When discussing familial relationships and family structure, many modern-day references still use the outdated context of a man and woman who are married and have two or three children. However, information from the Pew Research Center indicates that this family lifestyle is only a reality for a dwindling percentage of U.S. children.

Today, an estimated 41 percent of children born in the U.S. are born to unwed mothers. This number marks a significant change in the familial structure that’s occurred during the last 55 years as, in 1960, only five percent of U.S. children were born to unwed mothers. Collectively, these statistics point to the decline of marriage in the U.S. and raise several questions with regard to child custody.

According to U.S. Census data, from 2006-2010, an estimated 58 percent of babies born outside of marriage, were born to unmarried cohabitating parents. It’s unclear, however, just how many of these couples remain together and also how many unwed fathers take the necessary legal steps to confirm paternity.

Child custody matters involving divorced parents are widely discussed and reported on. However, child custody matters involving unwed parents who are either cohabitating or no longer together have not been given enough attention. As statistical trends indicate, more individuals in the U.S. are delaying or foregoing marriage which, in the future, will likely translate to an even larger percentage of U.S. children born to unwed mothers.

Unwed parents must often take additional measures to gain legal parental rights. For example, unwed fathers must take the necessary steps to establish paternity and non-biological mothers in same-sex relationships must formally adopt a child. Disputes related to legal and physical child custody matters and visitation are also common among unmarried parents and often require court intervention.

Maryland parents who have questions about or who are struggling with child custody issues would be wise to discuss their situation with an attorney who handles family law and child custody cases. An attorney can answer questions, provide legal advice and assist in helping resolve child custody disputes.

Source: Pew Research Center, “Less than half of U.S. kids today live in a ‘traditional’ family,” Gretchen Livingston, Dec. 22, 2014