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Benefits of Joint Custody

This collection of citations and statistics demonstrates the benefits that joint custody provides to children. Most of these excerpts come from longer, more detailed articles, many of which can be found on the SPARC web site.

Benefits of Joint Custody:

"This research discovers that children--especially daughters--benefit considerably when the parent they are not living with nevertheless does everyday things with the child, from 'shopping, reading, visiting, doing homework, watching TV together,' to 'spending holidays together.' The authors conclude that, for a school-age daughter, this 'doing everyday-type things together' with the parent she is not living with is the only predictor of psychological well-being. (K. Alison Clarke-Stewart and Craig Hayward, "Advantages of Father Custody and Contact for the Psychological Well-Being of School-Age Children," Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Vol. 17, No. 2, April-June 1996, p. 239.)

"States with high levels of joint physical custody awards (over 30%) in 1989 and 1990 have shown significantly greater declines in divorce rates in following years through 1995, compared with other states. Divorce rates declined nearly four times faster in high joint custody states, compared with states where joint physical custody is rare. As a result, the states with high levels of joint custody now have significantly lower divorce rates on average than other states. States that favored sole custody also had more divorces involving children. These findings indicate that public policies promoting sole custody may be contributing to the high divorce rate." (John Guibaldi, D.Ed., "Child Custody Policies and Divorce Rates in the US", 11th Annual Conference of the Children's Rights Council, OCT 23-26, 1997, Washington, D.C.).

"…children raised by a divorced single parent are significantly more likely than average to have problems in school, run away from home, develop drug dependency, or experience other serious problems…" (Ibid).

"…the states with high levels of joint custody had significantly lower divorce rates four years later. States with higher levels of joint custody had an average four-year decline in the divorce rate approximately double that for states with medium levels of joint custody. On a percentage basis, between 1989 and 1994 the rate in the High joint custody group declined by 8%, in the Medium group by 4%, and in the Low group by less than 1%. (Ibid).

Does joint custody help to reduce conflict between parents or is it simply that more cooperative parents are more likely to agree to joint custody arrangements in the first place? Many studies have demonstrated that joint custody arrangements lead to much better compliance in financial child support and greater parental involvement. But opponents of joint custody have claimed that these benefits occur only because the more cooperative parents were the ones that chose joint custody. A new study by Judith Seltzer, University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides strong evidence to refute this claim.

Seltzer used data from the National Survey of Families and Households, a survey of over 13,000 families that collected data in two waves, 1987-1988 and 1992-1994. Because the NSFH included data on the quality of family relationships, it was possible to study the effects of joint legal custody while controlling for pre-separation family relationships. Seltzer identified data on families that had separated or divorced between the first and second survey periods. The results clearly indicated positive effects for joint legal custody: "Controlling for the quality of family relationships before separation and socioeconomic status, fathers with joint legal custody see their children more frequently, have more overnight visits, and pay more child support than fathers in families in which the mothers have sole legal custody."

Remarkably, Seltzer found that the level of conflict before separation had no impact on the prospects of parents obtaining joint legal custody at divorce. She says, "My findings show that neither conflict nor marital happiness before separation affect the likelihood that parents will acquire joint legal custody at divorce."

The fact that children benefited from joint legal custody even after taking account of the quality of family relationships and economic resources before separation provides further evidence that these positive effects are not simply the result of more cooperative parents choosing joint custody. Seltzer proposes a "role oriented" explanation for the benefits of joint legal custody. She says that "By clarifying that divorced fathers are 'by law' still fathers, parents' negotiations about fathers' participation in child rearing after divorce may shift from trying to resolve whether fathers will be involved in child rearing to the matter of how fathers will be involved." [emphasis in original]

Seltzer concludes that children's advocates appear to be right: "At least on the dimensions of increased contact between nonresident fathers and children, joint legal custody may, as advocates claim, make the lives of children after divorce more similar to their lives before divorce or to the lives of their peers in two-parent households." Seltzer's report is entitled "Father by Law: Effects of Joint Legal Custody on Nonresident Fathers' Involvement with Children."

