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Stay-at-home dads, divorce and child custody in Illinois: FAQs

The basic family structure in the United States has changed over the last few decades. Neighborhoods throughout the country no longer have one standard type of family; many different family structures are now accepted and even celebrated.

There are some families composed of what was once considered traditional, where the father figure works while the mother figure stays at home to raise the children. There are also families where both parents work, families with same-sex couples and families where the father figure has chosen to remain home as the caregiver.

This last group has grown significantly. From 2000 to 2012 this group grew by almost 20 percent.

What has led to the increase in fathers staying home to raise the children? A study from the Journal of Marriage and Family focused on the reasons behind the growing number of stay-at-home fathers. The study involved a review of data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth, a study conducted by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey included annual interviews with participants from 1979 to 1994 and continues with biennial interviews.

Researchers with the study focused on the impact of three specific criteria on a family's choice to have the father remain home: unemployment, education and gender ideology. The study focused on heterosexual couples.

Based on this analysis, researchers found two distinct groups of stay-at-home dads. The first was composed of those who chose to stay at home, the second those who were unable to find employment. Researchers also note that families were more likely to have fathers who stay at home when the mother has a higher level of education, potentially due to the fact that the mother would be more likely to have higher earning capacity in this situation. The study also found that men who viewed a male and female's roles as equal were more likely to take on the role of caregiver than those who did not.

How does a changing family structure impact divorce? Although family structure has changed, the average divorce rate has not. This rate remains fairly consistent at approximately 50 percent.

Although the divorce rate has not changed, the changed family structure has impacted the legal issues that arise in divorce cases. As such, parents that find themselves in nontraditional roles may wonder how a divorce could impact their family's dynamic.

What rights to fathers in Illinois have to child custody in divorce? Those in this situation may have questions about how child custody, now more commonly referred to as the allocation of parental responsibilities, will be determined.

It is important to note that the court does not automatically give preference to the mother. Illinois generally uses what is referred to as the best interest of the child standard. This takes a number of factors into consideration when making a custody determination. These factors can include the wishes of the parents as well as the ability of the parents to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the children.

If the divorce is contentious, parents may need to provide evidence to build a case for greater allocation of parental responsibilities. In these situations, it is often wise to contact an experienced lawyer. This legal professional can guide you through the process, advocating for your interests and working to better ensure a more favorable outcome.

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