Parental Shadows & Distant Memories for Divided Families

The “numbers never lie” is a statement that seems incredibly true, especially as it relates to an increasing number of divided or disconnected families nationwide and worldwide. Why is there so much darkness surrounding once loving families worldwide? To best understand the seriousness of any problem being closely researched, we must first understand the true root numbers prior to later finding more healing solutions.

First off, millions of children across the nation never see or speak to one or both parents after a child custody agreement has been finalized with or without family court assistance. It’s almost more common than not for one parent (“controlling parent”) to attempt to minimize or completely eliminate access to the shared child(ren) for the other parent (“targeted parent”). If so, the targeted parent effectively becomes a shadow in the children’s memories.

In slightly over 51% of the child custody decisions during times when the parents are still communicating with one another, both parents agree that the mother should become the custodial parent. In approximately 29% of the custody decisions, these mutually agreed upon custody decisions are made without any third-party assistance from family court, a mediator, or from an arbitrator who is oftentimes a retired judge and/or attorney.

In upwards of 11% of the custody cases, a mediator helps the two parents find some sort of a win-win or mutually beneficial parenting arrangement that typically benefits the shared children the most. Another 5% of custody decisions are determined following a custody evaluation.

Only 4% of all child custody cases across the USA are determined by way of a final trial that’s held in a courtroom setting. Yes, you read that 4% number correctly as it relates to child custody decisions that are decided by a sitting judge after a final trial verdict for many “high conflict divorce cases” that may last years or decades, both prior to the final trial ruling and/or in potentially numerous post-judgment modification hearings.

There are a relatively small percentage of Americans who can afford to pay tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for a divorce case that actually ends up in a final trial courtroom setting after years of contentious legal battles. Some courtroom battles between very wealthy parents can cost upwards of millions of dollars. This is a big reason why only 4% of all child custody cases are decided at a final trial. However, the conflict between the parents may still remain very high even if seemingly resolved in a “friendly” way while using a third-party mediator outside of a courtroom location.

In most final trial settings, the lack of any basic type of communication (e.g., silent treatment) between the two parents is most likely the reason why one or both parents asks a judge to determine time spent with the children. This can be true regardless of the expense related to courtroom battles that can last for many years.

Key point: Approximately 91% of all child custody decisions in America do not require the family court’s assistance to finalize the parent’s custody arrangements with the child(ren).

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Single Parent Households

Between 1968 and 2017, the percentage of U.S. children who live with an unmarried parent has more than doubled from 13% to 32%. During the same time span, the percentage share of children living with two married parents dropped from 85% in 1968 to 65% in 2017. An estimated 3% of all children don’t live with any parents, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. The U.S. also leads the world in the highest percentage of single-occupant households.

According to a US Census Bureau report published in 2017 and entitled 2017 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement, let’s take a quick look below at some of the latest published numbers for divided families:

“In 2017, 83.9 percent of children living with one parent live with their mothers, compared to 86.0 percent in 2012 and 87.5 percent in 2007.

The percentage of children living with one parent who live with just their father saw an increase from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 16.1 percent in 2017. 

Overall, nearly 20 million children under age 18 live with one parent, composing 27.1 percent of all living arrangements for children under age 18. In 2007, 25.8 percent of children under age 18 lived with one parent, and in 2012, one of the highest intervening years, 28.3 percent of children under age 18 lived with one parent.

Of children who live with one parent, the most common marital status of the mother is never married (49 percent). The most common marital status of the father is divorced (43 percent). For children who live with their mother only, the largest proportions are ages 6 to 11 (36 percent), and ages 12 to 17 (35 percent). For children who live with their father only, the largest proportions are ages 12 to 17 (43 percent), followed by the proportion ages 6 to 11 (31 percent).

“The age distribution of children under age 18 who live with one parent shows a higher proportion of children living with their mother only are younger than children living with their father only.”

There continues to be racial and ethnic variation in living arrangements for children under age 18. Today, over half (52.8 percent) of black alone children live with one parent, compared to 29.1 percent of Hispanic children and 22.4 percent of white alone children.”

Other Current Population Survey and US Census Bureau highlights include:


  • White householders make up 79 percent of all households in the United States, down from 89 percent in 1970. Black and Hispanic householders each make up 13 percent of households, while Asian householders comprise 5 percent. (Hispanics may be any race so percentages will not add to 100.)
  • Households have grown smaller over time, reflecting the decrease in family size and the rise of living alone. The average number of people living in each household has declined from 3.7 people in 1940 to 2.5 today.
  • In 2017, there are 35.3 million single-person households, composing 28 percent of all households. In 1960, single-person households represented only 13 percent of all households.
  • Today less than 1 in 10 households (9 percent) have five or more people living in them – a decrease from 23 percent of households in 1960.

  Marriage and Family

  • In 2017, the median age when adults first marry is 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women, up from ages 23.7 and 20.5, respectively, in 1947. In 2017, less than one-third of all adults (32 percent) have never been married, up from 23 percent in 1950.
  • More men (35 percent) than women (29 percent) have never been married in 2017 compared to 26 percent of men and 20 percent of women in 1950.
  • Married couples make up 69 percent of all families with children under age 18, compared to 93 percent in 1950.
  • In 19 percent of married-couple households, neither the husband nor wife is in the labor force. Among married-couple households with neither spouse in the labor force, 75 percent are age 65 and older.
  • Over a quarter (26 percent) of children under the age of 15 who live in married-couple families have a stay at home mother, compared to only 1 percent who have a stay at home father.

  Living Arrangements of Adults and Children

  • Over half (55 percent) of young adults ages 18 to 24 live in the parental home, compared to 16 percent of young adults ages 25 to 34.
  • Of the 64 million parents living with children under the age of 18, 4.9 million (8 percent) are unmarried cohabiting parents.
  • Most adults between the ages of 65 to 74 still live with a spouse. For men in this age group, 72 percent live with a spouse, while for women the percentage is 56 percent. For adults age 75 and older, however, the percentage of those living with a spouse drops to 66 percent for men and just 33 percent for women.

  Unmarried Couples

  • In 2017, there are 7.8 million unmarried opposite-sex couples living together.
  • Of the unmarried opposite-sex couples living together, 37 percent live with children under the age of 18.
  • Statistics about same-sex couples are available from the American Community Survey.

  A Snapshot of Fatherhood (per US Census) 

  • 36% of adult men are married and have children with their spouse 
  • Among 35- to 39-year olds, 84% of ever married men are fathers, compared to just 36% of never married men of the same age.
  • The percent of men who have remained childless into their late 40s is higher among men with some college, but no degree, compared to men with a high school degree or less, or a graduate or professional degree.
  • Median interval between first and last birth (men with 2 or more children): All fathers: 4.6 years; men who have children with more than one person: 10.1%; men who became fathers before age 25: 6.5%; and men who became fathers after age 35: 2.4%. 


Single Household Poverty Numbers: According to the Pew Research Center, upwards of 30% of solo mothers and their families are living in poverty as compared with 17% of solo fathers and 16% of families that are headed by a cohabiting couple. By comparison, just 8% of married couple families live below the poverty line.

What can we learn from all of these numbers provided above?

The vast majority of divorce and child custody decisions nationwide are determined outside of the courtroom without a painful and costly final trial decision made by a judge who barely knows the family members. Yet, the conflict between both parents may still remain very high. This same parental conflict may greatly reduce the time spent with one or both parents and be financially destructive to the entire family structure.

Most children do not spend enough time with one or both parents, regardless of their gender. The lack of quality time between parents and children is quite unhealthy and harmful to all of them. More people should truly act in the best interests of the children, first and foremost.

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