custody studies shared parenting research benefits of joint custody
The URL for this webpage is http://www.thelizlibrary.org/liz/braver-wallerstein.html
JUDITH WALLERSTEIN COMMENTS
ON SANFORD BRAVER'S "RELOCATION OF CHILDREN AFTER DIVORCE
AND CHILDREN'S BEST INTERESTS: NEW EVIDENCE AND LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS"
[Sanford Braver and his associates set out to prove that
letting custodial mothers move with their children causes children harm.
The researchers came up with no findings in support of their goal. What
they did find is discussed here by esteemed researcher and divorce psychology
expert, Dr. Judith Wallerstein. You can read additional comments by Prof.
Norval D. Glenn, Ph.D.and David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American
Values at www.thelizlibrary.org/lamusga/glenn.html.]
presented by Braver, Elman and Fabricious as the centerpiece of their argument
that courts should bar the mother who has custody from moving with her
children is based entirely on brief written responses
to a questionnaire administered only once in the early weeks of their freshman
year to youngsters enrolled in introductory psychology classes at
Arizona State University in 1991.
There are no other data about these students
or their families collected by these investigators other than the students
responses to the questionnaire. The study analyzes their brief responses
and draws a range of conclusions. Their analysis rests on this very limited
body of information with no information about the economic or social circumstances
of growing up in the families, no knowledge of the histories of these young
people or of their parents, and no references to the developmental issues
that youngsters entering college and separating from living with their
families face at this time in their lives.
extraordinary lack of data about the lives of these young people and their
families or even about the number of moves and the distance of the move
the authors of this study make the astonishing and unwarranted assumption
that moving as little as an hour's drive away from the other parent was
a critical issue in their mental health and attitudes.
The 602 students who noted in their response
that their parents had divorced were divided into 5 groups and compared
in their responses to questions about their mental health and about the
contributions of their fathers and mothers to their expenses during their
first year at college.
The breakdown, in accord with the interest
of the investigators, was that 38% or 232 had parents who did not move
more than an hours drive away since the divorce, 25% or !48 moved with
mother, 26% or 154 remained with the mother when the father moved. Only
8% or 46 remained with the father when the mother moved. And only or 4%
or 22 moved away with the father.
Moving was defined
as on hour's drive away or more. The distances moved or the number
of moves was not sought, distinguished or reported. But the number of mothers
and fathers who moved away was about almost exactly the same. The investigators
do not mention whether any of these cases came to court or whether any
of the moves were protested by the other parent.
It is important
therefore to note that it is not possible to compare those children whose
custodial mother decided not to relocate (because of a court order preventing
her from leaving with her children) with children who were permitted to
move in accord with the mother's request and over the father's objections.
On this issue, as noted in our amica brief re Burgess, there remains no
research anywhere directly on point, and it is necessary therefore to draw
on the existing large body of developmental and clinical knowledge about
children and the impact of divorce on the development of children.
Nevertheless it may be instructive to
compare the findings of this very limited study
of young people who remained with their custodial mothers with those
that moved with the father or remained in his custody after the mother's
move. On this issue the study has some striking findings.
We note that in the measures of psychological
and emotional adjustment there are no significant differences between those
children who remained in the same community with both parents not moving
amd those who remained in the custody of the mother whether she moved or
remained in the same community as before the divorce whether or not the
father moved. The major psychological indices which show no significant
differences in the youngsters in these groups include: their overall personal
and emotional adjustment, substance abuse, patterns of friendship, dating
behavior and general life satisfaction .
certainly fail to support the argument that the move away affects the psychological
adjustment or social behavior of the youngsters.
There are however
astonishing differences in the emotional adjustment of those youngsters
in the custody of their fathers whom either moved or remained in the same
youngsters in the custody of their fathers when the mother moved
or who moved with the father were the only young people who showed troubled
behavior. But they report that the youngsters who
were, in their words. "noticeably less well adjusted were youngsters
who moved with or remained with the father."
authors make no effort to explain this truly astounding finding, and it
is hard to see how these findings constitute an argument for barring the
custodial mother's move with her children and changing the custody of the
child from mother to father.
