Perhaps the most widespread myth is the belief that mothers are favored by courts in custody disputes, which stopped being true decades ago. It is true that for roughly the first half of the 1900s the ‘Tender Years Doctrine’ was influential, and mothers had some advantage in gaining custody of young children. (Prior to about 1900, mothers had no rights regarding custody at all.) But in the 1970s the tide was turning back, for various reasons, and by the 1980s fathers were winning at least joint custody in a majority of the custody battles they undertook, and winning sole custody more often than mothers, a situation that remains today. And the fathers who are taking advantage of this imbalance are largely abusive ones; researchers have found that abusers are twice as likely as non-abusive men to seek custody.
Courts are highly reluctant to curtail fathers’ access to their children. As a number of court employees have said to me over the years, ‘There are so many fathers out there who abandon their children, and here I have a dad who wants to be involved; you’re telling me I should discourage him?’ As a result they tend to hold fathers to much lower standards than mothers. Supervised visitation is not often imposed, and usually gets lifted within a few months as long as the father behaves well under supervisions, as most abusive men do.
Lundy Bancroft, When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse, 2004