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More households run by single dads than ever before 

The increase in the number of fathers heading up households is noteworthy in New Mexico and across the country. In 1960, just one percent of households with minor children were led by single dads. By 2011, that figure had risen to eight percent. Historically, the courts worked with laws that directed them to consider the "best interests of the child" in disputes over physical custody. In reality, this resulted in rulings in favor of mothers a significant proportion of the time. A perception of maternal bias on the part of the courts discouraged many fathers from even attempting to share physical custody or to seek sole custody.

However, in 1997, the state legislature in Oregon passed a new law that provided for joint physical custody. By the early 2000s, other state legislatures were passing similar new laws. Today, Arizona, Oregon, Maine, Minnesota, and Iowa are recognized as having particularly strong laws designed to promote joint physical custody.

One consequence of all this new legislation has been a rise of fathers that seek and acquire sole custody of their children. A 2011 study of Oregon's child custody practices noted that, in some divorces, the parents agree that shared custody will simply be too difficult. Other parents adopt the view that shuttling kids back and forth between two homes is potentially disorienting for certain children. Therefore, in some cases, mothers have even deferred to fathers in agreeing to give them sole custody.

It is estimated that only five percent of child custody cases ever make it to the courts. Therefore, the real impact of the new law has perhaps been more perceptual. Many fathers now feel encouraged and even empowered by the new wave of child custody laws.

Source: The Atlantic, "The Rise of the Single Dad", Caroline Kitchener , February 24, 2014

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