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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Report: American Families Changing, Family Law Needs Evolve Too

A recent in-depth report in The New York Times explored how the American definition of "family" has been rapidly evolving over the last several decades.

The "typical" nuclear family of a young wife, husband and 2.5 children is no longer necessarily the norm in many places. In addition to families headed by homosexual partners, many families have become blended following second and even third marriages. They are more racially, ethnically and religiously diverse than they were even a generation ago. Some people delay marriage extensively or reject it altogether in favor of cohabitation. The birthrate has been halved since 1960, and older generations are finding love and choosing marriage later in life than ever before.

As the American family has changed, the American legal system has struggled to keep the pace. Our Brooklyn family law attorneys recognize that we have seen this in states' approval (and bans) of gay marriage, expansion of adoption laws and the rise of prenuptial agreements and cohabitation agreements.

One of the greatest changes over the last several decades, the Times reports, is the number of people who are choosing to cohabitate and have children outside of wedlock. While women with bachelor's degrees or higher marry before having children about 90 percent of the time, the numbers are far lower for everyone else. More than 40 percent of all babies are now born outside of marriage - which is a 400 percent increase since just 1970.

Of those mothers who are unwed, about 25 percent live with a man who may or may not be the child's biological father. Cohabitation rates have risen by nearly 170 percent just in the last several years, from 2.9 million in 1996 to 7.8 million in 2012.

Cohabitation agreements have also become increasingly important for homosexual couples, particularly in states where their marriages are not recognized.

Additionally, the number of gay couples with children has doubled just in the last decade, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. Researchers there say well over 100,000 gay couples are raising children in America. Other estimates put the number of children being raised by gay parents at close to 2 million, or about 1 out of every 37 children. The rights of both parents in these unions must often be affirmed and protected through legal paperwork filed in family court.

Another aspect that has thrown the family legal system for a loop is the rate of working mothers. It used to be in divorces or other family legal matters that the male/father would be expected to support the family both during the union and after a divorce. But women's paychecks have become not only vital to their family's financial health, in many cases, they are now the breadwinner (40 percent of families are headed by women who are the primary wage earners, versus 11 percent in 1960). That has resulted in a shift in the way courts approach issues of child and spousal support.

Then there is the overall shift in the age of those who are getting married for the first time. The average age for men has risen from about 23 in 1970 to 29 in 2010. For women, it was 20 in 1970. Now, it's nearly 27. Delaying marriage has given individuals more time to focus on their careers and obtain financial stability. This in turn has led to lower divorce rates among these cohorts after they actually do get married. However, it has also increased the number of premarital agreements signed, as each party has more interest in protecting the assets they brought into the union, including homes, vehicles, savings and retirement accounts.

Children, too, are being delayed. In 1970, most first-time mothers were 22. As of 2010, they were 26. There has been a significant shift in the number of teen mothers as well, with most first-time mothers having their children in their mid-20s to early-30s.

We also see fathers who are more involved than ever in their child's lives. That has meant that in the event of a divorce, custody isn't automatically assumed to go to the mother, as it was in years' past. Fathers are now given equal consideration in terms of custody and child-rearing.

As this research shows, there are many reasons beyond simply divorce why a New Yorker might seek the services of a family law attorney. We're here to help.

If you are in need of a Brooklyn family law attorney, call our offices at (718) 864-2011.


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