Another argument, which the study makes
against permitting mothers to move with their children, is that fathers
contribute more to the college expenses of their children when both parents
remain in the same community. And indeed it appears to be so if we compare
the dollar amount contributed. What we do not know is how reliable the
cash figures are as estimated by these young people. Did they see the checks
or did they report what one or both parents told them or were they guessing?
Nor do we know which youngsters were paying the low in-state fees or the
much higher out-of-state fees.
would seek some corroborative hard evidence from college records or at
the very least additional information from interviews with parents before
relying on the financial reports of college freshmen who have little experience
in financial matters and little hard data. The only information
in this study is from the students.
What we also do not know except from the
students is whether the more affluent parents who contributed more money
to college were also the ones who were able to remain in the same general
neighborhood as the family home after the breakup. And whether their fathers
contained a subgroup that was well educated and more likely therefore to
value college education.
It is well established that many parents
are impoverished by the divorce especially middleclass women (Jay
Teachman and Kathleen Paasch Spring 1994 Financial Impact of Divorce on
Children and their Families The Future of Children, Children and Divorce,
Vol. 4 no1. pp. 63 to 83). Hetherington, who reported a multimeasure
long term study in which she talked with parents and children over more
than two decades, notes that the poor women in her study moved 7 times
in the 6 year period after the breakup in search of cheaper affordable
rent. Obviously these poor custodial mothers would not have been able to
remain in the same neighbornhood as the pre-divorce family home. So it
may be that the economic condition of the fathers was different in these
different categories of contribution to college and that those who gave
more money included a larger group of more affluent business and professional
men for whom moving away after the breakup was more problematic because
of the constraints of licensure in different states and the obstacles to
reestablishing professional practices and moving businesses.
We cannot answer any of these questions
from the limited information available in this study. Nevertheless, according
to the youngsters reports, fathers who along with mother did not move contributed
approximately $6000 to the first year of college. They contributed approximately
$5000 to the college expenses of youngsters where the mother remained in
the same community. And close to that for children who remained in their
custody. They contributed somewhat over $4000 to children who moved with
their custodial mother. But once again we confront
an unexpected difference in father and mother custody. Fathers contributed
their lowest, only $3700 to children who moved with them. Why did the children
in their custody get so much less ? This finding, which is germane to the
issue of comparing children in father and mother custody receives no comment
from the investigators.
There are other issues in understanding
these amounts within their proper context, which are not discussed because
we lack information. We are not told whether the children who moved were
helped by grandparents or extended family, which they may well have been
if the mother relocated to be with her family. We also are not told whether
any of the young people had worked to accumulate their own college money
during or after high school, or whether any enjoyed their own family trust
or had received scholarships. It is unlikely that the young people knew
the amounts contributed by stepparents which may have been an important
part of tuition for those mothers who moved in order to remarry.
We are left with many more questions than answers.
To note a few: was the amount of the father's
contribution related to the father's income. Was it related to the mother's
income? Did the contribution reflect a sacrifice by the father? Was it
something they had planned for? Or was it an easy gift. Did the amount
reflect the parent child relationship? Was less money provided if mother
had remarried? Or if father remarried? Did the money reflect the friendship
or animosity of the parents or the perhaps the attitude of the child or
perhaps the academic promise and talents of the child? Was the gender of
the child an issue or the number of children in the family? For all of
these interesting and important questions we lack data.
But in the absence of information it seems
highly questionable to conclude that if the mother and father refrain from
moving that the child is likely to get $1000 more in college tuition during
her freshman year at college. It also should be noted that even the $6000
dollar contributed by fathers for the freshman year, which was the top
amount estimated by the youngsters whose parents had not moved, does not
go much beyond one half or less of the college expenses at a state university,
especially if clothing and transportation and entertainment are factored
The study also
includes a welter of responses to questions put to the youngsters about
how stressed they feel, about their anger their attitudes to their parents,
and the extent to which they see their parents as getting along. In the
absence of any history or personal information about the youngsters, the
parent child relationships or about their families there is no way to evaluate
their responses responsibly. We lack the most elementary information
about how many youngsters experienced a second or third parental divorce.
