Child Custody Evaluators, Child Custody Evaluations: No Science and a Denigration of Due Process.  Reevaluating the Evaluators Child Custody Evaluation - Dealing with child custody evaluators' refusal to comply with discovery in court Parenting Coordination, a bad idea


Research Contradicts Claims of Fathers' Rights Groups

By Trish Wilson, © 1998
All rights reserved by author

"Shared Parenting - The Best Parent Is Both Parents" Children's Rights Council

"Shared Parenting - The Best Parent Is Both Parents" was presented at the 11th Annual Conference of the Children's Rights Council in October 1997, by Rich Kuhn and John Guidubaldi. It is available at the Children's Rights Council website. CRC is a fathers' rights group. This paper was mentioned in The Washington Post as evidence that joint custody may be useful as a means of preventing divorce. When studied, it becomes evident that the authors have intended the promotion of joint custody as a possible method of scaring women out of filing for divorce.

The paper compares divorce rate trends in states that encourage joint physical custody with those in states that favor sole custody (a total of 19 states). The conclusion reached is that joint physical custody in and of itself may help to prevent divorce. To quote the paper, "when divorce becomes a less attractive alternative to marriage, we should expect less divorce." No other factors such as income bracket, standards of living, first or subsequent marriage for divorcing parties, poverty levels, levels of unemployment, whether or not both parents work, the number of children, and class have been taken into consideration. The only factors mentioned by the authors, yet not addressed, are indirect ones such as ethnic, religious, and racial compositions. There is no substance to the report at all. The link made between joint physical custody and lower levels of divorce reminds me of the free-floating "fatherless homes" statistics used to blame single mothers for every social ill in society.

The real focus comes towards the end of the paper. It's not "shared parenting" or "the best parent is both parents." Catchy slogans, but they have no substance. When I had queried whether joint physical custody was being proposed by fathers' rights groups because they believed it would make it much more difficult for women to leave their marriages, it turns out I was right. This paper is not geared towards keeping marriages together, but on preventing the wife from leaving. The rebuttable presumption for joint physical custody is being presented as a means to achieve that end. Incidentally, I don't think it will work. No particular form of custody will ever prevent a woman from leaving a bad marriage.

Fathers rights advocates who wish to shackle their wives should never have married in the first place.

From "Shared Parenting - The Best Parent Is Both Parents" Children's Rights Council:

About 80% of U.S. divorces today result from the unilateral decision of one spouse, rather than the joint decision of both (Gallagher, 1996), with the spouse who files for divorce first often having an advantage. If one investigates the simple question, "who initiates divorce," we find from the Monthly Vital Statistics Report May 21, 1991 (NCHS, 1991), that from 1975 to 1988, in families with children present, wives file for divorce in approximately 2/3 of the cases each year. In 1975, 71.4% of the cases were filed by women, and in 1988, 65% were filed by women. While these statistics alone do not compel a conclusion that women anticipate advantages to being single, rather than remaining in the marriage, they do raise that reasonable hypothesis. If women can anticipate a clear gender bias in the courts regarding custody, they can expect to be the primary residential parent for the children. If they can anticipate enforcement of financial child support by the courts, they can expect a high probability of support monies without the need to account for their expenditures. Clearly they can also anticipate maintaining the marital residence, receiving half of all marital property, and gaining total freedom to establish new social relationships. Weighing these gains against the alternative of remaining in an unhappy marriage may result in a seductive enticement to obtain a divorce, rather than to resolve problems and remain married.

The Washington Post reporter printed the contents of what was probably a Children's Rights Council press release. Rich Kuhn has been trying to get a rebuttable presumption for joint custody in Maryland for years and so far hasn't been able to get it to pass. What I found telling from Washington Post brief is the change of focus regarding joint custody. Originally, FRsters have been saying that joint custody is best for the children of divorce because it supposedly allows both parents to parent equally. [It doesn't but that's another issue.] Allegedly, it's "in the best interests of the children." Now, according to this piece, another benefit of joint custody is that it prevents couples from divorcing. Now, is it "couples" or is it really women who want to leave the marriage? Who really benefits from this? The majority of divorces are filed by women. It's obvious here that joint custody is being used as a means of preventing women from leaving bad marriages. Interesting new tactic.

Concerning Guidubaldi and joint custody in general...

The U.S. Commission on Child and Family Welfare published a report titled "Parenting Our Children: In the Best Interest of the Nation; Report of the U. S. Commission on Child and Family Welfare; September 1996". September 1996. Fathers' rightsters have included minority reports written by Bill Harrington and John Guidubaldi on some of their sites.

The opinions (minority reports), which were written by Bill Harrington (The American Fathers' Alliance and former National Director for the AFC) and John Guidubaldi (Professor of School Psychology and Education at John Carroll University, Professor Emeritus at Kent State, amongst other things), are there primarily because the bulk of recommendations made by the FR contingency were roundly rejected by the Commission, particularly the FR push for mandatory joint custody.

