Building a family and having children can be one of the greatest joys in a relationship. Unfortunately, sometimes the blissful union goes awry. Amongst the many nightmares that come with the dissolution of a union, child custody battles are the most draining. Even when people try to part amicably, the division of time, money, and responsibility for the offspring they have together often breeds conflict.

There are established beliefs about who gets custody of a child in most cases, but our child custody statistics report will strive to highlight the facts and data about custody in the United States. Let’s dive right in!

Editor’s Choice

  • Parents settle 90% of child custody disputes without a judge’s ruling.
  • The United States has about 12.9 million custodial parents.
  • On average, custodial parents receive $3,431 annually in child support.
  • 40% of US states aim to give equal custody time to both parents.
  • 74.3% of custodial fathers have full-time jobs.
  • In 51% of custody cases, both parents agree that the mother should have custody.
  • 41.6% of custodial mothers are 40 years old or older.

Child Custody Facts in the US

1. In 51% of child custody cases, both parents agree for the mother to be the custodial parent. 

(Lackey and Lackey PLLC)

In just over half of child-custody battles, parents come to a mutual agreement for the mother to be awarded primary custody of the child(ren). Under one-third (29%) of these decisions were made without a mediator or the court, 11% required a mediator, 5% were reached after a thorough custody evaluation, and 4% were settled in court.

2. Parents settle 91% of child custody cases outside of court.

(Lackey and Lackey PLLC)

According to child custody stats, the parents resolved nine-tenths of custody cases without a family court intervention or a child custody lawyer. In other words, all the judge had to do was approve the court order based on the agreement drawn up by the parents.

3. As of 2020, the divorce rate in the US has declined to 2.3 per 1,000 residents.


Divorce rates from 1990 to 2020 showed a relatively steady decline in marriage dissolution in the US over two decades. The divorce rate fell from 4.7 per 1,000 in 1990 to 2.3 divorced residents per 1,000 in 2020.

4. There were 12.9 million custodial parents in the US in 2018.

(US Census Bureau)

Child custody statistics from the US Census Bureau report published in May 2020 and gathered in 2018 show that there were 12.9 million custodial parents in the US, living with 21.9 million children under 21.

5. The average child support received by custodial parents as of 2017 was $3,431 per year.

(US Census Bureau, Statista)

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2017, the average child support received by custodial parents from their non-custodial counterparts was $286 per month. Between 1993 and 2016, the awarded child support oscillated considerably, peaking at $4,675 in 2003.

6. 79.9% of custodial parents in the United States were mothers.

(US Census Bureau)

Out of every five custodial parents in the United States, about four were mothers, according to the US Census Bureau child custody statistics from 2018. It’s a slight decline compared to 2014, when 82.5% (five out of every six) of custodial parents were mothers.

Therefore, it’s slowly becoming more likely for custodial parents to be fathers, especially compared to a few decades ago.

7. Only 4% of child custody cases required a trial.

(Lackey & Lackey, PLLC)

Just 4% of custody cases between divorcing parents cannot be settled outside the court and necessitate the involvement of a family law attorney. These cases lead to trials for determining the best interests of the child(ren).

Child Custody Statistics by Race

8. 48.8% of Black children live with a custodial parent.

(US Census Bureau)

Reports show that nearly half of all Black children live in families with their custodial parent, while their other parent lives elsewhere. This means that divorce and separation disproportionately affect Black families. Moreover, the racial differences in the percentage of children living in single-parent homes also align with this observation.

9. About 22.7% of white children live with a custodial parent.

(US Census Bureau)

The US Census Bureau child custody statistics from 2020 showed that the share of white children who lived in families with their custodial parent in 2018 was less than half the share of Black children in the same situation.

10. 28.7% of Hispanic children live with a custodial parent.

(US Census Bureau)

In 2018, over one-quarter of Hispanic children of any race lived with a parent who had been awarded custody.

11. 13.6% of children from other races live with their custodial parent’s families.

(US Census Bureau)

Of children belonging to other races, including Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native, or other Pacific Islander, 13.6% lived in households with their custodial parent’s families, without their noncustodial parent, as revealed by statistics.