The report can be obtained through the internet at http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/cde/nsfhwp/home.htm or from the Center for Demography and Ecology, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, 4412 Social Science Bldg., 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison WI, 53706-1393.

"Indeed, a large body of research overwhelmingly suggests children do best when they have both a mother and a father in their lives. Specifically, children whose fathers are involved in raising them do better in school, are less likely to get into trouble with the law, and are more likely to be better parents themselves." (Jayne Keedle, "Fathers Matter", The Hartford Advocate - http://www.hartfordadvocate.com/articles/fathersmatter.html).

"There's an important link between the amount of contact a non-custodial parent has with a child and the willingness of that person to pay child support. In 1991, about 4.4 million non-custodial parents with visitation privileges and/or joint custody owed child support. Of that number, 79 percent paid all or part of it. By comparison, only 56 percent of the 900,000 people with no visitation or joint custody rights paid all or part of what they owed." (Ibid).

"Without a lot of support, separating couples can't be relied upon to play fair. At the moment, however, many men feel shut out of a system that is more supportive of mothers than it is of fathers." (Ibid).

"Father-deprivation is a more reliable predictor of criminal activity than race, environment or poverty. Father-deprived children are:

  1. 72% of all teenage murderers.
  2. 60% of rapists.
  3. 70% of kids incarcerated.
  4. twice as likely to quit school.
  5. 11 times more likely to be violent.
  6. 3 of 4 teen suicides.
  7. 80% of the adolescents in psychiatric hospitals.
  8. 90% of runaways

Sources: National Fatherhood Initiative, US Bureau of Census, FBI
"Father-deprivation is a serious form of child abuse that is institutionalized and entrenched within our legal system. Powerful sexist people in Canada have a vested interest in diminishing the role of men, especially their role as fathers. Research proves that children thrive with the active and meaningful participation of both biological parents, and is true even for post-divorce families." (Dick Feeman, Joseph Maiello, Mike Jebbet, "Child Custody or Child Abuse", Victoria Times-Colonist, Jan 8, 1998).

Additional Statistics:

"Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality."

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, Survey on Child Health, Washington, DC, 1993.

"Teenagers living in single-parent households are more likely to abuse alcohol and at an earlier age compared to children reared in two-parent households."

Source: Terry E. Duncan, Susan C. Duncan and Hyman Hops, "The Effects of Family Cohesiveness and Peer Encouragement on the Development of Adolescent Alcohol Use: A Cohort-Sequential Approach to the Analysis of Longitudinal Data", Journal of Studies on Alcohol 55 (1994).

"...the absence of the father in the home affects significantly the behavior of adolescents and results in the greater use of alcohol and marijuana."

Source: Deane Scott Berman "Risk Factors Leading to Adolescent Substance Abuse", Adolescence 30 (1995)
A study of 156 victims of child sexual abuse found that the majority of the children came from disrupted or single-parent homes; only 31 percent of the children lived with both biological parents. Although stepfamilies make up only about 10 percent of all families, 27 percent of the abused children lived with either a stepfather or the mother's boyfriend.

Source: Beverly Gomes-Schwartz, Jonathan Horowitz, and Albert P. Cardarelli, "Child Sexual Abuse Victims and Their Treatment", U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justce and Delinquency Prevention.

Researchers in Michigan determined that "49 percent of all child abuse cases are committed by single mothers."

Source: Joan Ditson and Sharon Shay, "A Study of Child Abuse in Lansing, Michigan", Child Abuse and Neglect, 8 (1984).

"A family structure index -- a composite index based on the annual rate of children involved in divorce and the percentage of families with children present that are female-headed -- is a strong predictor of suicide among young adult and adolescent white males."

Source: Patricia L. McCall and Kenneth C. Land, "Trends in White Male Adolescent, Young-Adult and Elderly Suicide: Are There Common Underlying Structural Factors?" Social Science Research 23, 1994.

" Fatherless children are at dramatically greater risk of suicide."
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, Survey on Child Health, Washington, DC, 1993.

In a study of 146 adolescent friends of 26 adolescent suicide victims, teens living in single-parent families are not only more likely to commit suicide but also more likely to suffer from psychological disorders, when compared to teens living in intact families.

