7 Reasons Mothers Lose Custody of their Children

One common myth is that the courts favor mothers when determining child custody, but this has consistently proven to be a misconception. In fact, the court awards child custody to a substantial percentage of fathers each year, and this percentage is predicted to increase as efforts toward parental equality continue.

Even if you are a mother who is awarded custody of your children, it’s possible for your ex to reverse the court’s decision and revoke your rights to custody based on certain circumstances – at any time. Many mothers lose custody of their children from preventable factors.

If you are a mother who is concerned about whether or not you can lose custody of your children, or who is facing an ex challenging your right to custody, read on. In this article, mothers can find out:   

  • The reasons why mothers lose custody
  • The circumstances that will allow your ex to file against you
  • Factors that can help your case if your ex makes claims against you

All of the reasons mentioned herein apply to both unmarried and formerly married couples, as long as they have children together. By educating yourself about the common reasons why mothers lose custody, you can avoid costly litigation and keep your children safe.

How Mothers Lose Custody of their Children

There are a number of ways a mother can lose custody of her children. But in order for a judge to reconsider the court’s decision, all of them must involve solid evidence to back them up. While many of these reasons may sound like common sense, hundreds of mothers have their rights revoked every year due to one of these infractions.

Here are seven of the most common reasons mothers lose custody of their children:

1. Physical Abuse Against a Child or Ex

Some people assume that women are less likely to be physical abusers. Nevertheless, if a mother has been excessively hitting, biting, kicking, scratching, burning, or inflicting any other sort of physical abuse on her children, her ex has every right to file against her.

With the help of a lawyer, her ex can request that the court investigate his claims and award sole custody of the children to him. Then, the mother will only retain visitation rights under professional monitoring. If Child Protective Services or a police report is filed against the mother, this will make her case even more difficult. However, these situations could reflect poorly on fathers who knew about the abuse but failed to report it in a timely manner.

Physical abuse that can cause a mother to lose custody of her children may also extend to the father or other noncustodial parent. Physical abuse toward her ex, especially if he’s filed a restraining order against her, can reflect poorly on her abilities as a mother. Any sort of abuse will likely cause the court to question the mother’s ability to safely parent her children.

2. Emotional Abuse

This kind of abuse is much harder to prove in court, but it can be effective grounds for the removal of custodial rights from a mother. If a mother is constantly belittling or harassing her children, it  could be grounds for termination. If paired with physical abuse, this reason is more effective. However, fathers will have better cases if they have witnesses who are not related to them and are available to testify to the judge.

Parental alienation (i.e., trying to manipulate children into hating the other parent) is also considered emotional abuse. If a mother tells her children lies or tries to manipulate how to feel about visiting their other parent, she could be trying to alienate her ex. These factors are even more critical if her children are young and impressionable.

3. Interfering with Parenting Time

If the father already has partial custody of the children, the mother could lose her custodial rights if she consistently interferes with his visitation rights. This behavior could involve:  Withholding the children from their father.

  • Making it difficult for the father to see his children.
  • Deliberately scheduling trips or other activities that exclude the father from seeing his children.
  • Engaging in other actions that keep the father’s children from him.

If a father keeps detailed logs about each time the mother sabotages his attempts to the see the children, these can be used against her in court to challenge her custody.

4. Violation of Court Order

There are several ways that a mother can violate a court order. Each may be grounds for removing her custodial rights. Perhaps the court has ordered a shared custody agreement, and she fails to comply with it (which could be interfering with your parenting time). If so, this behavior is considered a violation.

Other types of violations include:

  • Abuse of any form
  • Not caring for the children as instructed and agreed upon
  • Failing to comply with a restraining order

5. Neglect

The neglect of children is hard to prove alone. But it can be done, and it can be grounds for removing a mother’s custody rights. If a mother fails to care for her children, other parties will likely notice (e.g., the children’s teachers or daycare workers). Therefore, the father could use their testimonies against the mother in court.

Other reasons why mothers may lose custody of their children include endangering their access to education, their basic needs, and their health facilities.
It is important to note that inconsistent or minor neglect (e.g., forgetting to pick them up a couple of times or not preparing lunch one day) is not usually grounds for a loss of custody. The court understands that no parent is perfect, so it will overlook minor infractions. However, consistent neglect or hardships could be grounds for a judge to take a second look at the custody agreement.  