We do not know whether the youngsters who relocated with their mother had
come a long distance from their home to the college or whether this was
their first separation from their families, or whether they had some concerns
about the effect of their leaving on the mother or siblings in a distant
community. We are not told about whether they or their parents were in
medical or psychiatric treatment during the child's growing up years. We
are not informed about how old the children were at the breakup, the reasons
for the move, or the extent or number of moves.
From a developmental
standpoint it is important to note that the authors seem entirely unaware
of the impact of developmental issues on the youngsters and their attitudes.
The responses of the young people about how they feel about their parents
or about themselves as they stand on the threshold of college, at a major
life transition, need to be understood within a developmental context.
Undoubtedly entering college and separating from living with family is
a moderately stressful time. It is difficult for some young people to separate
from their parents and familiar surroundings at this time. Entry into dorm
life can be a shock. But these stresses are not ones likely to lead to
lasting health problems. The public health studies that link stress to
serious sequellae that the authors invoke deal with lasting severe stress
not the mild to moderate stress of leaving home and moving from one developmental
phase to another which these young people are engaged in doing.
The mental health
responses already reported suggest that these students are mostly in good
shape with the exception of those in the custody of their fathers. Those
young people who thought of their parents as good or poor role models may
at age 18 or 19 have accurately gauged their parent's behavior or may still
be in the throes of adolescent rebellion against them. These kind of subtle
judgments require the context of the relationship. One needs to know the
circumstances and the details of the relationship in order to pass judgment.
Furthermore it is likely that parents who get along are able more easily
to stay in the same neighborhood where they resided prior to the divorce.
Perhaps there was less remarriage among the parents who did not move, or
less internal motivation or external pressure to remake their lives or
perhaps some lingering affection between the divorced couple.
It is really
too bad that the investigators did not interview even a small subgroup
among the young people or their parents to shed light on these issues and
to clarify and truly enrich their findings before trying to link the youngster's
attitudes to whether or not they moved an hour away.or more.
To detail their reports which they failed
to anchor within the context of the lives of the students or their families,
the investigators report no significant differences
in anger between those youngsters who remained with both parents and those
who moved with their mother and those who remained with the mother, whether
or not the father moved. They find a larger difference in distress
from the divorce reported among those who moved with their mother than
those who remained in the same community. But here again we lack information
about the economic circumstances of the family, the mother child and the
stepparent relationships, and other information that might cast light on
their greater distress.
We are told that there is no difference
in the responses in the different groups in the view of mother as providing
good support. Those youngsters who moved and those who stayed did have
significantly different view of the father as source of support. Whether
those who moved were realistically disappointed in their father who did
not, in their view, make the expected efforts to maintain their contact
or whether they felt displaced by the stepchildren or whether they were
influenced by their mother's feelings towards the father we cannot know
without knowledge of the history and the circumstances that prompted their
Finally the authors note, "Our
data cannot establish with certainty that moves cause children significant
date cannot establish even tentatively that moves cause children any harm.
The data as reported show very little about the impact of the relocation
on children in mother custody families as compared with those that do not
move. It would, in fact, be impossible
for these data to show improvement or detriment since their study is entirely
lacking in a baseline. We do not know how the child was before
the move, or the reasons for the move, or the age and condition of parent
and child before the move. The study tells us nothing about the impact
of the move without this baseline against which the child could be compared.
authors concede that all of "the data are correlative and not causative.
They cannot establish with anything near certainty that the moves are a
contributing cause." Exactly. It is important to
emphasize that correlations never establish causality and that the entire
method of this study is based on correlations.
Moreover it is
just as likely that relocation is a consequence of a stressful and unhappy
environment as a cause of it. The authors do not consider this obvious
possibility. They do note that general data or averages cannot
decide individual cases and they call appropriately for longitudinal studies,
which this is not.
their final conclusions the authors offer the unfounded generalization
that the study establishes that relocation does not improve the condition
of children. It is impossible to find any support for this statement
in this study.
As we have noted, since the study has
no information about the children prior to the move, the researchers have
no basis whatsoever for evaluating whether the children did or did not
improve. And since they have not enough information in their findings to
examine different groups in the study, they cannot shed light on who benefited
and who did not. In addition, since there were
no differences among those groups of children who remained in the same
community with both parents and those who moved with the custodial mother,
the researchers' conclusion that relocation fails to improve the lives
of children seems to be built not on the study itself but on the goals
of the investigators.
only group of children found to suffer were those who were in the custody
of their fathers (whether or not the children moved). These children
seemed significantly more troubled in all of the major mental health measures.
