In the early 20th century, divorce wasn’t as common, as it was considered taboo. As women gained more rights and freedoms, the divorce rate began to skyrocket. And over time, divorce laws, especially those surrounding child custody and child visitation rights, began evolving. Here, we’ll take a look at the history of child custody law in the United States.
Early Days of Child Custody
When colonists began to settle in the United States, they were subject to English common law. During these times, the father was granted custody of his children following divorce. As the Industrial Revolution took place, fathers left their farms in search of work. Mothers were left behind to take care of the children. This shift in family structure was influential to custody decisions in divorce cases.
During the 19th century, it was not uncommon for courts to grant child visitation rights to non-custodial parents. These “access” rights gave the non-custodial parent the right to visit their child “at all reasonable times.” The rights were flexible and a schedule was put into place by the custodial parent. Child visitation rights could be denied if family law courts believed the children were at risk of harm by the non-custodial parent.
Later, many states in the U.S. adopted the Tender Years Doctrine. This law, which was passed by the British Parliament in 1873, presumed that children 16 years and younger were best left in the care of their mother following divorce. This law persisted for nearly a century.
Revolutionary Changes To Child Custody
During the 1960s, there was a divorce boom, which continued for a few decades. A debate regarding parental roles began to emerge as women became more involved in the gender equality movement and father’s rights groups became more and more prevalent.
By this time, the Tender Years Doctrine had become dated, and was soon replaced with a vague but inclusive standard. Judges would use their discretion to base decisions on what they believed was in the “best interest of the child.” Many custody battles soon became bitterly contested and long-fought.
One positive that came from the best interest standard was the birth of joint custody agreements. During the 1970s, the field of child development began to take note of the shifting gender roles in families, as well as the effect fathers had. By 1979, California became the first state to pass a joint custody statute. Other states followed suit, and by 1991, over 40 states had put into place statutes with joint custody as an option or preference for divorcing couples. These changes have lead to the modern legal custody system we have today.
If you have any questions about your custodial rights during or after divorce, contact Simon Law Group, PLLC, today. They’ll be happy to assist you, as we have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in family law matters.