Source: David A. Brent, et al. "Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in Peers of Adolescent Suicide Victims: Predisposing Factors and Phenomenology.", Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 34, 1995.
"Boys who grow up in father-absent homes are more likely that those in father-present homes to have trouble establishing appropriate sex roles and gender identity."

Source: P.L. Adams, J.R. Milner, and N.A. Schrepf, "Fatherless Children", New York, Wiley Press, 1984.

"In 1988, a study of preschool children admitted to New Orleans hospitals as psychiatric patients over a 34-month period found that nearly 80 percent came from fatherless homes."

Source: Jack Block, et al. "Parental Functioning and the Home Environment in Families of Divorce", Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27 (1988)

Kelly, Joan, Ph.D. : Further Observations on Joint Custody

University of California at Davis Law Review, Vol 16

We have learned that the ability to cooperate around parenting issues can be encouraged and enhanced with limited and relatively inexpensive education, counseling, or skillful mediation.

I am concerned about the position that argues that joint custody should not be awarded when parents do not agree.

In these cases it is almost always the woman who is opposed to joint custody. Women do not need to ask for, not agree to, joint custody. They are presumed by society, lawyers, the courts, and themselves to have a right to keep the children in their care and protection.

It is the father who must ask for joint custody and it is often in the mother's power to agree or disagree.

The mother's position is particularly enhanced if she knows that a refusal to share parenting with her spouse will preclude a joint custody order regardless of her reasons for denying joint custody.

In this context, it would be important to study women who refuse a request for joint custody.

Potash, Marlin S., Ph.D. : Psychological Support for a Rebuttable Presumption of Joint Custody : Probate Law Journal, Vol. 4, 17, 1982
By presuming joint custody as early as possible in the court process, parties are impelled to attend to the child's needs, thereby encouraging mature behavior and discouraging divisive, childish conflict.

Shared parenting with mutual responsibility -- joint custody -- is in the best interest of the child, parents, society, and the court system. Those courts can assist the parents in settling their own disagreements by providing a context for negotiation and helping to mold specific child-centered joint custody agreements.

Simring, A. Sue Klavans, Doctoral Candidate, Columbia University : Fathering in Joint Custody Families : A Study of Divorced and Remarried Fathers : Dissertation, 1984
The quality of the relationship between the mother and the father, especially at the time of separation, does not predict whether a joint custody arrangement can work.

If there is a legal and social expectation that parents must negotiate with each other, there is a higher likelihood that it will occur than if the expectation is that they are too embittered to even talk to one another.

Many fathers in conflictual situations stated that joint custody could be successful if the legal agreement specifically enumerated the responsibilities of each parent and did not depend on their good will towards each other as a means of resolving differences.

Alexander, Shanon J., M.A., Family Relations division of Home Economics, Florida State University : Protecting the Child's Rights in Custody Cases : The Family Coordinator - Oct. 1977
(Emphasizes the cumulative stress on the child rather than looking at divorce as an isolated event in the child's life.)

(Relationships among family members) do not end when divorce occurs (they are) merely altered….

Current patterns of custody, visitation, and child support show low deviations from the traditional mother custody, bimonthly visitation with a father who pays child support.

This fact challenges any supposition that arrangements are tailored to meet the specific needs of the particular family. It is more logical to conclude that these decisions are made according to fairly rigid, conventionalized standards that poorly accommodate the variety of circumstances among individual families in minimizing stressful situations. (several sources are quoted).

(The) duration of contact with the father was directly related to the quality of the father-child relationship and, indirectly, to the child's adjustment.

(The) key factors (are:) insure that the father (has) easy access to his children and input into his children's lives, both of which are frequently denied fathers in actual practice.

(Results) show better results for joint custody than sole custody.

(The) relitigation rate for joint custody was half that for sole custody (16% vs. 32%).

Jacobson, Doris S., Ph.D., Professor of School of Social Welfare, University of California @ L.A. : The Impact of Marital Separation/Divorce on Children - Parent and Child Separation and Child Adjustment : Journal of Divorce - Summer 1978 {30 families - 51 children}
Findings indicate a statistically significant association between time lost in the presence of the father and current adjustment. The more time lost, the higher the maladjustment score.

