Jun 15, 2022
Tender Years Doctrine and Child Custody Today
In the early and mid-twentieth century, the prevailing wisdom was that children, in their tender years, belong in the custody of their mother. The tender years were originally defined as four years and younger, but the notion of tender years expanded, in practice, to include all children, especially those under the age of 10.
Debbie Y. Schneider, Esq., an Attorney at Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation talks about the history of the Tender Years Doctrine and discusses how it has changed for child custody today.
This was known as the tender years doctrine and it was the reality in all fifty states, including Pennsylvania. In colonial America, custody was typically given to fathers, but after the Industrial Revolution, men went to work outside of the home, and the care of children became the province of women.
The tender years doctrine resulted in women, almost by default, given primary physical custody of their children in a divorce. The Father was often given a secondary parenting role, known as partial physical custody. The typical custodial schedule for fathers was every other weekend and Wednesday evenings for dinner. This custodial schedule often resulted in father’s weakened relationship with the children, and mother’s financial outlook being compromised.
Slowly, the tender years presumption was replaced by the best interest of the children which placed the emphasis not on the parents, but on the children, where it should be. Today, both parents are considered equally capable of parenting the children.
At the Alpha Center, our parenting mediators encourage both parents to be substantially involved in not only the decisions that have to be made, but the day-to-day custodial responsibilities of caring for children. As a practical matter, custody schedules are impacted by the needs of the children, and the daily demands of work, etc., but there is no longer any bias for or against either the mother or father.
Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation