on Joint versus Sole Custody     (More links & research listed below)

An article by Robert Bauserman, entitled Child Adjustment in Joint-Custody Versus Sole-Custody Arrangements: A Meta-Analytic Review, is purported to be the last word on the benefits of joint custody versus sole custody (it isn't, really, but that's how it's being touted.) Bauserman is a psychologist with the Maryland AIDS Administration/Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Somehow, contrary to the implications of the most recent and credible research which indicates that joint custody either is problematic or offers no benefits on balance for children or their families, Bauserman has managed to "meta-analyze" selected studies on custody and come to what superficially appears to be the opposite conclusion.

His article opens (emphasis added -- speculations aren't findings, and qualifier words like "can be" and "some" can be added to almost any write-up to slant or highlight fact findings, which in turn get simplified into less qualified soundbites in the media):

The author meta-analyzed studies comparing child adjustment in joint physical or joint legal custody with sole-custody settings, including comparisons with paternal custody and intact families where possible. Children in joint physical or legal custody were better adjusted than children in sole-custody settings, but no different from those in intact families. More positive adjustment of joint-custody children held for separate comparisons of general adjustment, family relationships, self-esteem, emotional and behavioral adjustment, and divorce-specific adjustment. Joint-custody parents reported less current and past conflict than did sole-custody parents, but this did not explain the better adjustment of joint-custody children. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that joint custody can be advantageous for children in some cases, possibly by facilitating ongoing positive involvement with both parents.

The article commences with what is essentially a summary of political arguments pro and con pertaining to custody, and uses the same kind of speculative misrepresentations of the research findings that are characteristic of the highly agenda'd "father-absence" and pro-joint-custody researchers. A number of studies are cited which purportedly evidence benefits flowing from joint custody, but which on closer inspection, in the main do no such thing. For example, Bauserman writes (emphasis added):

Notably, joint custody (and joint physical custody in particular) is relevant to many of the issues raised by Buchanan et al. (1996), Amato and Gilbreth (1999), Hetherington et al. (1998), and McLanahan (1999). For example, ongoing and frequent access to both parents may mitigate potential effects of parental absence as seen in sole-custody households...

Bauserman then discusses his methodology. In order to do his meta-analysis, he had to exclude all studies that were only qualitative, as well as studies that did not provide a comparison between sole and joint custody households.  His requirement for studies with a statistical comparison of arbitrary measures of child well-being, however, ended up excluding some large and credible qualitative studies, such as Wallerstein's, and including early and small bean-counting-type studies, including unpublished studies, that were flawed based on a variety of criteria. (For a discussion of the specious political arguments and the problems inherent in some of these studies, see those-jointcustody-studies.html)

In all, Bauserman managed to come up with only 33 studies total for inclusion in his meta-analysis, and of those, a whopping 22 were small, unpublished studies, a super-whopping 21 of these being the often overly-simplistic and inexperienced research of doctoral students. All in all, it was difficult to select usable studies, because of the confounding in many of the studies of joint physical and joint legal custody, as well as variations in items measured by the different studies, as well as that many of the early studies failed to isolate out other confounding factors (such as conflict.) But Bauserman did manage to weight his meta-analysis with a slew of early, flawed, studies of the kind that have been circulating for years ad nauseum on the internet in father's rights groups as "supporting joint custody," and which have been superseded by later, more authoritative work.

The selected studies, from as early as 1982 through 1999, contained a total of 1846 sole custody children (an average of only 55 children per study) and 814 jont custody children (fewer than 25 children per study). Over one-third were studies that used "convenience samples" (not random samples.) The remainder were mostly from court and school samples (also arguably not an objective broad-based sampling.) Only one was a national sample, and this was research by telephone survey (Donnelly & Finkelhor, 1992), and while Janet Johnston's clinical sample was included, it was discounted by Bauserman (it clearly contra-indicated joint custody) as, apparently, unreliable because of a selection bias for conflict. (We note he did not make the corrollary comment specifically noting the particular many studies that had groups of voluntary self-selected joint custodians.) The only included national study (discounted by Bauserman post-meta-analysis as not reliable and limited in its questions) and sole other clinical-group study also did not weigh on the side of joint custody.

In those studies that did examine conflict, joint-custody couples reported less conflict at the time of separation or divorce. This is consistent with the argument that joint-custody couples are self-selected for low conflict and that better adjustment for their children may reflect this lack of conflict; parental conflict remains an important confound in research comparing adjustment in different custody settings.

One of the methods Bauserman used to ascertain "current conflict" was the much-discredited "Conflict Tactics Scale."

Measures of current conflict were coded from 14 studies and included such measures as the Straus Conflict Tactics Scale (Straus, 1979); the O'Leary­Porter Overt Hostility Scale (B. Porter & O'Leary, 1980); Ahrons's scales for various dimensions of parental conflict, communication, and support (Ahrons, 1979, 1981, 1983); and various author-created items or scales for parents (and sometimes children) to report on such constructs as discord, hostility, cooperation, and conflict over custody or other issues.

