What Are the 4 Types of Single Parents?

A few short decades ago, divorce was still relatively uncommon, and most kids grew up in traditional nuclear families. Flash forward, and those nuclear families are no longer the norm. 

Today, nearly a quarter of all kids under the age of 18 are living in single-parent households. In fact, the U.S. has the highest incidence of single parents of any country in the world. And while single parenting has its rewards, it also has its challenges. 

Single parenthood can be hard

Any parent can tell you that parenting in itself is a full-time job. But when parenting and all the other responsibilities of a household fall on one person, it can be exhausting, overwhelming, and lonely. 

If you’re a single parent, you already know this. You’re caregiver, breadwinner, healthcare worker, housekeeper, and therapist all rolled into one.  At the end of the day, you barely have enough time to brush your teeth before you crash into bed. Unless you have the resources to pay for full-time childcare and housekeepers, the buck stops right at your weary feet.

People become single parents in various ways

While an increasing number of children grow up in single-parent households, not all parents become single parents the same way. Some choose single parenting as a conscious life choice, but most single parenting is circumstantial.

A single parent may be divorced or separated. They may be unmarried and no longer with their partner. Their spouse may be deceased. Or, they may have made the conscious decision to be a single parent. The challenges and rewards can look slightly different depending on the circumstances that got them there. 

Divorced and separated single parents

The vast majority of single-parent households today are due to divorce and separation. According to The Annie E. Casey Foundation, “more than 20% of children born to married couples will experience a divorce by age 9.” 


Divorce and separation rarely allow for a lot of mental and financial preparation. As a divorced single parent, finances can be tight, and you may struggle to find appropriate childcare for your kids while you work. In the middle of trying to be emotionally and physically available to your children, you’re also dealing with the heartbreak of ending your marriage and making sure your kids aren’t adversely affected by it. You may be dealing with loneliness, fear, and concerns about everyone’s mental health and well-being


The good news is that studies have found that kids raised in single-parent households are usually emotionally better off than ones raised in homes with a lot of conflict. Being conflict-free also benefits you, allowing you to enjoy your new life and pursue things you may have put by the wayside when you were married. 

You also have legal protections. Your divorce decree or separation agreement sets out important parenting rights and responsibilities for both parents. If your co-parent falls short in their obligations regarding custody, parenting time, or child support, it can be legally enforced through the courts. 

Unmarried single parents 

When you and an unmarried partner split up, you still have the same rights and responsibilities toward your kids as married couples. But without the legal framework of marriage, divorce, or separation, it can be more challenging to enforce them.


State laws differ in how they regard unmarried parents. In some places, courts may be biased toward the biological mother, and unmarried fathers may have limited parental rights. As an unmarried father, you may have to petition the court and prove paternity to gain access to your children. 

Unfortunately, unmarried mothers are often left to single-handedly parent their children without the help of the other parent. If you’re an unmarried mom, you may be financially vulnerable, and enforcing support or custody with your former partner can be time-consuming and costly.


If you and your unmarried partner decide to split, you can go your own way without enduring a costly and emotionally charged divorce process. If you can work cooperatively with each other, you could still successfully agree on support, custody arrangements, and how to share parenting time so your kids benefit. 

Widowed single parents

Typically, individuals lose a spouse later in life, when their children are grown. But in some cases, the death of a spouse leaves younger children behind who must be parented solely by the surviving spouse.


As a widowed single parent, you may suddenly be thrust into a sole parenting role that you’re unprepared for.

Unlike divorce, children of a deceased parent will never see that parent again. As a surviving spouse, grieving your own loss in addition to dealing with that of your kids can be a difficult balancing act. You’ll have to come from a place of strength for the benefit of your children despite facing fear and uncertainty about your own future.


During this time, others around you will usually come to your aid and support. In the aftermath, friends and family members will be there for you emotionally and physically, offering to take on some of your burdens. If you’re fortunate, you and your spouse had life insurance and estate planning in place that could lessen the financial impact of your loss. 

Single parents by choice

An individual may choose to have children on their own. This choice may result from an unplanned pregnancy. Or, you may be a woman who feels your biological clock limits your chance of finding a suitable partner. You may decide to create a family of your own, without the constraint of a partner. 

Whether you choose to continue a pregnancy alone, adopt, arrange for a child through surrogacy, or conceive through in vitro fertilization with donor eggs or sperm, you have probably considered the options and consequences and now feel in control of your choices. 


If you are a single parent by choice, you will face the same financial and emotional hurdles of caring alone for a child as any other single parent. You will also be confronted with eventually having to disclose your child's biological origin to them at some point.  


Before becoming a single parent, you probably had time to consider your financial resources and potential support system, what your parenting style will be, and how to address and fund childcare while you work. You have prepared yourself for possible challenges and are probably in a better emotional and financial place to meet them. 

No matter how you’ve come to single parenting, it can be challenging in many ways. As a single parent, you’re working hard to create a future on your own terms while still looking out for your children's best interests.

 At Hello Divorce, we offer divorce plans, other related professional services, and a library of resources to help you create a better future for yourself and your kids. Have questions? Schedule a free 15-minute informational call.

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.