Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Department of Criminal Justice Sciences
Over the last several decades, nearly all of the states have formed task forces to look at the perception of a gender bias within the family court systems as they pertain to child custody. This self-scrutiny has included the attitudes of judges and attorneys within the system and the need of reform of our family courts. This research focused on replicating a study conducted by Dotterweich and McKinney that was completed in 2000 that compiled statistics from four different state task forces in Maryland, Missouri, Texas, and Washington. This research focused on Illinois judges and attorneys, using the same questions and response categories as Dotterweich and McKinney to determine if perceptions still existed of favoritism towards the mother in awarding custody of the children, even while state laws mandated equal treatment. An additional variable was introduced, specifically, if the dependent variable of the “deadbeat dad” effects the presiding judge’s decision of awarding custody and does this negative perception of males help favor mothers in these disputes. E-surveys were sent to 1,910 judges and attorneys in the state of Illinois, with all 102 counties represented, the aim of which was to provide a “perspective regarding attitudes towards gender bias in child custody cases” (Dotterweich & McKinney, 2000). Of the 1,910 surveys sent, 183 responses were returned; 160 (87.4%) attorneys participated and 23 (12.6%) judges. Of the 160 attorneys, 103 (65.9%) of the participants were male and 57 (34.1%) were female. In compiling the results, over a third of the attorneys (35.6%) felt that judges favored the mother “always or usually” when awarding child custody, whereas, only 4.4% of the judges perceived this bias. Less than half of the attorneys (40.6%) “always or usually” hold the opinion that fathers are given fair consideration in child custody matters, and yet 78.3% of judges hold the same opinion. Neither attorneys (5.0%) nor judges (8.7%) “always or usually” hold the opinion that financial standing matters as is also the case with employment outside the home (19% for attorneys and 0% for judges). Deadbeat dads as a dependent variable has no significantly statistical relationship in regards to decision making on child custody awards. Overall, attorneys perceive that mothers continue to be favored in custody cases but not to the same degree as in the Dotterweich & McKinney study; judges do not share this opinion.
Ronnfeldt, Derek K., "Does Gender Still Matter? Child Custody Bias in the Illinois Family Court System" (2016). Theses and Dissertations. 631.