There were plenty of FR groups who participated in the public hearings, including members of F.R.E.E., American Fathers Coalition, Children's Rights Council, Dad's Against Discrimination, National Fatherhood Initiative, Fathers for Equal Rights, National Congress for Men and Children, "Fathers' Rights News Line," Texas Fathers Alliance, the Wash. State Families for Non-Custodial Rights (that person is now working with the American Coalition for Fathers and Children), and Fathers Are Parents Too.

Portions of the minority reports from this Commission report have been posted on the Internet without indicating that the reason they are "minority reports" to begin with is that the Committee rightfully rejected the father's rights arguments. The Majority Report is never quoted by the fathers' rights groups because they don't want anyone to find out about passages such as these:

"With respect to legal standards for custody and visitation, the Commission heard conflicting testimony about whether changes should be made. For example, Richard A. Warshak, Clinical Professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Sanford L. Braver, Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of the Program for Prevention Research at Arizona State University, urged that State custody standards be changed to establish a presumption of joint legal custody. They argued that joint custody results in more satisfied parents, greater compliance with child support orders, and better outcomes for children. [Trish's note: no mention of how it makes it more difficult for people, in particular women, to file for divorce. Or is that "strengthening marriages?"] June Carbone, Associate Professor of Law, Santa Clara University School of Law, opposed a presumption of joint custody and advocated the establishment of a preference of sole custody in the primary caretaker. Others opposed a presumption of joint custody or, indeed, any presumption or preference. Gerald Nissenbaum, President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, recommended that there be no presumption of any form of custody. Judith Wallerstein, Founder and Senior Consultant at the Center for the Family in Transition, told the Commission that she has seen no evidence that any particular form of custody was uniformly helpful to the post-divorce adjustment of children. Sally Bruch, Director of the Beech Acres' Aring Institute, cautioned the Commission to avoid making general assumptions about the appropriateness of particular custody and visitation arrangements in favor of arrangements that are responsive to the circumstances of individual cases. Katherine Bartlett, Professor of Law at Duke University, agreed that decisions about how children are to be raised following a divorce should be tailored to individual situations."

Non-Custodial Parents' Participation in Their Children's Lives:
Evidence from the Survey of Income and Program Participation

Volume II

Synthesis of Literature

Christine Winquist Nord and Nicholas Zill

Westat, Inc.

Subcontractor to the Lewin Group, Inc.

Prepared for the Office of the Assistant
Secretary for Planning and Evaluation

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

August 14, 1996


[The portions of "Non-Custodial Parents Participation In Their Children's Lives" that pertain specifically to joint custody are presented here. All italics are mine; an emphasis of important points in the report.]

If the assumptions about the positive influence of joint custody, for example, or links between payment of child support and visitation are wrong, then the outcomes for families and children may not be to their benefit after all.

Divorce and non-marital childbearing have become commonplace and have dramatically altered children's lives. It can no longer be assumed that most children will spend their entire childhoods living with both parents. To the contrary, approximately half will live in single parent homes at some point before they turn age 18. Unfortunately, a common pattern is for the non-residential parent to become increasingly detached over time, paying minimal or no child support and visiting infrequently if at all. The costs to the children involved and to society at large of this disengagement are far from trivial. Many non-custodial parents do not pay all the child support they owe. Many others have no obligation to pay support. Nonpayment of support forces some families below the poverty level and onto government welfare programs. For others, it means a reduced standard of living and an uncertain future. The costs to children are seen in an increased likelihood of dropping out of school and increased, social, emotional, psychological, and behavioral problems. Not all children are affected and some that are overcome their difficulties in a few years, but others experience long-term setbacks.

The connections between custody arrangements, payment of child support, parental involvement, and child well-being are still not well-understood. Many of the studies on which policy is being made are based on small, unrepresentative samples or on the experiences of divorcing couples in particular states. These studies may not reflect the experience of most custodial parents and their children. If the assumptions about the positive influence of joint custody, for example, or links between payment of child support and visitation are wrong, then the outcomes for families and children may not be to their benefit after all. Although not based on experimental designs, national survey data can be used to cast more light on the issues surrounding visitation, custody, child support, and child well-being and provide policymakers with a more solid base from which to proceed.

Custody Arrangements, Child Support, and Parental Involvement

The most common custody arrangement is for the mother to obtain sole legal and physical custody. However, the proportion of joint custody arrangements in which both mother and father retain legal control over their children is growing. In 1991, nearly 17 percent of custodial parents reported that they had a joint custody arrangement with the non-residential parent (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1995). There are two types of joint custody arrangements: joint legal custody in which both parents have legal control over decisions that affect the child, but the child resides with one parent, generally the mother and joint physical arrangements in which both parents have legal control over the child and the child actually spends time (typically similar amounts of time) in both households (Arditti, 1992). Given that these types of arrangements are still not widespread, little research has examined the consequences for children of joint-legal, joint-physical, and sole custody arrangements (Furstenberg and Cherlin, 1991).

