Topic:
CUSTODY OF CHILDREN; DIVORCE; STATISTICAL INFORMATION;
Location:
DIVORCE;

OLR Research Report


Connecticut General Assembly



OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH

January 5, 1998 98-R-0067

TO:

FROM: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst

RE: Divorce Statistics

You requested information regarding trends in custody decisions and property settlements in Connecticut divorce cases.

SUMMARY

The primary trend in custody has been a substantial increase in the proportion of divorce cases where physical custody of the children is awarded jointly to the mother and father rather than to one or the other. The proportion of cases resulting in joint physical custody rose from 4% in the early 1980s to 36.4% in 1990 (the most recent data). In a majority of cases, the mother was awarded sole physical custody, but this happened in 58.1% of the cases in 1990, compared to 84.3% of cases in the early 1980s. Connecticut's proportion of cases resulting in joint custody is substantially higher than most of the other states for which data are available. A recent study by the Children's Rights Council (enclosed) found that states with high rates of joint custody awards have experienced larger declines in divorce rates in recent years than states where joint custody is less common.

Recent data on property settlements are unavailable, according to staff at the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, the Connecticut Women's Educational and Legal Fund, and the Women's Research Institute at the Hartford College for Women. To gather this data one would have to review individual divorce judgments, which would be very labor intensive.

CUSTODY

There are two major facets of custody, who makes the decisions affecting a child's welfare and who the child lives with. The court can assign the former (legal custody) and the latter (physical custody) to one parent or jointly to both. Under joint legal custody, both parents have an equal voice on all decision affecting the child such as medical treatment and choice of schools, but the child lives primarily with one parent. Under joint physical custody, children spend approximately equal amounts of time at each parent's home.

According to a 1995 study in the CQ Researcher, fathers were routinely granted both forms of custody in the 18th and 19th centuries when divorce was rare, but in the early 20th century courts increasingly gave custody to mothers, who were viewed as being more nurturing. In the 1960s and 1970s courts found that a preference for mothers violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection. In 1979 California became the first state to statutorily encourage joint custody. (California amended its law in 1989, to state that there was no preference for joint custody unless both parents requested it.) By 1995, 43 states had adopted laws either encouraging or authorizing joint custody. In Connecticut, CGS 46b-56a establishes a presumption for joint custody if both parents agree.

A 1990 Connecticut study using 1980 and 1984 data found that mothers were granted physical custody in 84.3% of the cases sampled from court records. Of these, the mother was granted sole legal custody in 74.4% of the cases, and shared legal custody in 9.9% of the cases. In 8.2% of the cases, the child lived with father, who had sole legal custody in 4.8% of the cases and shared legal custody in 3.4% of the cases. In the remaining 4% of the cases, both physical and legal custody was shared.

A 1995 study by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), which used data from 1989 and 1990, found a substantially higher proportion of cases in Connecticut resulting in joint physical custody. (The NCHS sampling method differs from that of the 1990 study and therefore the statistics may not be directly comparable.) In 1989 mothers were given physical custody in 58.7% of all cases, fathers had physical custody in 5.3% of cases, and joint custody was ordered in 35.8%. These figures were quite different than the averages for the 15 states that reported data for that year (72.0% mother, 9.6% father, and 17.2% joint). The 1990 data indicated that joint custody had continued to increase. In that year custody was awarded to the mother in 58.1% of the cases, the father in 5.3%, and jointly in 36.4%. Again these figures differ substantially from the average of the 19 states that reported to NCHS (72.0% mother, 10.3% father, and 15.7% joint). Tables 1 and 2 compare custody decisions in Connecticut with the other states that reported to NCHS in 1989 and 1990 respectively. Both tables exclude cases where custody was awarded to another person, such as a grandparent. These awards accounted for 1.2% of the cases in the reporting states in 1989 and 1.4% in 1990.

Table 1
Physical Custody Decisions in Connecticut and Other States-1989

State

Mother

Father

Joint

Alabama

79.5

9.7

9.3

Connecticut

58.7

5.3

35.8

Idaho

57.9

9.8

31.9

Illinois

77.4

8.7

13.7

Kansas

50.1

7.8

39.5

Michigan

76.4

9.5

12.5

Missouri

74.4

10.4

14.0

Montana

47.8

8.1

43.3

New Hampshire

79.9

12.2

6.6

Oregon

74.1

10.7

14.9

Pennsylvania

78.6

10.5

9.4

Tennessee

78.9

11.1

8.1

Utah

79.3

10.5

10.1

Wisconsin

58.4

7.7

33.7

Wyoming

73.0

11.0

14.1

Table 2

Physical Custody Decisions in Connecticut and Other States-1990

State

Mother

Father

Joint

Alabama

80.2

10.7

8.6

Alaska

63.1

14.2

19.5

Connecticut

58.1

5.3

36.4

Idaho

55.3

10.4

33.2

Illinois

75.4

9.2

15.1

Kansas

47.2

6.8

43.6

Michigan

73.9

11.2

14.2

Missouri

73.1

11.0

14.8

Montana

46.4

8.4

44.0

Nebraska

81.3

12.2

4.1

New Hampshire

80.4

11.0

7.1

Oregon

71.7

12.6

14.0

Pennsylvania

76.7

10.0

10.1

Rhode Island

62.2

5.4

31.7

Tennessee

78.9

11.3

8.6

Utah

81.1

9.7

9.0

Vermont

71.4

10.6

17.1

Virginia

70.9

11.6

13.8

Wyoming

74.4

9.5

15.1

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