Relocations of Children Post-Divorce

By Trish Wilson, © 2003.
All rights reserved by author

Sanford Braver is on the horns of a dilemma.

On June 25, he (and his co-researchers Ira M. Ellman and William V. Fabricius) released a new study that contends that children are harmed by parental moveaways, especially when it is the custodial mother who wishes to relocate with the children. Braver wanted so badly to support his position that he ignored the findings of his own study.

The timing of this study and the deluge of press releases about it coincides with the upcoming California Supreme Court's decision on the LaMusga case, which fathers' rights groups hope will lead to the reversal of the California Burgess moveaway decision. The goal appears to be to influence public opinion against moveaways.

Braver and the fathers' rights groups who support him have long been opposed to custodial mother moveaways since the advent of the bellwether 1996 California Burgess decision, which ruled that, based on the best interest of the child, "a parent seeking to relocate does not bear a burden of establishing that the move is "necessary" as a condition of custody. Similarly, after a judicial custody order is in place, a custodial parent seeking to relocate bears no burden of establishing that it is "necessary" to do so. Instead, he or she "has the right to change the residence of the child, subject to the power of the court to restrain a removal that would prejudice the rights or welfare of the child." Fathers' rights groups have not shown the same level of indignation when noncustodial fathers move away from their children, nor do they voice opposition as loudly when it is the custodial father who wants to move with the children. The protests revolve around custodial moms who want to move with the children.

The Study: Who Was Studied, How They Were Studied, and The Findings

The study examined several hundred undergrad University of Arizona psych. students from divorced families. The students participated by filling out questionnaires. They were divided into the following categories: (1) Neither parent moved; (2) Student moved with mom; (3) Student remained with dad while mom moved; (4) Student moved with dad; (5) Student remained with mom while dad moved.

Braver claimed that "on most child outcomes, the ones whose parents moved are significantly disadvantaged."

There's one big problem: his own findings did not support such a sweeping statement.

Below are his findings, broken down by The Liz Library.

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.

If the goal of this study is to steer public opinion away from custodial mother moveaways, he can't do it by comparing child-with-mom cases to child-with-dad cases because the children with mom do so much better than the children with dad. So, he compares all moves to all non-moves, lumping moms and dads together as "parents" to disguise the poor outcomes when the children are with dad. The comparisons between all moves to non-moves are problematic because the study has not addressed home conditions prior to the move, nor does it address conditions in the homes where the parents did not move. His conclusions are correlations that do not prove causation. He should have compared families prior to the move to families post move.

About Parents Contributing To College Tuition...

Braver's comments about college tuition were interesting in that one targeted audience in particular would probably not be too keen on hearing what he has to say. Fathers' rights advocates (especially second wives who have children with the noncustodial dad) have expressed outrage and fear over possibly being "forced" to pay for college. They see tuition as post-18 child support; i.e., having to support his ex for several more years. For years they have complained that married parents are not required to pay for their children's college educations, so why should divorced parents be forced to pay? Most divorced parents won't be "forced" to provide for their children's post-secondary educations, but that is another issue for another article. Braver's concerns about college tuition isn't likely to appeal to fathers' rights advocates. They will either keep quiet about it or pay it the barest of lip services to look good.

Garbage In, Garbage Out:
Braver Cited Bauserman's Shoddy Joint Custody Analysis

Braver's position was so weak that he sought to bolster it by tagging on Robert Bauserman's debunked joint custody meta-analysis and made-up father-involvement nonsense. He wrote that Bauserman "concluded that children in joint custody arrangements are better adjusted than those in sole maternal custody ... This suggests that future research should be aimed at determining whether parental relocation in sole maternal custody families contributes to children's greater maladjustment in those families.

Bauserman was in the same position then that Braver finds himself now. He badly wanted to support joint custody over sole (maternal) custody, yet he did not have the material to make that leap. The research he misrepresented did not support joint custody over sole custody. It did find that that joint custody exacerbates conflict. Bauserman did not mention that studies prior to the mid-1980s involved rare couples who tended to have higher incomes, higher education, who had only one child, not much interpersonal conflict, and they chose joint custody because they wanted to make it work. Those were not representative of most divorces, yet he cited them to support his contention that joint custody is far superior and preferable to sole custody. It is not possible for him to conclude his analysis in favor of joint custody due to the problems and lack of consistency of those studies.

