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Rise in number of unmarried parents has consequences

It is well known that nearly half of marriages will end in divorce. Family law attorneys are used to dealing with divorce and all of the issues that go along with it, but different issues are surfacing as the number of unmarried couples having children increases. In 2012 the majority of babies born in the United States to women under 30 years of age were unmarried mothers. In Wisconsin the number of children born to single-parent homes in 2010 was 36.9 percent. The number of African American children born to single mothers in Wisconsin is 85 percent.

While marriage is declining, the rate of cohabitating couples has dramatically increased. Research suggests that unmarried cohabitating couples see higher rates of breakups, more incidents of child and domestic abuse and lower household incomes.

Studies suggest that children with one parent face a greater risk of illness, poverty, substance abuse and decreased academic performance, but there is also an economic cost for tax-payers. A 2008 study estimated that taxpayers in a closely neighboring state pay $737 million annually in costs that stem from single parenthood. These costs include such things as law enforcement and health services.

Unmarried couples involved in a custody dispute can come to an agreement amongst themselves or, if it cannot be resolved between them, a family court judge may decide the issue. When parents are unmarried the mother is awarded sole physical custody of the child unless the father proactively takes action to gain custody. An unmarried father can gain some form of custody and visitation, but it is very difficult for an unmarried father to win custody over a mother if she is a good parent.

Source: Journal Sentinel, Decline in marriage costly to society, Christian Schneider, May 17, 2013

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