Child Custody Statistics by State

12. 40% of US states aim to give children equal time with each parent.

(Custody X Change)

The primary issue in most custody battles between male and female parents is the time each parent gets to share with their child or children, with the fathers generally getting less time. Custody scheduling or visitation time after the parents have split up varies from state to state, but a study from 2018 shows that joint-custody laws in more and more US states now strive to award equal parenting time.

Recent child custody statistics in the United States point to the fact that 40% of blue states are making it a priority to award children equal time with each parent. However, it should be underscored that these joint-custody laws retain provisions to account for complicated circumstances like convictions or long-distance separations.

13. Only 22% of red (Republican) states give equal custody time to both parents.

(Custody X Change)

Child custody facts and stats show that less than a quarter of Republican states distribute custody between parents equally. This means they traditionally give mothers more time to spend with children than fathers. Some states in this category include Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and South Dakota.

14. About 40% of blue (Democratic) states award equal custody time to parents.

(Custody X Change)

Nearly twice as many Democratic states give equal custody time to both parents as Republican states do. Custody X Change’s survey on child custody cases statistics indicated that 40% of blue states reformed their custody laws to equalize the time parents share with their children. Those states include New Mexico, Delaware, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

15. 59% of swing states give equal custody time to mothers and fathers.

(Custody X Change)

Swing states take the lead in shared-custody reform, as nearly two-thirds of them award identical custody time to both parents. This is indeed a welcome improvement, as many people hope neighboring states can take a cue from this progressive approach. Examples of states include New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona, and Florida.

16. In 2017, 25 states considered laws to promote joint custody after a divorce.

(The Washington Post)

Child custody case statistics showed that in 2017, 25 states in the US proposed a bill that would require judges to use equally divided parenting time as the starting point in custody cases.

17. 14-year-olds in Illinois and Georgia may choose which parent gets physical custody of them.


Child custody law in states like Georgia and Illinois allows children over 14 to decide which parent they want to live with. However, a judge can override these child custody decisions if they are against the child’s best interest.

18. Single fathers run 6.6% of households in Tennessee.

(Lackey & Lackey, PLLC, Self Financial)

When comparing mother vs. father custody statistics in Tennessee, we can see that just over a quarter of all households in the state are single-parent households. Of that, a quarter is run by single fathers. Reports also show that the number of single-father families in Tennessee is increasing more quickly than that of single-mother households.

19. 13 states in the US do not require the judge to consider a child’s preference for custody.

(Custody X Change)

The debate about letting a child have a say in custody matters has been around for quite a long time. While some states may consider the child’s preference, legal child custody stats show that one in four states does not require judges to consider the child’s opinion about whom they wish to have as their custodial parent. 

The judges from the following states decide based on what they think is in the child’s best interest: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming.

20. 37 US states and Washington, D.C. require the judge to consider a mature child’s preference in custody.

(Custody X Change)

Facts about child custody decisions say that three out of four states in the US require the judge to consider a mature child’s preference when making final child custody decisions. However, the age of maturity differs between states; also, depending on the child’s age and the judge’s opinion of what “best interest” means, some judges may overrule this decision. 

In states like California, New York, and West Virginia, 14-year-old children are deemed mature. Others, like Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas, lower this bar to 12 years. In Georgia, children as young as 11 can state their opinion on the matter to the court, although they can’t officially choose which parent they’ll stay with until they’re 14.

Child Custody Statistics by Gender of Custodial Parents

21. 44.2% of custodial mothers in the US are non-Hispanic white women.

(US Census Bureau)

Statistics published by the Census Bureau reveal that nearly half of the custodial mothers in the United States, as of 2018, were non-Hispanic white women. Black and Hispanic women represent 28.1% and 24.1% of custodial mothers, respectively.

22. 62.9% of custodial fathers are non-Hispanic white men.

(US Census Bureau)

The proportion of US non-Hispanic white custodial fathers exceeded that of custodial mothers. Specifically, nearly two-thirds (62.9%) of custodial fathers were non-Hispanic white, 15.1% were Black, and 18.4% were Hispanic.