The Conflict Tactics Scale has been criticized by domestic violence scholars as considerably gender-biased, and is deeply flawed as an indicator of divorce conflict because it fails to consider entrenched issue-conflict and emotional hostilities (e.g. it focuses on things like who pushed who where, without regard to context.) In addition, there is no indication that arbitrary author-designed scales created by doctoral students in the course of their minor and highly limited little studies would have any transportable measurement validity.

Among the data Bauserman found important to code for analysis of those studies which he did find to be suitable for inclusion in his meta-analysis, was the sex of the first-named author of the study. Bauserman reported that 26, possibly 27, of the 33 studies were by women (he wasn't sure of one ambiguous name and apparently did not discuss his meta-analysis with the studies' authors.)

Given that only 5 of the studies "allowed codable data" on past conflict, it seems rather fortuitous and remarkable that 8 of the 33 studies, or nearly a fourth of those selected by Bauserman, included studiable sole custody paternal groups -- a demographic of relatively meager size. Note Bauserman's rather clever backhanded way of touting sole father-custody as perhaps equal to joint custody which in turn is -- according to Bauserman's meta-analysis and notwithstanding all those problems divorced children ostensibly have -- equivalent to an intact family.

The effect size indicating better adjustment of joint-custody versus paternal custody children was statistically nonsignificant, failing to support the hypothesis of better adjustment for joint-custody children. However, the effect was almost the same in magnitude as the effect size favoring joint over maternal/sole custody. With only 8 studies for the joint versus paternal comparison, but 33 for the broader joint-versus sole-custody comparison, lack of statistical power may have been a problem. Given the relatively small magnitude of the apparent effect size, if joint-custody and paternal custody children really do differ in adjustment, more studies with larger samples may be needed to detect the effect at the level of statistical significance. As hypothesized, joint custody and intact family children did not differ in adjustment...

(It's those darn mothers; children do just fine whenever we can limit maternal parenting!) One would think that Bauserman must have realized that he included skewed amicable self-selected joint-custody groups in his meta-analysis because he observed that "mothers appear just as likely as other evaluators to perceive joint custody as beneficial to their children's adjustment." But he seems to be trying to avoid the appearance of academic dishonesty by professing surprise, and opting instead for showing himself to be either deliberately or unconsciously gender-biased (I vote for the former, given that he found it important to code the sex of the -- admittedly- going- to- be- agenda'd ? -- researchers):

The ratings by mothers are notable because mothers might perceive joint custody as a loss of expected control as primary custodians and be less likely to perceive children as benefiting. Some authors have claimed that mothers are the primary "losers" in joint-custody situations...

Bauserman buries this comment in the middle of his paper (emphasis added):

Joint-custody children showed better adjustment in parental relations and spent significant amounts of time with the father, allowing more opportunity for authoritative parenting. The findings for joint legal custody samples indicate that children do not actually need to be in joint physical custody to show better adjustment, but it is important to note that joint legal custody children typically spent a substantial amount of time with the father as well. Importantly, a causal role for joint custody cannot be demonstrated because of the correlational nature of all research in this area.

I read this as "the children who were in joint legal and joint physical custody (no difference) got along better with and spent more time with their fathers. The reasons for this are unknown but they are speculated to be attributable to 'authoritative parenting' (we are to assume by the father.)" Or perhaps unique circumstances indicate that's why these particular families chose the joint custody experiment in the first place. (Again, for a discussion of the flawed assumptions, conclusions and other problems inherent in some of these early studies, see those-jointcustody-studies.html)

Regarding conflict generally, Bauserman, in separate places in his paper, notes inconsistently:

[S]election bias cannot be ruled out. Parents who have better relationships prior to, or during, the divorce process may self-select into joint custody, such that quality of parental relationship is confounded with custody status. The lower level of conflict in joint-custody families, relative to sole-custody families, is consistent with this alternative hypothesis.

and (emphasis added):

[I]t is important to recognize that the findings reported here do not demonstrate a causal relationship between joint custody and better child adjustment. However, the research reviewed here does not support claims by critics of joint custody that joint-custody children are likely to be exposed to more conflict or to be at greater risk of adjustment problems due to having to adjust to two households or feeling "torn" between parents... It is important to recognize that the results clearly do not support joint custody as preferable to, or even equal to, sole custody in all situations.

Now that we have looked at his article, let's look at who Robert Bauserman is. I don't know him personally, but I do know that his expertise has been touted in a recent book by Judith Levine, entitled Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex," which is being advertised by its publisher, University of Minnesota Press, as challenging widespread anxieties about pedophilia. Levine praises a "controversial" study which came out several years ago, and referred to in shorthand as "The Rind Study." You may have heard of it, and remembered that it was authored by a guy named "Rind" and a couple of other guys whose names you don't recall offhand. (Hint: one of them was named "Bauserman.")

Mark O'Keefe, Newhouse News Service, writes in an article published March 26, 2002 (

Sex between adults and children has been a societal taboo so strong that it's considered one of our few unquestioned moral principles. But arguments have emerged in academic journals, books and online that at least some such sex should be acceptable, especially when children consent to it.