6. Poor Co-Parenting

If a couple has agreed to co-parent their children, but the children are suffering while they are with their mother, the father could file to have her custodial rights removed.

The verdict of this charge varies on a case-by-case basis. For example, perhaps a father doesn’t like the way his ex allows the children to dress while they are under her care, but this disapproval would not be considered sufficient evidence for removing her custodial rights.

But if the lack of rules at the mother’s house encourages the children to fail at school or turn to substance abuse, these ramifications could cause the mother to lose her custodial rights.

7. Substance Abuse or Addiction

Many people struggle with addictions to alcohol and other substances. If a mother is addicted to harmful substances, it will probably be grounds for terminating her custody. This result is especially true if it involves physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or the endangerment of the children’s lives (e.g., drunk driving). However, a mother may be able to retain custody if she agrees to get counseling or other treatment for her addiction.

How Fathers Can Get Custody of the Children from Their Mother

Any of the above reasons can cause a mother to lose custody of her children. These reasons can apply if:

You are married to the father of your children.

If you are still married to the father, he can use these reasons when fleshing out your custody agreement and gain sole custody of your children. This information may also be used to determine alimony and other issues during divorce proceedings.

Rarely, couples decide to stay married, but custody of the children is given to one parent. However, the more common approach is to use the parenting of your children as a reason for divorce.

You are unmarried.

If you and the father of your children are unmarried or are no longer a couple, he can still file a parentage petition to gain custody or revoke your rights. The above reasons apply whether you are co-parenting or you currently have sole custody.

You already have a custody agreement.

Even if you and your ex have agreed to a court-ordered custody agreement, it can be modified or appealed based on the reasons above.

If the father of your children decides to attempt the process of removing your custody rights, the burden of proof falls on him. This means he must have proof that supports his allegations (e.g., police reports, testimonies, or other documented evidence) to effectively assert his claim. If he bases his claims off hearsay or personal opinion, it’s likely his case against you will be dismissed.

When your ex decides to file, he will have to file the appropriate petitions and paperwork as outlined by your state. You do not need to do anything until the court contacts you, but talking with a lawyer if you suspect your ex is going to file can help protect your children and provide valuable insights on the viability of your case.

Factors that Help a Mother’s Case

If you are a mother and want to keep your custody rights, you should certainly avoid the common ways that mothers lose custody listed above. But just because your ex files for custody rights against you doesn’t mean his case is legitimate. In fact, personal bias and related factors can all end up hindering his claims – and helping yours.

Thus, it’s also helpful to know the circumstances by which a father can weaken his case against you. They include:  

Filing too many complaints.

If your ex files a lot of complaints against you or asks the court or the  police to conduct an investigation that consistently results in lack of evidence, he’s going to lose his credibility. Few judges will believe that there is actually abuse or neglect happening in a household that has repeatedly proven its innocence.

Letting emotions guide his actions.

Is your ex angry or frustrated with you? If he acts on these emotions and files against you for no other reason, your custody rights are safe. Actually, such an action can impinge on a father’s case if he ever tries to file again in the future, since his credibility and character will be called into question. A judge could think that he is the unfit parent if he threatens or yells at you.

Lacking evidence to back his claims.

If your ex lacks evidence in his claim against you, it probably will not result in you losing her custody rights. Unless he’s documented anything and everything that can help his case and compiled police reports or other court reports that will support his claims, the court is going to overlook his request. This also extends to him filing the correct paperwork; if he fails to comply with any of the mandates set forth by your state’s laws, he could be forfeiting his case. Having a lawyer on your side to double-check that he’s following protocol could help uncover mistakes he’s made – effectively helping you in the process!


While it is true that courts often award mothers custody of their children, the decision is never set in stone. If a mother is abusing her children, neglecting them, alienating their father from them, or putting their lives in danger, the father has every right to modify their existing custody agreement or pursue custody of his children.

However, if you don’t engage in any of these actions and the truth is on your side, you don’t have to fear losing custody of your children as their mother. Remember that the burden of proof falls on the father if he wants to file against you. Providing a stable, healthy home for your children and giving them all the love you have to give is usually enough to keep your custody rights.