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Why are more divorced fathers securing primary physical custody?

There is no question that the image of the traditional American family has undergone a significant transformation over the last several decades. Nowhere is this perhaps more apparent than in divorced households, where recent research has shown that the end result of a mother being awarded primary physical custody of children is no longer the norm.

To illustrate, consider the following statistics from the Pew Research Center:

  • From 1960 to 2011, the number of single-mother households in the U.S. increased from 1.9 million to 8.6 million, a four-fold increase.
  • From 1960 to 2011, the number of single-father households in the U.S. increased from less than 300,000 to 2.6 million, a nine-fold increase.

While Pew researchers have attributed some of these numbers to a higher incidence of divorce and a larger number of unmarried couples having children, they also attributed it to both changing perceptions about the ability of fathers to act as primary caregivers and, perhaps more significantly, an ongoing shift in the family law courts regarding child custody matters. 

Regarding this last point, the Pew researchers indicated that many states -- Arizona, Iowa, Maine, and Oregon, among others -- have introduced so-called joint-parenting legislation since the early 2000s that moved away from the longstanding "best interests of the child" standard that many critics argued was synonymous with simply awarding primary physical custody to the mother, and instead encouraged the award of joint physical custody.

However, rather than increasing the number of cases where custody is split 50-50, the Pew researchers found that this joint-parenting legislation actually resulted in a significant spike in the number of single-father households.

While the reasons behind this phenomenon aren't entirely clear, some experts are theorizing that it can be attributed to the fact that more fathers are seeing that the court system has changed fundamentally such that they have a real chance of securing more time with their children. In other words, they are more willing to fight for what they want in court.

Another theory experts have is that the idea of a 50-50 custody split is too much for some, as it will not only create instability for the children, but also involve the former spouses having to see one another on a semi-regular basis. This possibility, they argue, is perhaps leading more mothers to avoid pursuing the custody issue in court.

"If you ask a woman what kind of custody deal she wants, she'd probably say that her first preference is for her to get sole custody, her second preference is for the father to get sole custody, and her third preference is joint custody," said one expert. "Most people don't want to share."

It should be interesting to see if this trend continues ...

Those fathers with concerns about child custody, visitation rights or relocations here in Texas should strongly consider speaking with an experienced fathers' rights attorney dedicated to protecting their best interests in negotiations and contested hearings.

Source: The Atlantic, "The rise of the single dad," Caroline Kitchener, Feb. 24, 2014 

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