Joint Physical Custody

Adolescents After Divorce, Buchanan, C., Maccoby, and Dornbusch, Harvard University Press,1996. A study of 517 families with children ranging in age from 10.5 years to 18 years, across a four and a half year period. Measures were: assessed depression, deviance, school effort, and school grades. Children in joint physical custody arrangements were found to have better adjustment on these measures than those in sole custody.
The fathers' rights characterization of the study is a misrepresentation. The above researchers analyzed a complex set of variables and conditions, none of which pointed to significant differences in adolescents' behavioral, emotional, or social well-being, when comparing those living with either parent and those living in a "dual residence." But that's not what the researchers were studying anyway. They were looking at adolescents' adaptation mechanisms in a wide variety of post-divorce circumstances. (And they did not find that joint physical custody was better for children than sole custody.) Most of the data were gleaned from one hour telephone interviews with the adolescents themselves. Unless they have a basis for comparison of lifestyles, or there are severe problems such as abuse, children are going to characterize their own lot in a contented light. Among the findings that Buchanan et al. did make, however, were that

children who maintained closer relationships with their custodial (or primary residential) parent seemed to be more well-adjusted than children who did not.

With respect to nonresident fathers, the researchers found that remembering "special days" (e.g., birthdays and holidays) was the only qualitative measure of nonresident father involvement that was consistently related to adolescent adjustment. They also found that

frequency of time spent with fathers did not affect the closeness of the father-child relationship
, although adolescents who did feel emotionally closer to their fathers tended to show less depression (a chicken-egg correlation.) There also were

a number of adolescents in various time-sharing arrangements who articulated feeling "caught" between their two parents' conflicts. The researchers also observed confirmation of other researchers' findings that shared custody arrangements over time tend to drift into more traditional sole custody arrangements.

Of note, a 2005 study by Margaret Brinig on the effects of presumptive joint custody laws found as follows:

"...[S]eparation after the custody statute took effect, holding other things constant, was statistically significantly related to a decrease in the absolute dollars of child support awards, with a difference of about $80 a month. However, even this turns into a larger net loss in buying power for the custodial parent because of inflation during the same time period..

"[Presumption of joint custody] legislation increased the number of motions to modify or enforce parenting time or child custody... the number did increase significantly (and almost doubled) following enactment of the statute. Most of these motions were to change custody or visitation, not to enforce parenting time...

"If the desire of the legislation was to make it easier for unhappy parents to enforce their visitation time, its purpose was clearly not met... "Constitutionalizing child custody, or

"litigating in terms of individual parents' rights, is likely to harm children in many ways. They may end up living with a parent more interested in punishing the former spouse than in doing what the child needs. They may have less money with which to live, as a child support settlement for lower than the guideline amount pays off a parent claiming joint custody, or if a joint custody solution is ordered but not actualized, or if scarce resources are expended on pre or post-divorce litigation. They may live the life of peripatetic suitcase-dwellers, and even worse, may be shuttled between parents who actively seek to undermine each other. Joint custody may be a fine (and even the optimal) solution if desired by both parents who are willing to work hard towards its success.

"Mandatory joint custody, or even a movement in that direction, seems to cause a number of other problems that perhaps its proponents did not anticipate. Unfortunately,

"the biggest winners, at least in Oregon, seem to be not so much the traditionally noncustodial parents, but rather the mediators and, slightly less dramatically, the divorce attorneys."

-- Brinig, Margaret (2005). Does Parental Autonomy Require Equal Custody at Divorce? The University of Iowa College of Law, University of Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper Number 05-13 April, 2005

You can read more at the Liz Library.

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