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Bias in child custody cases: be aware of the warning signs, P.1

Last time, we wrote about a case in which a mother was unsuccessful in her bid to remove the judge handling an ongoing child custody dispute between her and her ex-husband. As we noted, the request for removal of the judge was based on allegations that the judge was biased toward the husband.

Although bias was not deemed to be a factor in this case, it certainly can become an issue, and it is important for parties to a child custody dispute to pay attention for potential indicators of bias. There are a variety of ways bias can show up in child custody cases, and judges are—or at least should be—aware they need to be careful in how to deal with matters of sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, marital status, and political affiliation. 

Demonstration of preferential treatment of either party or his or her attorney by the judge or court staff based on these factors can give rise to concerns about bias. Judges need to be particularly careful not only to avoid outright bias against parties, but also about allowing prejudicial thinking to slip into their decision-making. Examples include unjustified bias against men who have cared for their children full-time and women who have worked outside the home, or ignoring signs of abuse and violence.

Bias may be witnessed not only in verbal communications, but nonverbal behavior as well, and parties should be attuned to this as well to ensure they are being treated fairly and impartially.

In a future post, we’ll continue with this topic and look at some specific examples of bias, as well as the importance of working with an experienced advocate.

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Bias in child custody cases: be aware of the warning signs, P.1 | Peter A D'Angelo, Attorney at Law, PLC