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The men involved in the early organization claimed that family and divorce law discriminated against them and favored their wives.Men's rights activists assert that men are consciously or unconsciously opting out of marriage and engaging in a "marriage strike" as a result of the lack of benefits in marriage and the emotional and financial consequences of divorce, including alimony and child custody and support.Critics assert that the men's rights rhetoric of children's "needs" that accompanies their plea for equal rights helps deflect criticism that it is motivated by self-interest and masks men's rights advocates' own claims.Deborah Rhode argues that contrary to the claims of some men's rights activists, research shows that joint legal custody does not increase the likelihood that fathers will pay child support or remain involved parents.The League for Men's Rights was founded in 1926 with the goal of "combatting all excesses of women's emancipation".
Men's rights advocates seek to change the legal climate for men through changes in family law, for example by lobbying for laws that would make joint custody the default custody arrangement except in cases where one parent is unfit or unwilling to parent.
Studies have found fair assessment in child custody decisions and that legal appointees were more likely to award custody to parents with interpersonal sensitive traits such as warmth or caring regardless of gender.
Academics critique the rhetorical framing of custody decisions, stating that men's rights advocates appeal for "equal rights" without specifying the constitutional rights that they believe have been violated.
Men's rights activists have argued that divorce and custody laws violate men's individual rights to equal protection.
Gwendolyn Leachman writes that this sort of framing "downplays the systemic biases that women face that justify protective divorce and custody laws".