Those making the case aren't just fringe groups, such as the North American Man-Boy Love Association, but a handful of academics at mainstream universities.

Members of this school of thought stress that they don't condone coercing children into sex, and that they are not pro-pedophilia, as the term is commonly understood. But several contend that minors are capable of agreeing to and even initiating sex with adults.

These academics seek to change the language, moving away from "pedophilia," which often evokes a charged negative response.... In its place would be more neutral terms such as "intergenerational sex" or "adult-child sex."...

"Children are the last bastion of the old sexual morality," wrote one of the trailblazers for this view, Harris Mirkin, an associate professor of political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City...

Mirkin is not alone in questioning whether children are harmed by sexual contact with adults. The March 2002 American Psychologist devotes its entire issue to the ongoing fallout of a journal article that did just that.

The piece, in the July 1998 issue of Psychological Bulletin, was written by Bruce Rind, then an assistant professor of psychology at Temple University; Robert Bauserman, a lecturer then with the department of psychology at the University of Michigan; and Philip Tromovitch, then pursuing a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania.

The trio reviewed 59 studies of college students who, as children, had sexual interaction with significantly older people or were coerced into sexual activity with someone of their own age. They concluded that negative effects "were neither pervasive nor typically intense, and that men reacted much less negatively than women." It recommended that a child's "willing encounter with positive reactions" be called "adult-child sex" instead of "abuse."

Well...  Isn't that special.

The Rind Study has been roundly criticized, not only for its ridiculous conclusions (if 59 college students who had broken legs as children suffered no apparent ill effects as adults, would that make it okay to break children's legs), but also for, among other things, misrepresentation of the research. The authors of "Sex With Children: Comment on Rind, Tromobitch, and Bauserman" (1998) stated that Rind, Bauserman and Tromovitch misrepresented the original data cited in the sex abuse meta-analysis:

B. Rind, P. Tromovitch, and R. Bauserman (1998) reported a meta-analysis of the relation between sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence and psychological functioning among college students. Several aspects of their work have proven to be highly controversial, including their assertion that the relation between child sexual abuse and adjustment is quite small and their questioning of whether child sexual abuse should be labeled abuse in scientific inquiry. In this commentary, the authors summarize the controversy that has ensued, place it in a historical context, discuss the limitations of B. Rind et al.'s findings, and critique the manner in which those findings are presented. The authors also argue for the appropriateness of the term abuse and for scientific terminology that reflects rather than contradicts consensual public morality.

To conclude our discussion of the joint custody article written by Robert Bauserman, one of the pro-"child-sex" trio of minor academics referred to above, we note that the article was written under the direction and auspices of...

This research was not done as part of official duties with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene or under its auspices. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Robert Bauserman, AIDS Administration/Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 500 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202. E-mail: Journal of Family Psychology Copyright 2002 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 2002, Vol. 16, No. 1, 91­102.

...Robert Bauserman, on his own initiative. Isn't it nice that, inter alia, he also is interested in family law custody issues.


The following factors HAVE been consistently related to positive child adjustment post-divorce:

      1. positive custodial parent adjustment, which is associated with effective parenting;
      2. positive relationship between custodial parent and child;
      3. low level of conflict between parents.

The findings regarding the relationship between child adjustment and contact with the noncustodial parent are inconsistent and do not lend themselves to a general conclusion.

      -- Gindes, Marion. The Psychological Effects of Relocation for Children of Divorce, AAML Journal, Vol. 15 (1998), pp. 144-145).

"Although three-quarters of parenting plans in Washington State specified joint decision-making, joint decision-making did not work well, and can promote conflict. (Lye & Wechsler, 2000) In fact, Dunne et al. (2000) found that parental conflict appeared to rise under the new law.

The apparently benign idea of shared parenting has achieved a level of common sense knowledge that is contradicted by the social science research in the field.

Research shows that continuing contact with each parent is only one factor associated with positive outcomes for children of divorce. Some researchers have called into question the assumption that maintenance of a relationship with an access father is the most important factor in positive outcomes for children."

      -- Eillis, J.W., "Caught in the middle: Protecting the children of high conflict divorce," (1996) N.Y.U. Review of Legal Social Change 22, 259-61; Silverstein, L. B. Auerbach, C.F., "Deconstructing the Essential Father," 54:6 American Psychologist 397 (1999); quoted in Ad Hoc Child Custody and Access Research Committee, May 28, 2001,


Joint Custody -- the Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions, liz

Those Joint Custody Studies -- Debunked, liz

Myths and Facts about Fatherhood: What the Research REALLY Says

Myths and Facts about Motherhood: What the Research REALLY Says

"Co-authors Rind and Bauserman are members of the Paidika: Journal of Paedophilia cadre... Bauserman wrote an article for the Summer 1989 issue legitimizing sex with children. A similar article by Rind appeared in the Winter 1995 issue. Their co-authored article entitled "Adult-Nonadult Sexual Interactions" was promoted in that publication's Winter 1995 issue." -- Judith Reisman, Ph.D.


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