Paul Amato

On Joint Custody

By Trish Wilson, © 2002.
All rights reserved by author

Paul Amato on Meta-Analysis of Existing Studies about Joint Custody:
Amato, P. R., & Keith, B. (1991). Parental divorce and the well-being of children: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 26-46.

    "Meta-analysis supports the notion that the impact of father absence appears to be mediated by family conflict; father absence in itself may not affect children's well-being. The family conflict perspective was strongly confirmed by the data. This perspective holds that children in intact families with high levels of conflict should have the same well-being problems as children of divorce, and the data supported this hypothesis."

Contact with Non-Custodial Fathers and Children's Wellbeing
FAMILY MATTERS no.36 December 1993, pp.32-34

    "An example of an Australian study that failed to find beneficial consequences of father involvement following divorce was based on the Children in Families Study, designed by Gay Ochiltree and Don Edgar of the Australian Institute of Family Studies. In an analysis based on these data, I found that the self-esteem of children who lived in continuously intact two-parent families was more positive when they had good relationships with both mothers and fathers (Amato 1986). Similarly, for children who lived with their mothers following divorce, the closeness of the mother/child relationship (as well as the closeness of the stepfather/stepchild relationship in cases of remarriage) was related to children's self-esteem. In contrast, however, the quality of the father/child relationship was not related to children's self-esteem."

    One explanation for this inconsistency [in research results] is that the studies vary in methodological features, such as the type of sample (clinical, convenience, or random), the age group of children, and the source of data (parent, child, or trained observer). Given this variation, it is not surprising that the results vary from study to study. A different type of explanation is that the impact of contact with non- resident fathers depends on other factors, such as the level of conflict between parents. If interparental conflict moderates the impact of visits, then the results of studies that fail to take this into account may be unstable and misleading.

    Interparental conflict is a good candidate for such a moderating factor because quite a few studies have shown that it is linked to children's wellbeing and behaviour (Grych and Fincham 1990). It is not difficult to see why conflict is bad for children. When children are exposed to interparental hostility, they tend to react with negative emotions, such as fear or anger. In addition, children are often drawn into conflict between parents and are forced to take sides, which is not only stressful but results in deteriorations in parent/child relationships. Furthermore, through modelling verbal or physical aggression, parents convey the idea that fighting is an appropriate method for dealing with disagreements, which may lead to an increase in child aggression. Finally, children may attribute blame for conflict between parents to themselves; this may be especially true for young children who tend to be egocentric.

    (Johnston et al. 1989). It is probable that conflict and contact are positively associated, given that contact provides opportunities for conflict to occur. So although continued contact with non- resident fathers may be beneficial for children in certain ways, it may also exacerbate conflict between parents, which is bad for children. The end result would be one in which continuing hostility between parents cancels out the benefits that might otherwise follow from a high level of contact with the non-custodial father.

    Two American studies provide support for this reasoning. Hetherington, Cox, and Cox (1982) reported that father visitation was associated with positive child adjustment when interparental conflict was low but was associated with decrements in children's adjustment when interparental conflict was high. Similarly, Healy, Malley, and Stewart (1990) found that father visitation was associated with high child self-esteem when legal conflict was low, but not when legal conflict was high.

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