9 Trends in Family Law

Family dynamics are changing faster than laws can be amended. This article lists 9 trends that we’ve noticed over the past few years of practicing in Virginia.

While family situations are rapidly changing in today’s society, from a legal standpoint family law is struggling to keep up.

Family law is always being revised and discussed, but as with all legislation, it takes time. The suggested changes could take years to enact, and by then the circumstances could have changed once more.

Family law touches everything concerning:

  1. Marriage, union, or partnerships;
  2. Adoption, surrogacy, guardianship;
  3. Abuse and abduction of children;
  4. Termination of relationships (divorce, annulment, settlements, custody, etc.)
  5. Children under the court’s jurisdiction due to lack of family or custodian.

So, what are some examples of some recent Family Law trends?

What follows are some of the trends that Family Law has undergone in recent years.

1. Custody Awards are Becoming Gender Neutral

There are no guarantees when custody is being awarded in a divorce. It’s not a guarantee that the children will end up with the mother simply because she is the mother.

While it is often assumed the mother will automatically receive custody of her children, it is not legally guaranteed.

It was found that 1 in 6 custodial fathers receive custody, which is 17.8% of the population [1]. While that number is low, it has remained steadily consistent from 1993 to 2007.

2. Blurred Lines in Family Dynamics

The laws that constitute a family are different depending on where you live.

In some places, marrying an adopted sibling or child could be considered incest. In other states, the statutes on incest are not inclusive of this type of relationship. The enforcement of incest statutes would be ineffective for adoptive children who are not partially or wholly blood related.

Therefore, in some places, it is legal for a parent or sibling to marry a legal relative, so long as there is no blood relation that would constitute an incestuous relationship.

3. Divorce is Redefining the Family Dynamic

Nearly half of the children across the nation will experience parental divorce by age 18.

Divorce is common, and trending. With 1 in 4 marriages ending in divorce each year, what constitutes a family is being redefined.

Parents are separating and re-marrying, raising children who will grow up have two sets of parents rather than the traditional coupling of two blood-related parents. This means children are more often being raised with the influence of a new spouse or partner of the parent.

This new dynamic creates two separate but equally important families for the child.

4. Co-Parenting

There is an increase in the use of co-parenting counseling in cases involving divorce. In fact, some Guardian Ad Litems will request co-parenting counseling as a part of the divorce proceedings to ensure that the children’s needs are being met by both parties.

It has also been shown that co-parenting after a divorce can also benefit the children. The relationship between the spouses is inevitably strained by the separation, making communication difficult.

Research has shown that successful co-parenting is beneficial overall to a child’s social and emotional development. These benefits also include a child’s behavior, academic performance, and psychological well-being.

Co-parenting counselors are there to ensure that the parents are communicating effectively, and that their relationship remains in tact for the sake of the children.

5. More Fathers are Raising the Children

In recent decades, women have been developing their careers in lieu of starting a family. This trend has resulted in women marrying later in life, and having children later in their careers.

Women are also frequently the primary bread-winners, and will return to their careers shortly after their children are born. This leads to an increased need for childcare, and many women will rely on a stay-at-home-spouse to tend to the individual needs of their children.

In 1989, the total population of stay-at-home fathers was 1.1 million. As of 2012, that number spiked to 2 million. While 71% of those men were unemployed or disabled in 1989, only 5% were homemakers focused on raising a family. In 2012, 21% were reported as homemakers focusing on raising a family [2].

6. More Relatives are Raising the Children

Across the country, millions of children are being raised by their grandparents or other relatives.

Reasons for child relocation include:

  1. Abuse
  2. Neglect
  3. Substance abuse
  4. Mental health issues
  5. Domestic violence
  6. Incarceration
  7. Military deployment
  8. Serious illness
  9. Death of parent(s)

Studies have shown that children are benefitted by family guardianship rather than being taken in by Child Protective Services and placed into foster care.

Some of these benefits include:

  1. Fewer placement changes;
  2. Increased likelihood of keeping siblings together;
  3. Decreased likelihood of changing schools;
  4. Positive placement perceptions;
  5. Fewer behavioral problems;
  6. Decreased likelihood of runaways;
  7. Increased emotional bonding.

Report findings indicate that 2.7 million (4%) of U.S. children are being raised by their grandparents or other relatives, with another 7.8 million families living with grandparents as the head of the household.

7. Live-In Partners are Becoming More Common

When first marriages end in divorce, chances are one or both spouses will remarry. This creates a new family dynamic for the adults and the children who are cohabiting the residence, but are not legally bound to one another.

The concept of a live-in partnership and remarriage is a trending topic of concern in family law. Does remarriage or live-in partnership establish a new parent to the children? Do live-in partners get legal influence in the lives of the children?

These are questions that have been muddled by changes in what socially defines a legal parent or guardian after remarriage.

However, the new spouse has the legal option to petition in circuit court to adopt the parent’s existing child(ren). Spousal adoption is a joint petition that must be filed by the parent and spouse, with permission given by the biological parent. It will also indicate the option of revising the child’s surname, should the desire arise [3].

8. Re-Negotiating Custody Agreements is Becoming More Common

Most often, it is assumed that divorce is an opened-and-closed case. However, there are conditions that would allow the case to be reopened and the terms to be renegotiated.

There are some cases in which a petition is filed to reopen the original custody agreement. Sometimes, parents want to push back for a 50/50 split, while others seek to revoke parental visitation from the opposing party. In either case, this trend of family law can get a little bit messy.

Parents who are going back to work or changing career paths may find that they need more help than their original settlement required. For this reason, terms of the custody arrangement are often eligible for re-negotiation.

Other cases can file a petition for a change in child support or alimony sums, depending on the conditions. Therefore, evidence must be presented to provide support for the claim(s) filed.

(Note: Property settlements and divisions cannot be revised, as the circumstances following a divorce have changed.)

9. Alimony is Becoming Gender-Neutral

That’s right – men are eligible to receive spousal support after marriage. Alimony is open for negotiation by both parties during divorce proceedings.

A U.S. Census determined that of the 400,000 people receiving alimony, a mere 3% of that total are men. So, although it’s uncommon, it is a gender-neutral legal matter on paper and in the courtroom.

Mediation is often useful when determining the terms of divorce.

Outside of mediating, the court will decide the appropriate spousal support upon the presentation of evidence, including the terms of the divorce, income and assets of both parties, and need for spousal support [4].


Family law practices and trends are constantly changing, and remaining aware of the upcoming trends can help you to ensure you are taking care of your family.

Schedule your free consultation with our Family Law Attorney, and discover how you can continue to protect your family.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau

[2] Pew Research Center

[3] Va. Code, §20-108.1

[4] Va. Code, § 63.2-1241

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