When it comes to child custody, it’s often a difficult battle to fight in courts. But research shows that fathers often get the short end of the stick.
A University of Malta thesis by Kimberly Sammut found that 61% of the randomly selected cases between 2014 and 2018, granted sole custody to the mother. Sole custody for fathers tied with joint custody at 19%, with custody to a third party at just 1%.
It’s worth noting that in most cases that declare the mother to be the sole custodial parent, this was agreed to between the two parents, without the interference of the courts.
And while cases have fluctuated in recent years where the father received sole physical custody, the mother remains the favoured parent in court.
Lawyer Robert Thake explained that while mothers are assumed at the outset to be the natural caregivers of children, the exercise of allocating residence is often non-existent.
“While I do not contest that mothers are often the best caregivers, this is generally the result of factual circumstances brought on by the choices made by the parents during their relationship and not the result of a natural predisposition,” Thake told Lovin Malta.
While more women have entered the labour market in recent years, traditional gender roles are still ripe in Malta.
A gender equality report issued by the European Institute of Gender Equality in 2018 found that women across most EU countries still take on the bulk of the responsibilities at home, while women in Malta are overwhelmingly more involved in daily care activities like caring for children, cooking and tending to housework (85%) than men.
The thesis found a number of factors to explain why mothers got more custody in court.
For example, in cases where the child lives with their mother for the duration of the case, the courts are generally hesitant to alter their living environment, even if the father requests joint custody, arguing it wouldn’t be in the child’s interest.
This means that the child’s interest could come at the expense of the father’s custodial rights.
Additionally, fathers’ rights can face more prejudice in cases that take a substantial amount of time to reach a final decision with the consequence that children come of age before the case is closed.
“If the child’s interests lie with the mother and if the father is only awarded sole custody when the mother is entirely unfit or absent, then there can be no doubt that the father is highly prejudiced,” the work reads.
The father, deprived of custody, more often than not loses his right to continue residing in their matrimonial home, because removing the child would go against the child’s best interest.
Also, the father is not released from the expectation to pay maintenance, whether he is granted custodial rights or not, suggesting the idea that they are merely financial providers.
And while it is true that sometimes courts encroach parental rights, it is held that this encroachment is the only way to safeguard the best interest of the child.
“What is worrying is the supposition that the fathers involved in custody battles can be deprived of their fundamental parent right solely to make the child’s life more bearable,” the thesis reads, adding that the issue of children’s protection should not conversely be taken lightly.
A growing number of parents are being forced to be kept away from their children in Malta.
Last week, Lovin Malta reported about Kyle Borg, a 21-year-old father currently battling for the rights to his two-year-old son Hayes, tackling garnishee order and maintenance, all while living paycheque to paycheque. His child was secretly taken away by his mother and taken to Scotland.
Anthony Cauchi from NGO Happy Parenting Malta For Happier Children regularly raises concerns over fathers’ who have severely limited access to their children. The group has even launched a Christmas campaign to raise awareness about it.
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