I had written the following in my critique of this analysis:

"Bauserman's method of selection omitted qualitative studies and permitted only studies that compared joint custody and sole custody households. He ignored the larger, credible, qualitative studies such as those conducted by Judith Wallerstein that have come out against joint custody in favor of small, early studies (some unpublished) and doctoral dissertations. Those smaller studies have numerous flaws such as small sample sizes, weak methods of contacting parents and children (like one hour phone calls with adolescents, lack of conclusions (more research needed), and not correcting for the self-selection of families who had chosen joint custody because they were amicable and had low levels of conflict to begin with. Misrepresentations of many of these same studies have circulated on fathers' rights web sites and mailing lists for many years."

Bauserman's analysis was shoddy in its own right. However, it does not help that he had co-authored the notorious Rind Study, which advocated calling it "adult-child sex" when when the adolescent was supposedly "willing" with "positive reactions" to the encounter. Why would Braver rely on the weak findings purportedly about child welfare from a "researcher" who was involved in something like that?

Braver cannot use Bauserman's weak analysis to prevent custodial mother relocations with the children. He also cannot use his own research findings to do the same thing. His own findings indicated that most difficulties were experienced by children who either remain with or move with their fathers. The most well-adjusted group was the children who remained with their mothers when dad moved away, even more so than the cases when neither parent moved.

Birds of a Feather: Braver Misrepresents Amato and Gilbreth ... And So Did Bauserman In His Joint Custody Analysis

Braver's misrepresentations of Amato and Gilbreth's findings about "authoritative parenting" as related to relocations were interesting in that Bauserman made similar misrepresentations of the same study in his support of joint custody. Both Braver and Bauserman ignored Amato's most important finding: the fathers' frequency of contact was the least significant predictor of child outcomes. That finding runs counter to Braver's claim that mom/child moveaways harm children because they interfere with dad's "parenting time." "Father absence" does not cause poor-child outcomes.

I had addressed "Authoritative Parenting" in my critique of Bauserman.

About "Authoritative Parenting"...

Amato and Gilbreth defined "authoritative parenting" as "setting rules for children, monitoring their behavior, and dispensing discipline when children misbehave." Later in the paper he extended his definition to include "helping with homework, working on projects together, providing noncoercive discipline." They actually found that " the combination of high (child) support with a moderately high level of noncoercive control - authoritative parenting - is the parenting style that best predicts children's positive development." The type of authoritative parenting matters. They wrote that "parental control is harmful, however, if it is enforced with coercive punishment, such as hitting."

In addition, mothers, not fathers, do most of the authoritative parenting. Contrary to popular belief, "fathers are not the main disciplinarians of their children; mothers are, particularly in the early years."

            Yogman, M. W., Cooley, J., & Kindlon, D. (1988). Fathers, infants, and toddlers. In P. Bronstein & C. P. Cowan (Eds.), Fatherhood Today: Mens Changing Role In the Family. (pp. 53-65). New York: John Wiley & Sons

Amato and Gilbreth came to the same conclusion. They found that fathers tended to take on "fun" activities with their children. "Because fathers have limited time with their children, they want to ensure that their kids enjoy themselves. Consequently, many fathers go out to eat with their children, or take their children to movies or amusement parks, but do not engage in authoritative parenting practices, such as helping with homework, talking over personal problems, or explaining the difference between right and wrong. Furthermore, nonresident fathers tend to be more permissive and indulgent than other fathers. Because these men fear that their relationships with children are tenuous, they often are reluctant to set firm rules or to discipline their children for misbehavior. In general, the activities shared by many nonresident fathers and their children may be enjoyable, but these activities, in the absence of authoritative parenting, contribute relatively little to children's development."

Braver's contention that "it appears that noncustodial father, at least in past decades, did not usually engage in authoritative parenting, because that kind of relationship is more difficult to maintain for a parent who does not live with the child" cannot be supported by citing Amato. Nor can he use Amato to support this statement: "the child's relocation to a considerable distance from the noncustodial parent may make such a relationship not merely more difficult but essentially impossible."