23. 40.4% of custodial mothers were never married.

(US Census Bureau)

Stats on child custody and family court cases show that just over 40% of custodial mothers never married. The shares of divorced (30.1%), currently married (16.3%), separated (11.9%), and widowed (1.3%) custodial mothers are considerably smaller.

24. 41.6% of custodial mothers in the United States are 40 years or older.

(US Census Bureau)

Statistics show that 41.6% of custodial mothers are over the age of 40, meaning that most custodial mothers are relatively young.

25. Only 29.3% of custodial fathers in the US were never married.

(US Census Bureau)

Unlike custodial mothers, only 29.3% of custodial fathers were never married, according to the child-custody facts published by the US Census Bureau in 2020.

The percentage of custodial fathers who were divorced was 39.1%, higher than that of the mothers, while the proportions of custodial fathers who were married, separated, and widowed at the time were 18.5%, 11.4%, and 1.8%, respectively.

26. 54.6% of custodial fathers in the US are 40 years old or older.

(US Census Bureau)

If these statistics are anything to go by, the odds of older fathers winning custody are higher than those of male parents younger than 40.

27. There are over 2.5 million single fathers with custody in the US.

(US Census Bureau)

Statistics on who gets the children in child custody cases have revealed a growing trend of single fathers getting custody over the years. For example, in the 1960s, only about 300,000 fathers were granted custody of their children.

While there are still more mothers with sole custody of the child, this trend shows that more fathers are breaking gender stereotypes by accepting the caregiving responsibility they traditionally avoided.

28. 51.4% of custodial mothers have full-time jobs.

(US Census Bureau)

While having a full-time job cannot solely determine whether a mother gets custody of her child, custody-battles statistics show a clear pattern of mothers with full-time jobs winning custody of their children more often than unemployed or part-time employed ones.

Still, more than a fifth of custodial mothers were unemployed in 2017, specifically 21.6%.

29. 74.3% of custodial fathers hold full-time jobs.

(US Census Bureau)

Nearly three-quarters of custodial fathers in the United States have year-round, full-time jobs. This is no surprise, as previous statistics on child custody have established that custody is granted with the child’s best interest in mind, and a stable source of income for the family is definitely relevant to that.

Consequently, the proportion of custodial fathers without jobs in the US is just 9.2%, while the remaining share had at least a part-time job.

30. The proportion of custodial mothers with at least an associate’s degree increased from 17.1% in 1994 to 33.8% in 2018.

(US Census Bureau)

Over the decades, according to government child-custody statistics, there has been a promising increase in the percentage of custodial mothers who have attained more than a high school diploma. More women are now furthering their education and simultaneously providing excellent care to their children.

For instance, in 2018, 33.8% of custodial mothers had at least an associate’s degree, compared to 17.1% in 1994. Also, there was a decline in the share of custodial mothers with incomplete high school education, from 22.2% in 1994 to 13.1% in 2018.

31. Noncustodial divorced fathers in Republican states spend the least time (32.1% annually) with their children.

(Custody X Change)

Red states allocate divorced dads the least time with their children. While some might argue that these are the states that favor mothers in custody cases, recall that most red states do not offer a 50% time division between the custodial and non-custodial parent, whatever their gender.

32. Noncustodial divorced fathers in Democratic states spend 36.6% of custody time with their children.

(Custody X Change)

In blue states, the male parent spends more time with his children than in red states. Divorced dads in Democratic states spend an average of 3,200 hours with their kids, which is 400 hours more than dads in Republican states.

Since 40% of Democratic states award 50% custody time to both parents, we can conclude that there is limited child custody gender bias in these statistics.

33. In 2017, full child support payments were received by 46.4% and 43.1% of custodial mothers and fathers, respectively.

(US Census Bureau)

In 2017, there was no significant difference between the number of custodial mothers who received full child support payments compared to custodial fathers.

Still, comparing child support agreements, we can observe that the share of custodial fathers (38.4%) who did not receive any child support payments was bigger than that of custodial mothers (28.7%).