Child Custody Statistics 2004
Single Parent Families with Own Children Under 18

Source:  U.S. Census, America’s Families and Living Arrangements 2004
Current Population Survey, March 2005.  Table FG-6.

Highlights and Notes:
  • To reflect final custody settlements as accurately as possible, data below include only "never married" and "divorced" families.  "Widowed" and "separated" figures are not included.
  • For the total population, divorced single parent families headed by fathers exceeded 20%.  Father-headed families increase with income, exceeding 30% at several income levels for white and Hispanic families, and at $100,000 and over for black families.
  • White and Hispanic families have similar levels of mother and father-headed famlies across all income categories, while father custody is rare for black families.
  • Divorced and never-married families have approximately the same breakdown between mother- and father-headed families.
  • Joint physical custody levels cannot be determined from the data, because children are counted with the parent they live with most. For example, if a child lives 60% with the mother and 40% with father, the child is counted as living with the mother.  For equal custody, in which children spend the same amount of time with father and mother, Census procedures result in children being assigned randomly to either father or mother, so half of 50/50 custody families are counted as headed by fathers and half as headed by mothers.  The population of 50/50 custody families can be estimated by the following formula:
    J = 2(C - F), where 
    J = 50/50 joint custody families; 
    C = percent of families listed by Census as headed by fathers; 
    F = percent of families where children live more than half time with father .
The best estimator of F is the percent of children in sole custody of fathers, because joint physical custody assignments that are not 50/50 usually give the majority of  time to mothers.  Father sole custody families historically have been approximately 9% of single parent families, ranging up to 12% in some estimates.  If the 9% estimate is used, the level of 50/50 custody for divorced families is approximately 2(21 - 9) = 24%. If the level of father sole custody families is 12%, then equal joint custody families are approximately 18% of the total. (See chart below.)   Levels of father sole custody vary significantly with income, so the 9% - 12% range should not be assumed for all income categories.

Custody in Single Parent Families  by Poverty Level Father Mother
Number Percent     Number Percent
White Below poverty level 194 13.1% 1,287 86.9%

Above poverty level 991 26.7% 2,716 73.3%
Black Below poverty level 108 10.2% 952 89.8%
Above poverty level 187 14.3% 1,122 85.7%
Hispanic Below poverty level 85 16.2% 439 83.8%
Above poverty level 191 26.8% 522 73.2%
Source:  U.S. Census, America’s Families and Living Arrangements 2004
Current Population Survey, March 2005.  Table FG-6.

(Figures combine never married and divorced families; numbers in thousands)