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Do Men Get Fair Treatment In Washington Family Courts?

A common worry among men in a divorce or paternity case involving opposite-sex couples is that Washington courts are pro-woman and will be biased against them.

Child Custody

In the past, courts did use the “tender years” doctrine when awarding custody. This doctrine assumed that women are better at caring for young children and made decisions about custody based on that assumption.

The standard in custody cases now is the “best interests of the children”. There might be some holdover bias in favor of women, but it is becoming less and less noticeable as time goes by. There was a bias toward giving one parent most of the time, with the other parent having every other weekend. The assumption was that children need a “home base” to feel stable. As more research is done, and developmental psychologists weigh in, courts are more inclined to order 50-50 parenting plans as regular time with both parents is seen as more important than the children having a “home base”. Being exposed to conflict is much more harmful than not having a ”home base”, assuming there is any harm in that, and regular contact with both parents is seen as in the children’s best interest.

Property Division

Washington is a no-fault state. That means the law does not allow judges to divide property or award spousal maintenance based on who is to blame for the marriage ending. However, many men think Washington courts will blame them for the divorce and punish them by awarding more property to the woman than the man. The reality is that Washington courts follow the law and mostly look at what property the parties have to divide and divide it equally.

Spousal Maintenence

Spousal maintenance (alimony) is awarded based on, to summarize very briefly, one party’s ability to pay and the other party’s needs. If one party stayed home to care for the house and the kids while the other built a career, the court may use that when deciding upon spousal maintenance. More and more the courts are seeing situations where men stay home to care for the kids while women pursue a career, and award maintenance accordingly.

Child Support

Child support is based on the parent’s income and a worksheet that determines the amount of child support. It is possible to deviate from the worksheet if there is a good reason. When a parenting plan is 50-50 and the party’s incomes are nearly the same, often the court awards no monthly child support payment. The court does not consider whether the man or the woman is paying, or at least the law does not allow them to consider that.

Our Jobs As Lawyers

There may be some hold over ideas, like the memory of the “tender years” doctrine that influences judges. Washington is a progressive state with a commitment to gender equity, and that causes some men to believe they will get unfair treatment. It is our job as lawyers to focus on the law and advise our clients that they should focus on the law rather than worry about bias. Whether our clients are men or women, we take our job of guiding people through the legal system. Especially at the beginning of a case, it is our job to address these worries and advise our clients against making decisions based on their fears of bias in the court system.

If you have any questions or need assistance with the divorce process, contact us at View Ridge Family Law & Estate Planning to discuss your needs at 206-589-8684 today.

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