and the Fathers’ Rights Movement
by Kyla Ebels-Duggan
Recently there has been a flurry of interest and activity, both scholarly and
political, about the role and importance of fathers in child rearing. One
manifestation of this interest is a movement that began in the United Kingdom,
but is increasingly influential in the United States and Canada, asserting fathers’
rights in custody disputes following divorce. Advocates assert that fathers should
have equal standing with mothers in such cases, and that current practice fails to
grant them this standing.
U ntil the nineteenth century, most Western legal systems granted fathers property
rights in their children and failed to grant mothers any rights at all. Thus,
fathers were almost always able to claim custody successfully after divorce. In
the latter part of the nineteenth century, the “Tender Years Doctrine” displaced
this practice. This view holds that children, especially young children, have
special need of maternal nurture, and that mothers are naturally more suited to
the task of raising young children than fathers are.