(Of those families in the sample) in which custody had been decided by the court, there was one family in which there was joint custody. In all other cases, whether custody had or had not been determined by the court, children lived with their mothers.

(Story) of a 6 year old boy who, when asked what the most difficult aspect of his family situation was, responded tearfully, 'I miss my daddy.' He had not seen his father for 2 months.

. . . an 8 year old boy complained about the interference of the extended family in allowing him to telephone his father. He had learned to put through emergency calls to his father quickly when others were not around.

…the direct impact on the child's psyche of reduced contact with the father is an important factor to be considered in further research.

Clingempeel, W. Glenn, Department of Psychology, Temple University & N. Dickon Reppucci, University of Virginia : Joint Custody After Divorce : Major Issues and Goals for Research : Psychological Bulletin - Vol. 91, # 1 - 1982
Joint Custody comes out very well as do fathers who want to remain involved. The article has copious quotes from the articles recommending joint custody and it appears that this is the author's vent.

(Joint custody) does not mean that physical custody is necessarily divided equally …

(Joint custody means) both parents have equal input in major decisions affecting their children….

(The) adjustment of children is related to the quality of their relationship with both parents. (emphasis is the author's)

"(The) children (were) dissatisfaction with the paucity of visits under the 'reasonable visitation' standard (often translated into visiting on alternative weekends)."

…frequent visits (had a) positive effect on adjustment….

Additionally, other studies have found:
Boys in joint custody were significantly better adjusted than boys in sole custody (Pojman, 1982);

joint custody fathers were significantly more involved than sole custody fathers and indicated less court use (Bowman, 1983);

Children were "thriving", not just "adjusting" in JMC (Roman & Haddad, 1978);

Children in single mother custody show significant behavior problems (Touliatos & Lindholm, 1980);

In comparative tests, joint custody boys were better adjusted than maternal custody boys. (Shiller, 1984);

Children whose parents shared residential care of the child were rated better adjusted by their mothers. (Cowan, 1982);

Parents with joint physical custody are less likely to litigate than parents with only joint legal custody. Joint custody parents are less likely to litigate when they are must bargain in the shadow of a strong joint custody statute. (Alexander, Ilfeld, & Ilfeld, 1982);

Joint custody awards appear particularly beneficial to mothers. (Hanson, 1986);

When parents were asked to imagine themselves in one of three custody situations, the sole custody arrangement when compared to the joint custody one encouraged punitive behavior and concern for self-interest. (Patrician, 1984);

Fewer joint custody cases than sole custody cases were relitigated. (Phear, Bech, Hauser, Clark, & Whitney, 1984);

Children from joint custody families were more satisfied with time spent with each parent than children from sole custody families. (Welsh-Osga, 1981);

Negative feelings are intensified for children in sole custody families. (Karp, 1982);

Of 28 families mediated into joint custody over their sole custody wishes, none returned to court for litigation. Joint custody awards over the objection of one parent have proven successful. (Irving, Benjamin, & Trocme, 1984).

Need for Friendly Parent requirement:
"The decision to keep the child with the mother is theoretically made in the best interests of the child; however, when children were surveyed later in life, fewer than half felt their mother's motives had anything to do with their best interests. Only a quarter felt it was because their mother loved them." (Glynnis Walker, Solomon's Children, NY: Arbor House, 1986, p. 89).

"Almost 40 percent of the custodial wives reported that they had refused at least once to let their ex-husbands see the children, and admitted that their reasons had nothing to do with the children's wishes or the children's safety, but were somehow punitive in nature." (Julie A. Fulton, "Parental Reports of Children's Post-Divorce Adjustment, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 35, 1979, p. 133. Fulton reported that 53% of the non-custodial fathers claimed their ex-wives had refused to let them see their children).

"Research by Drs. Judith Wallerstein and Joan Berlin Kelly revealed that approximately 50 percent of mothers either saw no value in the father's contact with his children and actively tried to sabotage it, or resented the father's contact." (Wallerstein, Surviving the Breakup, HarperCollins , 1996, p.125).

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