It's no surprise to anyone that child custody has changed. Since the mid-1970s, when the nation's first joint parenting law was passed, the number of mothers awarded sole custody has declined. Before that, in Lake County and elsewhere, the mother had to be dead, in jail or mentally ill before the court would give a father sole custody, or so one family law expert says.
Census numbers tell us that more dads are taking on the role of single custodial parent now. It's not clear if more dads are asking or if more courts are saying yes, but the trend is definitely upward: In 1950, only 1.1 percent of American households were headed by a single father. By 2000, the number had grown to 6.3 percent; by 2010, 8 percent.
The increase in single dads is just one indicator of the move away from the "traditional" family. We've talked before about the rise in the number of couples that are cohabiting. Shared custody is apparently more accepted, if not demanded, when couples split.
Most single parents are mothers (heading 7.2 percent of all households in the country). A 2007 study showed, too, that the shift may be toward more paternal involvement than before, but the reality is that mothers still spend more time with their kids every week.
In Lake County, the most recent Census Bureau numbers show just shy of 175,000 families. More than half -- 60.6 percent -- are married couples. Female-headed households account for 9.4 percent; those with their own children, 5.7 percent. Males headed 4.2 percent of households. Male householders with their own children accounted for just 2.1 percent of all Lake County families.
Bloomberg.com, "Single-Dad Courtroom Victories Show Greater U.S. Embrace of New Families," Joel Stonington and Frank Bass, 07/25/2011
U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2005-2009 Data Set