Part of the impetus behind the movement to encourage joint custody arrangements was the presumption that such arrangements would keep fathers more involved in their children's lives and would increase their financial contributions to the child's upbringing (Furstenberg and Cherlin, 1991). These presumptions were based on research studies that had observed a higher level of contact and more regular payment of child support among fathers who had joint custody arrangements (Peterson and Nord, 1990; Furstenberg and Cherlin, 1991). Results from more recent studies are mixed. Some researchers have found that joint custody arrangements are associated with greater payment of child support, greater paternal involvement, and with greater paternal satisfaction with the custody arrangements (Arditti and Keith, 1993; Pearson and Thoennes, 1988). Others, however, after controlling for family background, find the type of custody arrangement does not influnce levels of payment, father involvement, or the relationship between children and parents (Veum, 1993; Donnelly and Fineklhor, 1992; Seltzer, 1990).

Using the same data from divorced parents as in a previous study (Pearson and Thoennes, 1988), the authors further examine patterns associated with various types of sole and joint custody arrangements following divorce. This study focuses on the characteristics of divorced parents with various types of custody arrangements, some of parents' experiences with the various custody types (e.g., level of parental conflict, satisfaction with the arrangement), and certain behavioral and attitudinal outcomes (e.g., child adjustment). The results showed that families with joint custody-joint residential arrangements had parents with the highest education and household income levels at the time of separation compared to families with other custody types. Mothers themselves with joint custody-joint residential arrangements also earned more than mothers with other arrangements.

The authors suggest that these findings reflect the higher financial cost of maintaining two residences for children and the more flexible work schedules of high-earning parents. Most parents with joint custody-joint residential arrangements (70 percent) also had only one child, compared to about one-third to one-half of parents with other custody arrangements. As far as the effect of custody type on parental cooperation after divorce, the authors found that most parents opting for joint custody, and particularly joint residential arrangements, were relatively friendly and cooperative before and after divorce and thus concluded that postdivorce relationships were a reflection of predivorce characteristics, not the type of custody arrangement.

The analysis yielded mixed results regarding the effect of custody type on parent satisfaction and conflict. There were no differences by custody type with respect to satisfaction with actual custody and visitation practices; however joint custody parents had reported the lowest satisfaction with the legal agreement one year after the child custody order. There was also no clear relationship between custody type and conflict; parents with each custody type reported some amount of disagreement regarding various aspects of each custody type. Regarding the parent-child relationship, the study found that nonresidential parents with joint custody were more involved with their children than were noncustodial parents in sole custody cases. The parents in sole custody arrangements also more often reported feeling overwhelmed with parenting responsibilities than did those with joint custody arrangements; parents with joint custody more often shared child-rearing tasks.

The final issue examined was the effect of custody type on child adjustment to divorce; the authors found no effect of custody type on measures of children's depression, aggression, delinquency, social withdrawal, and somatic complaints. However, regular visitation did emerge as positively related to children's adjustment. Similar to their 1988 study, the authors conclude that while the joint custody arrangement worked well for the families in this study, they note that the sample contained relatively wealthy and educated families who have had cooperative relationships.

The authors conclude that because their sample of joint custody arrangements included relatively wealthy families with fewer children and cooperative relationships at the time of divorce, the findings cannot support increased imposition of joint custody arrangements.

Among families with child support orders, the type of custody arrangement was found to be related to voluntary child support payment patterns, with mothers in joint custody arrangements reporting to have received more. Specifically, mothers with sole custody reported receiving 63 percent of what they were owed, compared to 81 percent of payments received by those with joint legal-maternal residency and 95 percent by those joint custody-joint residence arrangements.

Some variables were found to be stronger predictors of child support payment than custody type; these included the absence of employment problems, the number of weekend visits, and the level of cooperation between parents, each of which were positively related to payment of support. The authors also found that visitation and paternal involvement played a relatively large role in determining whether fathers made contributions outside of regular support payments.

The authors conclude that because their sample of joint custody arrangements included relatively wealthy families with fewer children and cooperative relationships at the time of divorce, the findings cannot support increased imposition of joint custody arrangements. However, they do suggest that the option of joint custody be presented to divorcing couples more often, since child support was more regular and complete with this arrangement.

Highlights of Descriptive Findings

Twenty-one percent or 1.3 million custodial parents with formal written child support agreements report that they have a joint custody arrangement. Of these, over 1 million (80%) have a joint legal only arrangement. The remaining 262 thousand report that they have a joint legal and physical custody arrangement. Collaborative Lawyers Southeast Florida


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