joint custody studies shared parenting research benefits of joint custody

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NEW: additional comments by
Prof. Norval D. Glenn, Ph.D. and David Blankenhorn


Sanford L. Braver and colleagues Ira M. Ellman and William V. Fabricius released a study (June 25, 2003) purporting to examine* the effects on children whose parents move after divorce. Braver's write-up of his findings originally could be found at

The article commences with a lengthy and inaccurate legal argument and misleading political commentary. The study write-up and press releases were timed to move public opinion in anticipation of the California Supreme Court's 2003 decision in the LaMusga case. Father's rights groups (pushing joint custody to minimize their financial obligations) and lawyers and psychologists (who make money diddling around with people's lives in never-ending "therapeutic jurisprudence") heralded the case as a "revisitation of Burgess." The study was badly conceived and poorly done, but worse than that: Braver, Ellman and Fabricius blatantly misrepresented their findings.

Here are the findings from the study. (*Caution that they do not reflect different family issues precipitating the divorce or move away, and so really are correlations only.)

WHO WAS STUDIED: Braver et al. compared the characteristics of a bunch of Arizona undergrad psychology students from divorced families, divided up into groups in which post-divorce: (1) neither parent moved, (2) mother moved away with kids, (3) mother moved, leaving kids with father, (4) father moved with kids, and (5) father moved, leaving kids with mother.

HOW THEY WERE STUDIED: The students filled out questionnaires.


PERSONAL AND EMOTIONAL WELL-ADJUSTMENT: The most well-adjusted group in this category were children who remained with their mothers whose fathers moved away. They were better adjusted than children from divorced families where neither parent moved, albeit marginally so. Children who moved with their fathers, or who remained behind with their fathers scored significantly lower on personal and emotional well adjustment than children who remained in the custody of their mothers, regardless of whether the mother moved or not.

GENERAL LIFE SATISFACTION: Children in the custody of their fathers scored lowest on general life satisfaction. Children of divorce whose fathers moved away and left them with their mothers were the most satisfied, marginally more satisfied than children from divorced families in which neither parent moved, and significantly more satisfied than children who either moved or remained behind with their fathers.

HOSTILITY: Children who moved with their fathers, or who remained behind in the custody of their fathers had significantly more hostility than children in families in which neither divorced parent moved, or who either moved with their mothers or remained behind with their mothers. Children who moved with their mothers showed less hostility than children who remained behind with their mothers (i.e. whose fathers moved away), but children who remained behind with their mothers whose fathers moved away, while a little more hostile, also were a little more well-adjusted and satisfied overall.

INNER TURMOIL AND DISTRESS FROM THE DIVORCE: Children from the group in which neither parent moved had the least inner turmoil and distress from the divorce itself. However, the group of children who moved with their mothers or stayed with their mothers when their father moved still had less inner turmoil and distress than children who either moved with their fathers or stayed behind with their fathers when their mothers moved. (It is unclear whether this factor was related to moving per se, or more difficult divorce circumstances, which in turn precipitated a move. Either way, it is uncorrelated with the children's overall well-adjustedness and life satisfaction.)

PERCEPTION OF PARENT AS "SUPPORTIVE": Children across all categories tended to perceive the parent they lived with as more supportive. However, in general over all categories, children had a higher opinion of their mothers.

"GLOBAL HEALTH": Children who moved away with their fathers reported significantly lower "global health" than children whose parents did not move, and also lower health than the remaining three groups, which otherwise had no significant differences among them, but did report somewhat lower health than the group whose parents did not move.

CONTRIBUTIONS OF PARENTS TO COLLEGE: Among the moving categories, children who remained behind with their fathers received significantly less college assistance than did children who remained behind with their mothers (the second most supportive category), and children who moved with their fathers (the least supportive category) received significantly less college assistance than did children who moved with their mothers. Children whose parents did not move received significantly more financial assistance for college than children whose parents moved with or without them. (While actually relatively unimportant compared with things like a child's well-adjustedness overall, and probably most easily remedied by policies that would target this issue with particularity -- like more and better government funding for education for all children -- this is the finding Braver et al. and the anti-moveaway crowd are touting the most, and it's essentially echoed in the odd category immediately below.)

FINANCIAL WORRIES OVER COLLEGE EXPENSES: This category mirrored the actual contributions of parents to children's college expenses, as we might have guessed.

A few other areas of well-adjustedness were measured, with no important differences in and among the different groups of undergraduate college students taking an introductory psychology class (e.g. more substance abuse among children who live with their fathers, although we already knew that), and Braver hasn't reported on how these children of divorce measure up vis a vis children from non-divorced families. The study also tells us nothing about children who don't attend college or children who choose to take something other than intoductory psych for their basic degree requirements.


Additional comments by Judith Wallerstein, Ph.D. on this study.
LaMusga v LaMusga California Supreme Court moveaway case


Those Joint Custody Studies: Debunked, liz

Joint 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."

Comments by Trish Wilson on this new study and Bauserman

What the Experts Say: A Review of the Scholarly Research on Post-Divorce Parenting and Child Well-being.

Misplaced 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

When Paradigms Collide: Protecting Battered Parents and Their Children in the Family Court System, by Clare Dalton, 37 Fam. & Conciliation Courts Rev. 273 (1999)

Margaret Dore, Esq. on "friendly parent" provisions

Attachment 101 for Attorneys: Implications for Infant Placement Decisions, by Eleanor Willemsen and Kristen Marcel

Joint Custody: Implications for Women, by Renee Leff
originally published on the internet at

Understanding the Batterer in Visitation and Custody Disputes, by R. Lundy Bancroft.  Why 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.

Spousal 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)

The Psychological Effects of Relocation for Children of Divorce, by Marion Gindes, Ph.D., AAML Journal, Vol. 15 (1998), pp. 119

What the Father's Rights movement really looks like, liz

What the "Responsible Fatherhood" movement really is about, liz ... and

Carol S. Bruch, Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation: GETTING IT WRONG IN CHILD CUSTODY CASES

Bibliography of other articles (to be supplemented):

Brinig, Margaret F., "Feminism 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).

Hardesty, 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.

Kuehl, Sheila J., Against Joint Custody: A General Dissent to the General Bullmoose Theory. Family and Conciliation Courts Review (1989), 27 (2) 37-45

Neely, Richard, The Primary Caretaker Parent Rule: Child Custody and the Dynamics of Greed, 3 Yale L. & Pol'y Rev. 168 (1984)

Singer, 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.

Waits, 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).


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