Does a Nonresident Parent Have the Right to Make Decisions for His Nonmarital Children? Trends in Legal Custody among Paternity Cases

Yiyu Chen, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Using the Wisconsin Court Record Data, I show that among nonmarital cases joint legal custody increased from 2% in 1988-93 to 20% in the late 90s, jumping further in 2000 and staying relatively high at around 70% in the 2000s. I hypothesize that an increasing preference for joint legal custody, a policy change that made joint legal custody presumptive, a change in the demographic composition of never-married parents, or a combination of these influences explains this trend. Logit models and Blinder–Oaxaca decomposition analyses both suggest that the difference in joint legal custody is mostly explained by the process (the coefficients) rather than the changes in parental characteristics (the independent variables). The patterns of the data suggest that an increasing parental or societal preference for joint legal custody, encouraged by the policy change, is the primary drive for the recent rise in joint legal custody among nonmarital cases.

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Presented in Session 2: Legal and Policy Aspects of Complex Families