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The tender years doctrine is a legal principle which has existed in family law since the late nineteenth century. This common law doctrine presumes that during a child's "tender" years (generally regarded as the age of four and under), the mother should have custody of the child. The doctrine often arises in divorce proceedings.

History Edit

Historically the English Family Law gave custody of the children to the father, in case of divorce. Until the nineteenth century the women had few individual rights, most of their rights being derived through their fathers or husbands. In the early nineteenth century, Mrs. Caroline Norton, a prominent British society beauty, feminist, social reformer author, and journalist, began to campaign for the right of women to have custody of their children. Norton, who had undergone a divorce and been deprived of her children, worked with the politicians of those times and eventually was able to convince the British Parliament to enact legislation to protect mothers' rights. The result was the Custody of Infants Act 1839, which gave some discretion to the judge in a child custody case and established a presumption of maternal custody for children under the age of seven years.[1] In 1873 the Parliament extended the presumption of maternal custody until a child reached sixteen years of age.[2] This doctrine spread then in majority of the states of the world as England was controlling a wide empire. By the end of the 20th century this doctrine was abolished in the majority of the states of USA and Europe.

Tender years doctrine application Edit

In United States Edit

Tender years doctrine was also frequently used in the 20th century being gradually replaced towards the end of the century, in the legislation of most states, by the "best interests of the child" doctrine of custody. Furthermore, several courts have held that the tender years doctrine violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In Europe Edit

The Tender Years doctrine was gradually abolished in the majority of the states of the EU. In those states the joint custody is the rule after divorce or the separation of the parents. The Principles of the European Family Law regarding the parental responsibilities mention in clear that the two parents are equal and their parental responsibilities should neither be affected by the dissolution or annulment of the marriage or other formal relationship nor by the legal or factual separation between the parents.[3]

Maternal Preference versus Tender Years Doctrine Edit

Critics of the family court system, and in particular father's rights groups, contend that although the tender years doctrine has formally been replaced by the best interests of the child rule, the older doctrine is still, in practice, the means by which child custody is primarily determined in family courts nationwide. Statistics such as those from the U.S. Census Bureau [4] indicate that family courts still demonstrate an overwhelming preference to place the children of a divorce in the custody of the mother. A study of FACT Canada association shows the mothers is awarded the sole custody or the primary residence in more than 80% of the cases.[5] The situation is not much different in EU countries, for example in Romania the mother is granted custody in over 84.5% of the cases.[6]

Critics maintain that the father must prove the mother to be an unfit parent before he is awarded primary custody, while the mother need not prove the father unfit in order to win custody herself, and that this is contrary to the equal protection clause.

Bibliography Edit

See also Edit

External linksEdit

Notes Edit

  1. Wroath, John (1998). Until They Are Seven, The Origins of Women's Legal Rights, Waterside Press.
  3. The document is issued by Commission on European Family Law and can be consulted here. See Principle 3:10.
  4. US Census - Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2001 [1] October 2003

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