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The Dec. 12 front-page article "Shared-parenting bills may reshape custody battles" seemed to take for granted a long-standing myth about custody litigation: that fathers are losing. The reality is that fathers have been winning far more than mothers for decades and that joint custody or shared parenting is already the overwhelming norm in state family courts.

The preference for mothers went out with women's lib; as long ago as the 1980s, studies found that the vast majority (94 percent in one study) of fathers who actively sought custody received sole or joint custody and that fathers received primary physical custody far more than mothers. This preference for fathers manifests in punitive responses to mothers who resist equal "sharing" of the joint "property" (child).

So why keep pushing joint-custody statutes and harping on fathers being cheated in custody? Because it ensures that courts will continue to believe that preferring fathers furthers equality. And because it gives fathers accused of abuse the ultimate weapon: the claim that resistant mothers are just vengeful ex-wives. A recent national study that focused on cases involving claims of "parental alienation" found that when mothers allege abuse in family court, fathers win more (72 percent compared with 67 percent when no abuse was claimed) — and that mothers lose custody half the time regardless of abuse claims. Mothers lose custody the most when they allege child sexual abuse (68 percent). This is the real story.

Joan Meier, Washington

The writer is founder and legal director of DV Leap, which advocates for survivors of domestic violence.