Here is why (quoting Amato from the same study):

In short, the constraints of a traditional visiting relationship make it difficult for many men to practice authoritative parenting. Indeed, many nonresident fathers complain that visitation arrangements are insufficient to maintain anything other than a superficial relationship with their children.

Nevertheless, the fact that some fathers manage to maintain close and authoritative relationships with their children, even with only modest visitation, indicates that there must be something else (other than traditional visitation arrangements) standing in the way of authoritative parenting. This leads to a second explanation that focuses on the characteristics of fathers. The truth is that some men are not highly motivated to be good fathers. Other men might want to be effective fathers but do not know how. And other men do not fully realize that how they spend their time with children has long-term consequences, and hence, do not make the effort to act authoritatively. These men would not benefit their children regardless of how much time they spent together.

Noncustodial dads are responsible for maintaining their own commitment to their parental roles. They must work on acquiring fathering skills themselves. He should not demand that mom to turn down a chance to improve her life by relocating solely so that he may maintain "frequent contact" with his children whenever and however he chooses. In fact, the moveaway case Schwartz v. Schwartz ruled that "'[the trial court] should not insist that the advantages of the move be sacrificed and the opportunity for a better and more comfortable lifestyle for the mother . . . and children be forfeited solely to maintain weekly visitation by the father . . . where reasonable alternative visitation is available[.]'"

Braver included an anecdote about a mother who wished to move with the children because she was jealous that dad had remarried.He insinuates that moms move for selfish reasons and are the direct cause of the breakdown between children and fathers. The anecdote does not match existing moveaway case law. When the mother's reason for the move is either vague or aimed at interfering with the noncustodial father's relationship with his children, courts tend to reject the mother's wishes. There should be a "good faith" reason for the move. So, mom moving out of jealousy is not nearly as likely to be a reason for her move with the children than a new job, a spouse's new job, a desire to be closer to her parents for support, or a remarriage. Such a move is even less likely to be approved by the court.

The studies Braver cites do not support his conclusions. They contradict them. His findings in many ways support mothers who choose to relocate with their children.


Dr. Judith Wallerstein's comments on Braver's findings.

Post-Divorce Move-aways. Braver's actual findings. By liz (The Liz Library).

Robert Bauserman on Joint v. Sole Custody, by Trish Wilson. Why is a co-author of the infamous Rind Stody -- which sought to label "willing" sexual relations between adolescents and adults "adult/child sex" -- so interested in joint custody?

Liz Critiques Robert Bauserman's Joint Custody Meta-Analysis. Rind Study co-author does another.

More on Joint Custody by Paul Amato. He does not support joint custody over sole custody.

Parental Dissatisfaction with Joint Custody. From "The Impact of the Custody Plan on the Family: A Five-Year Follow-Up".

The Truth About Joint Custody, by Trish Wilson -- Don't call it "Shared Parenting."

Joint Custody Is Not In The Best Interests Of Children, by Trish Wilson

Comments by Trish Wilson -- Testimony on SB 571 -- Rebuttable Presumption for Joint Legal Custody -- Family Law and Fathers' Rights Antics in Maryland.

Myths and Facts about "Fatherlessness," by Trish Wilson. "Fatherless" homes [read: single/divorced mother homes] do not cause poor-child outcomes.

Deconstructing the Essential Father, by Trish Wilson. A critique of the American Psychologist article. Addressing misrepresentations and propaganda about "responsible fatherhood" disseminated by David Blankenhorn, David Popenoe, and Wade Horn.

Friendly Parent Provisions, What's Wrong With Them, by Trish Wilson

Margaret Dore, Esq. on "friendly parent" provisions

Debunking Claims About Joint vs. Sole Custody, liz.

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, liz.

Myths and Facts about Motherhood: What the Research REALLY Says, liz.

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)

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

Custody and Access: An NAWL Brief to the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access, March 1998 (Canada) and, new:
The Case Against Joint Custody (Ontario Women's Justice Network)

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 Abuse of Custody, an interview with attorney Ruth Lea Taylor

Custody Order or Disordered Custody? by Joan Braun -- Law student article with research cites published in BC Institute Against Family Violence Newsletter

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

Collaborative Lawyers Southeast Florida


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