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How does the tender years doctrine affect fathers' rights?

The historical model of the nuclear family included a mother, a father and several children. Under the model the father served as the wage-earning parent while the mother forewent employment outside of the home in order to take care of the kids. In Arizona, and throughout the rest of the country, this model has become painfully outdated as single parent families, same sex parents, blended families and other familial arrangements have emerged.

When parents under the traditional model of a family divorced, courts sometimes applied the tender years doctrine in order to justify giving physical custody to the mothers. The theory behind the tender years doctrine suggests that children of tender or young years need the nurturing of their mothers in order to thrive. As a result, fathers were often denied custody of their young children due to this presumption.

Most American jurisdictions have since dismissed the tender years doctrine and many other factors aside of a child's age are considered when custody decisions are made. Primarily, family courts generally defer to the best interests of the child when making custody determinations, regardless of whether the mother or the father will provide the best arrangement for the child's needs.

Even though the tender years doctrine does not have the same hold over custody matters as it once did, fathers may still face courts that presume that children's mothers are more suitable parents for custody. When this happens, however, fathers should remember that they have rights to custody and visitation with their kids. Attorneys who advocate for fathers' rights can help them prepare for their custody hearings to ensure that their voices are heard when decisions about their kids' physical and legal custody are made.

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