Having children and building a family can be one of the greatest joys in a relationship. Unfortunately, sometimes the blissful union goes south; amongst the many nightmares that come with the dissolution of a relationship or marriage, child custody battles are the most draining. Even when people are parting amicably, the division of time, money, and responsibility for the children they have together often breeds new conflict.

While there are different myths and beliefs about who often gets custody of a child, our child custody statistics report will highlight facts and data about child custody in the United States. Let’s dive in.

Editor’s Choice

  • Parents settle 90% of child custody cases without a judge’s ruling.
  • The United States has about 12.9 million custodial parents.
  • Custodial parents get an average of $3,431 annually in child support.
  • 40% of states in the US 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.

General Child Custody Facts in the US

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

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

2) Parents settle over 90% of Child Custody cases outside of court.

According to child custody stats, over 90% of child custody cases were resolved by the parents without a family court intervention. In other words, there was no need for the judge to decide on who gets custody, just to approve the order based on the agreement drawn up by the parents.

3) As of 2019, the divorce rate in the US has declined to 2.7 per 1,000 residents.

The divorce rate from 1990 to 2019 showed a decline in marriage dissolution in the US. The divorce rate reduced from 4.7 per 1,000 in 1990 to 2.7 divorced residents per 1,000 in 2019.

4) There are 12.9 million custodial parents in the US

Child custody statistics from the US Census Bureau report published in May 2020 showed that there are 12.9 million custodial parents in the US, living with 21.9 million children under 21 years of age.

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

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2017, the average child support received by custodial parents from their non-custodial counterparts was $3,431. Between 1993 and 2016, the child support average followed an oscillatory pattern, increasing up to $4,675 in 2003, before dropping back down.

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

The United States Census Bureau child custody statistics from 2018 show that about 4 in every 5 of the 12.9 million custodial parents in the United States were mothers. It’s a slight decline compared to the statistics from 2014, where 82.5% (5 of every 6) custodial parents were mothers. Therefore, it’s becoming increasingly more likely that a custodial parent will be a father, especially than it was a few decades ago.

7) Only 4% of child custody cases required going on trial.

Just 4% of custody cases are between parents who cannot reach a settlement outside the court and require a trial to set things straight.

Child Custody Statistics by Race

8) Nearly half of all Black children live with a custodial parent.

Reports show that approximately 48.8% of all Black children live in families with their custodial parent, while their noncustodial parent lives outside their household. This means that divorce and separation disproportionately affect Black families.

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

The 2018 US Bureau child custody statistics available from 2020 showed that the number of white children who lived in families with their custodial parent while their noncustodial parent lived outside the household was less than half the number of Black children in the same situation.

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

In 2018, over one-quarter of Hispanic children of any race lived with their custodial parent.

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

Among the population of children from other races, including Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native, or other Pacific Islander, statistics reveal that 13.6% lived in households with their custodial parent’s families, without their noncustodial parent.

Child Custody Statistics by State

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

The primary issue in most custody battles is usually the time each parent gets to share with their child or children after the parents’ relationship ends. Custody scheduling or visitation time varies from state to state, but a study from 2018 shows that custody laws in more and more US states now aim to give each parent equal time with their children. Recent child custody statistics in the United States show that 40% of states now aim to give children equal time (50%) with each parent. The laws have provisions to account for complicated circumstances like convictions or long-distance separations, of course. These states are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Minnesota, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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

Child custody facts and stats show that less than a quarter of Republican states distribute custody between parents equally, traditionally giving mothers more time than fathers. Studies tell us that red states are the least eager to grant 50% custody time to both parents. Some states in this category include Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, South Dakota, etc.

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

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 showed 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, Massachusetts, etc.

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

Swing states take the lead in shared-custody reform, as 59% of them give equal custody time to both parents. This is indeed a welcome improvement, as many people hope neighboring states can take a cue from this progressive reform. Examples of states here include New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona, Florida, etc.

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

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

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

The child custody law in states like Georgia and Illinois allows children up to the age of 14 to decide which parent they want to live with. However, a judge can override this decision if it is not in the child’s best interest.

18) Single fathers run 25% of households (2,669) in Tennessee.

Comparing mother vs. father custody statistics in Tennessee, the results show that a quarter of all households in the state are single-father households. Reports also show that the number of custodian fathers in Tennessee is increasing more quickly than that of single mothers.

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

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 wishes in custody matters, legal child custody stats show that one in four states does not require judges to consider their opinion about who they wish to have as their custodial parent. The judges from these states decide based on what they think is in the child’s best interest. States in this category are Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming.

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

From several surveys and facts about child custody, three in four states in the US require the judge to consider a matured child’s preference when making final decisions on custody. However, depending on the child’s age and best interest, some judges will likely overrule this decision. Custody X Change’s survey showed the “mature age” varies between states, cases, and even judges. While 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 old 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.

Statistics 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.

The proportion of US custodial fathers who were non-Hispanic white men was more than that of the custodial mothers, as nearly two-thirds (62.9%) of custodial fathers were non-Hispanic white. 15.1% were Black, while 18.4% were Hispanic.

23) 40.4% of custodial mothers were never married.

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

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

Statistics show that 41.6% of custodial mothers are older than 40, meaning that most custodial mothers are relatively young.

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

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 currently married, separated, and widowed were 18.5%, 11.4%, and 1.8% respectively.

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

If these statistics are anything to go by, it means the odds of older fathers getting custody are significantly higher than that of fathers below 40 years.

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

Statistics on who gets the children in child custody cases have revealed a trend favoring single fathers over the years. In the past, fewer single fathers were granted custody; for example, in the 1960s, only about 300,000 single fathers were granted custody. While there are still more mothers with custody, this trend does show that more and more fathers are willing to accept the caregiving responsibility they traditionally avoided.

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

While having a full-time job cannot solely determine whether or not 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. 21.6% of custodial mothers did not have jobs.

29) 74.3% of custodial fathers have full-time jobs.

The vast majority 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. As part of that requirement, a parent with a stable and sustainable source of income is more likely to care for a child properly than one without one. The proportion of custodial fathers without jobs in the US is 9.2%.

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

Over the decades, according to government child-custody statistics, we can see that there has been a promising increase in the percentage of custodial mothers who had more than a high school diploma. More women are now furthering their education while providing excellent care to their children. In 2018, 33.8% of custodial mothers had at least an associate’s degree, compared to the 17.1% in 1994. Also, there was a decline in the number of custodial mothers with an 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%) with their children annually.

Red states give 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 the non-custodial parent, whatever their gender.

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

Divorced fathers in blue states spend more time with their children than those in red states. Divorced dads in Democratic states spend an average of 3,200 hours with their kids - 400 hours more than dads in the Republican states. Since 40% of Democratic states give 50% custody time to both parents, there is little room for child custody gender bias in these statistics.

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

There was no significant difference between the number of custodial mothers who received full child support payments compared to the custodial fathers in 2017. But when we compare the percentage of custodial parents who did not receive any child support payments in the same year, the share of custodial fathers (38.4%) was bigger than custodial mothers (28.7%).

You can use some of this data next time when you're presenting your case in the court. Remember that a legal professional is only as good as the information he or she posseses.