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FAQ: What Percentage of Fathers Win Custody Battles?

Michael Tierney
July 21, 2022

Divorce is a highly unpleasant and disagreeable process that puts you in conflict with your soon-to-be former spouse. These proceedings involve lengthy negotiations over the division of assets, alimony, living situation, and several other details of marriage. While divorce is meant to be an equitable distribution of these assets and rights, there are a few issues with the process.

Divorce is already painful enough since your marriage has ended and the life you thought you would have for the rest of your days. Unfortunately, one part of the divorce negotiations can be even more painful than the rest. Custody arrangements for your children are a major talking point for divorce proceedings that can be somewhat one-sided, though it's common for both partners to be unhappy with the ruling.

While custody negotiations are designed to be impartial and based solely on the child's best interests, there are more than a few horror stories about how divorce negotiations tend to lean towards the wife over the husband. While there are claims that divorce proceedings tend to disadvantage men in court, you might want more concrete information.

There are some concerns about the percentage of men who get custody of their children. However, we need to understand the facts to assess those concerns properly. This article will focus on providing as much information as possible about the rate of fathers who are granted custody of their children.

Let's dig in!

What Are The Different Types of Custody?

When dealing with child custody arrangements, it is important to know the different kinds of custody that are applicable. Custody is not as cut-and-dry as assigning the kids to live with one parent over the other. Different types of custody arrangements determine which parent gets custody and how long.

Sole Custody of Child

In current legal practices, there are two different types of custody arrangements:

  • Sole Custody: Sole custody is the arrangement that most parents either fear or covet, depending on the custodial parent. Sole custody means the child is placed in the care of one parent while the other is unable to see their child without visitation rights offered by the custodial parent.
  • Joint Custody: Joint custody is a more common arrangement and the type most commonly seen in practice and media. Joint custody is an arrangement that allows both parents to care for their child and split the days in the year so one parent gets the child for a certain number of days and the other gets the child for the rest of the year. Joint custody splits are still fairly uneven in most states, but more on that later.

In addition to different custody arrangements, there are different types of custody. While a custody arrangement refers to the time a parent is assigned custody, a custody type relates more to what that parent controls.

Having custody of a child does not necessarily mean they are living with you. Like custody arrangements, there are two custody types. These types are:

  • Physical Custody: Physical custody, as you might have guessed, is when the child's housing, food, clothing, and other physical needs are provided by the custodial parent. Physical custody has the child physically living with that parent full-time, barring visitation or alternating custody.
  • Legal Custody: While physical custody involves maintaining the child's physical needs, legal custody has to do with life decisions. A parent with legal custody must make decisions regarding healthcare, education, and other important factors.

The type of custody combined with a custody arrangement determines how long the custody remains. When dealing with joint custody, the legal custody of the child is usually split 50/50 since both parents still play an active role in the child's upbringing. However, just because the legal custody is split evenly does not mean the physical custody is. This issue leads directly into the statistics involved with custody and the question that brought you here.

What Are The Statistics on Custody?

When it comes to custody arrangements, there is a lot of arguing and debate involved. Only a few are willing to lose custody of their children, and most will fight to keep them. However, divorce courts originally favored the mother of the children over the father when custody was being determined. This was originally justified by the fact that the mother was the primary caregiver for the children while the father was the working parent. Unfortunately, this preference is believed to have persisted even as men and women began to share the workplace.

While this notion is not necessarily wrong, it is still helpful to look into the statistics.

Solution When determining the custodial parent, only about 18.3% of fathers are given full custody of their children, while 81.7% of mothers are given custody. (Source)

As you can see, this is a significant difference in custody rates despite the fairly progressive society. As it stands, fathers remain the minority of custodial parents while mothers retain the monopoly.

Recently, there have been shifts in those numbers, but there are still several states where the mother is given priority. However, more and more courts have begun instituting shared custody over full custody to allow both parents access to their children. That said, the time split between these custodial parents seems to vary depending on the state. Some states remain partial to the mother and give them the bulk of the custody, while the father is only given a small chunk of the year to spend with his children. The exact numbers can vary wildly in some states, while others are more consistent.

Researching Statistics of Custody

Custody divisions in the country are slowly becoming more of a 50/50 split, but some states remain deeply biased toward women. The worst states for a father's custody rights are:

  • Louisiana: Fathers in Louisiana only receive an average of 25.4% custody out of total custody while their spouse gets the rest.
  • Idaho: Fathers in Idaho only receive an average of 24.1% custody out of total custody while their spouse gets the rest.
  • Rhode Island: Fathers in Rhode Island only receive an average of 24% custody out of total custody while their spouse gets the rest.
  • Washington State: Fathers in Washington State only receive an average of 23.8% custody out of total custody while their spouse gets the rest.
  • Ohio: Fathers in Ohio only receive an average of 23.7% custody out of total custody while their spouse gets the rest.
  • South Dakota: Fathers in South Dakota only receive an average of 23.6% custody out of total custody while their spouse gets the rest.
  • Georgia: Fathers in Georgia only receive an average of 23.5% custody out of total custody while their spouse gets the rest.
  • Illinois: Fathers in Illinois only receive an average of 23.1% custody out of total custody while their spouse gets the rest.
  • Mississippi: Fathers in Mississippi only receive an average of 23% custody out of total custody while their spouse gets the rest.
  • Oklahoma: Fathers in Oklahoma only receive an average of 22.4% custody out of total custody while their spouse gets the rest.
  • Tennessee: Fathers in Tennessee only receive an average of 21.8% custody out of total custody while their spouse gets the rest.

