Despite myth, Nevada does not give child custody preference to mothers

A common misconception about divorce cases in Nevada is that the law gives preference to mothers when deciding child custody matters. This is not true. If the parents cannot agree on custody matters themselves during the divorce process with which the judge approves, then the judge must decide custody based on the best interests of the child regardless of the gender of the parent given custody.

However, though there is no law granting preference, many people do perceive a gender bias in the system. Two articles in the Huffington Post demonstrate some of the popular views on gender bias. One article lamented that mothers who do not have custody of their children are seen as "derelicts." Another article spoke to society's traditional view that mothers are inherently better parents than fathers.

Historically, it has been true that the law gave preference to mothers over fathers. The "Tender Years" doctrine, which is no longer in use, held that children under 13 should go to their mothers unless there were good reasons the father should obtain custody. Nevada law now specifically mandates that preference must not be given solely for the reason the parent is the mother or the father of the child. Instead, the "Best Interests" standard looks to, among other things:

  • The child's preference, so long as the child understands the decision he or she is making
  • What preference the parents have regarding custody
  • Which parent will cooperate and foster a relationship between the child and non-custodial parent
  • Any conflicts between the parents
  • The mental and physical health of those involved
  • The child's developmental needs
  • Whether there is a history of abuse or domestic violence

The court can take other factors into account when deciding child custody, so long as it is not specifically barred by law. The judge can decide whether to give the parents joint custody or give the non-custodial parent visitation rights. The Nevada Legislature has made it the policy of the state that both parents should be encouraged to share in child rearing, meaning that judges look to give at least some kind of parenting plan where both parents may have a continuing relationship with the child.

Presenting a good case

While neither a mother nor father is given preference regarding custody, other factors do make a difference in custody decisions. Presenting a good case as to what is in the best interests of the child is the best way to obtain a good custody outcome for all involved. Divorcing parents seeking to maintain a relationship with children after divorce should contact a skilled Nevada divorce lawyer to discuss their situation.