To conclude: The proper comparison group,
which would be relevant to the relocation of the custodial parent with
the child, is not simply cases where both parents continue to live in the
same area. Rather the salient group would be built of cases where the custodial
parent was prevented from moving. Such a study has not been conducted.
important findings in this limited study are:
the striking similarities in major mental health measures between children
who moved with their mothers and those whose parents did not move (which
supports granting custodial mothers' requests to move with their children),
the unexplained psychological plight of the children in father custody
(which contraindicates denying custodial mothers' requests to
move with their children and requiring the children instead to remain with
in mental health measures between those who remained in mother custody
regardless of geographical location are overriding in their importance.
-- Judith Wallerstein, Ph.D. (2003)
WANT RESEARCH AND CITATIONS?
Joint Custody Studies: Debunked, liz
Custody -- the Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions, liz
Myths and Facts about
Fatherhood: What the Research REALLY Says
Myths and Facts about
Motherhood: What the Research REALLY Says
And... Why is this Advocate of Calling
it "Adult-Child Sex" So Interested in Touting Joint Custody?
liz debunks Bauserman's "Meta-analysis."
by Trish Wilson on this new study and Bauserman
the Experts Say: A Review of the Scholarly Research
on Post-Divorce Parenting and Child Well-being.
Blame and Simplistic Solutions: DC's Joint Custody Presumption, by
Margaret Martin Barry --
Scholarly article by law professor discusses what's wrong with a statute
providing for a presumption of joint custody
Paradigms Collide: Protecting Battered Parents and Their Children in the
Family Court System, by Clare Dalton, 37 Fam. & Conciliation
Courts Rev. 273 (1999)
Dore, Esq. on "friendly parent" provisions
101 for Attorneys: Implications for Infant Placement Decisions, by
Eleanor Willemsen and Kristen Marcel
Custody: Implications for Women, by Renee Leff
on the internet at http://www.pgi.edu/pdf/1995journal.pdf
the Batterer in Visitation and Custody Disputes, by R. Lundy Bancroft.
abuse may be reported for the first time at the time of a separation or
divorce; critique of Janet Johnston's categories of batterer; more.
Violence in Custody and Access Disputes, Recommendations for Reform,
Nicholas M.C. Bala et al.
-- Scholarly article by Status of Women Canada Policy Research Fund (1998)
Psychological Effects of Relocation for Children of Divorce, by
Marion Gindes, Ph.D., AAML Journal, Vol. 15 (1998), pp. 119
the Father's Rights movement really looks like, liz
the "Responsible Fatherhood" movement really is about, liz
Carol S. Bruch,
Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation: GETTING IT WRONG IN CHILD CUSTODY CASES
of other articles (to be supplemented):
Brinig, Margaret F.,
and Child Custody Under Chapter Two of the American Law Institute's
Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution." 8
Duke J. of Gender L. & Pol'y 301 (Spring/Summer 2001).
Jennifer L.,"Separation Assault in the Context of Postdivorce Parenting:
An Integrative Review of the Literature." Violence Against Women
8.5 (May 2002): 597-625. Author discusses the negative implications of
friendly parent provisions for abused women.
Sheila J., Against Joint Custody: A General Dissent to the General Bullmoose
Theory. Family and Conciliation Courts Review (1989), 27 (2) 37-45
Richard, The Primary Caretaker Parent Rule: Child Custody and the Dynamics
of Greed, 3 Yale L. & Pol'y Rev. 168 (1984)
Jana B. & William L. Reynolds, A Dissent on Joint Custody, 47 Md. L.
Rev. 497 (1988). The primary caretaker preference eliminates much of
the bickering and confusion inherent in custody determinations by awarding
custody to the parent who has been most responsible for raising the child.
Kathleen, "Battered Women and Their Children: Lessons from One Woman's
Story," Symposium: Domestic Violence and the Health Care System.
35 Hous. L. Rev. 29 (1998).