Tennessee is the worst state for fathers who want custody of their children. The 21.8% of the custodial time they receive in joint agreements equates to 80 days of the year. While these states are the worst offenders, most states still favor the mother over the father in joint custody arrangements. Only 20 states favor the 50/50 split arrangement for custody arrangements, while the rest only offer up to 33.7% at most of the custody time.

While there is a notion that the cause of preferential custody arrangements for women stems from gender stereotypes, there might be more. Most of the statistics behind this idea stem from generalities and do not always account for mitigating details that could alter the result.

Are Statistics Something That You Should Worry About?

While it is true that there seems to be a trend toward supporting mothers as custodial parents, there are other reasons than bias. Most divorce proceedings take place before a judge, so there is little conflict. However, custody arrangements are not always determined by a judge. Most arrangements are decided independently between the parents, possibly with their attorneys.

Solution Around 90% of child custody agreements are made without a judge and are settled by the parents based on their own experiences. This fact alone affects the reliability of the custody statistics in divorce.

In addition to the fact that most custody agreements are made independently, many agreements favor the mother as the custodial parent. When the parents sit down for these negotiations, 51% of the divorcing couples elect to give the mother custody. This is indicative that, outside of court, mothers still tend to receive custody over fathers.

Surprisingly, only 4% of child custody negotiations ever make it to court. The overwhelming majority have the parents coming to a resolution without a mediator. However, even these statistics do not fully explain the custody rates for fathers compared to mothers in divorce proceedings. The U.S. Census Bureau surveyed which American citizens are most likely to be the custodial parent following a divorce.

Census Bureau Statistics

Their assessment found that:

  • 41.6% of custodial mothers are at least 40 years old.
  • 54.6% of custodial fathers are at least 40 years old.
  • 62.9% of custodial fathers are Caucasian.
  • 44.2% of custodial mothers are Caucasian.
  • 40.4% of custodial mothers never married their children's fathers.
  • 29.3% of custodial fathers never married their children's mothers.

While these statistics do not directly explain why fathers tend to get custody, it offers insight into which fathers and mothers are more likely to be elected custodial parent. There are a few political factors to consider as well, as states that are Republican will have their own opinions when compared to states that are primarily Democrat. While politics are the furthest thing from the point when divorce is concerned, the state you live in will have a slight effect on custody agreements.

According to statistics, Republican states are more likely to assign custody to the mother over the father. The reason is that there is a more traditional viewpoint in Republican states. This is part of why Tennessee seems to favor mothers over fathers. The exact breakdown of custody rates by political climate are:

  • Red States: Divorced fathers in red states receive an average of 2,800 hours with their children a year.
  • Blue States: Divorced fathers in blue states receive an average of 3,200 hours with their children a year.
  • Purple States: Divorced fathers in purple states receive an average of 3,500 hours with their children a year.

Whether you live in a Republican, Democrat, or swing state could greatly influence your chances of receiving custody of your child. However, the entire divorce process can be very messy and combative. Meaning your custody arrangement will never be set in stone. Learning this information can help you prepare for custody negotiations, so you do not get blindsided. The real trick is accessing this information.

Learn the Law

Divorce will never be a pleasant experience, no matter who you are. While the end of your marriage is heartbreaking enough, the possibility that you might lose custody of your child can be even worse. Fortunately, the odds of never seeing your child are extremely rare and require you to be considered dangerous to your child in some way. However, the chances of being awarded custody are still fairly low if you are the child's father, as mothers are still viewed as the main caretakers of children and tend to see improved custody odds as a result.

Cutout Parents and Children

While this might not be the answer you wanted, it remains the answer available. The mother is more likely to be awarded custody of her children. However, despite the custody arrangement, you can still be an important part of your child's life. It might help to learn more about divorce law, so you know what to expect. Relying on your legal counsel during the divorce proceedings should enable you to retain an active role in raising your children, especially since joint custody is slowly becoming the norm across the country.

After reading today's article, did you have any questions or concerns about anything we mentioned today? We'd be more than happy to go into further detail about the statistics and types of custody we listed, as well as anything else related to the divorce process! Be sure to leave a comment down below so we can get those questions answered for you as soon as possible! 

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Written By:
Michael Tierney

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