child custody over the other. It colors the long-held idea that mothers get physical custody of their children more than fathers.

Do You Need Help Getting Custody Rights?

If you’re a parent, father or mother, trying to decide and/or gain some type of physical custody of your child, Kalinoski Law Offices is here to help and mediate. We will vigorously represent your divorce case against your spouse, or mediate between the two of you. We are an experienced Scranton law firm waiting for your call. Contact us to set up a consultation.

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Craig Kalinoski
Craig Kalinoski

Craig P. Kalinoski is a respected attorney serving clients in Scranton, Pennsylvania. With a focus on Family Law, Criminal Defense, and Civil Rights, he has established himself as a top-rated legal professional. Recognized as a Rising Star and admired by peers, Craig's commitment to excellence sets him apart in the legal field.


We fight for the rights of our clients in a wide spectrum of practice areas, ranging from criminal defense to family law and personal injury.

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