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Will more unwed parents impact Illinois child custody disputes?

As people wait longer to get married, more couples are cohabiting before they are able to afford the costs associated with a wedding. In Illinois and across the nation, this trend is bringing with it a higher number of first children born out of wedlock. As couples increasingly view marriage as less of a necessity for couples to begin having children and forming a family.

However, just as with married couples, these couples may break up and, though they were not married and thus not seeking a divorce, may find themselves in a child custody dispute. In that respect, unwed couples who are parting ways may face some of the same legal questions as a married couple.

In an analysis from the National Center for Health Statistics of data collected over the last decade, it was found that the percentage of first children born to an unmarried, cohabitating couple has seen an 83 percent increase from 2002 to 2010. Apart from the rise in unwed parents who are cohabiting, there were few major shifts in child-birth statistics. The primary factor that has changed, according to one sociologist, is the prevailing attitude toward having children outside of marriage.

Married or not, there is no telling whether or not future circumstances will lead couples to decide that a split is in their best interests. Even when divorce isn't a factor, parents still often find themselves engaged in child custody negotiations after breaking up. These child custody agreements, whether in Illinois or elsewhere, address the same issues when they are resolved as part of a divorce proceeding. In the end, when the parties cannot resolve child custody issues themselves, a court will step in and make the determination for them based on what is deemed to be the best interests of the child.

Source: USA Today, "More children born to unmarried parents," Sharon Jayson, April 12, 2012

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