Sociologists and demographers in Virginia and around the country have found it hard to explain the sharp decrease in inter-state migration. About 8 percent of Americans moved to a different state each year in the 1960s and 1970s, but migration has fallen sharply in the 21st century. Rising divorce rates have been blamed for a cornucopia of societal ills and demographic trends, and one researcher believes that evolving child custody practices may explain the rootedness of modern Americans.
Lower migration was originally seen as a reflection of an aging and settled population, but state-to-state movement was still down considerably even after the calculations were adjusted to account for these influences. Some sociologists speculated that Americans were not moving because they had purchased homes or lacked the funds required to uproot, but the data showed that homeownership rates had remained fairly constant throughout the period studied and migration fell during both good and bad economic times.
A University of Connecticut professor has proposed that child custody arrangements could be behind the trend. In the 1960s and 1970s, mothers were almost always awarded custody when couples divorced, but shared custody arrangements are now considered the norm. The professor notes that modern fathers are far more involved in the day-to-day raising of their children, and this combined with a fear of losing custody if they were to move could be why more of them are staying put after getting divorced.
Even the most amicable of child custody arrangements can be thrown into chaos when one of the parents involved announces that they plan on moving to another state. Judges are called upon to make these decisions when divorced parents are unable to reach an agreement, and they make their rulings based upon what they feel will be best for the child. When these arguments are made in court, family law attorneys could highlight factors to judges such as the possible economic, cultural and educational benefits of allowing the move. Attorneys could also argue against a potential move by pointing out the emotional damage that children sometimes suffer when forcibly separated from a loving parent.