Maccoby and Mnookin

On Joint Custody

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

"[M]aternal custody arrangements appear to be more stable than other arrangements: children who live with their mother after divorce are more likely to remain in this arrangement during the first three to four years after separation, while over half of the children who start out by spending time in each parent's household or who start out living with their father make at least one change (Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992)... "

                      WORKING DOCUMENT, THE EFFECTS OF DIVORCE ON CHILDREN, A Selected Literature Review. Research and Statistics Division. October 1997, WD1998-2e, UNEDITED. Department of Justice Ministere de la Justice Canada.


Eleanor Maccoby and Robert Mnookin

"In the large majority of divorcing families, both parents have been involved with the children on a daily basis. Simple continuity with the past, in terms of the roles of the two parents in the lives of the children, is hardly possible. The relationship between parents and children must change markedly." (Page 1 in Dividing the Child)

" the coparental relationship between divorced parents is something that needs to be constructed, not something that can simply be carried over from pre-separation patterns. It takes times and effort on the part of both parents to arrange their lives in such a way that the children can spend time in both parental households "

(Page 276 in Dividing the Child)

"Only a minority of our families--about 30 percent were able to establish cooperative coparenting relationships. Spousal disengagement, which essentially involved parallel parenting with little communication had become the most common pattern about a quarter of our families remained conflicted at the end of three and a half years."

(Page 277 in Dividing the Child)

"While our study did not attempt to measure the impact of coparenting relations on the well-being of children, the results of the follow-up study of the adolescents in our sample families, as well as the research of others, makes us confident that there are important effects. Children derive real benefits--psychological, social, and economic--when divorced parents can have cooperative coparenting relationships. With conflicted coparental relationships, on the other hand, children are more likely to be caught in the middle, with real adverse effects on the child."

(Page 277 in Dividing the Child)

"A more radical alternative to the present best interests custody standard is a presumption in favor of joint physical custody. We oppose such a presumption. We are deeply concerned about the use of joint physical custody in cases where there is substantial parental conflict such conflict can create grave risks for children. We do not think it good for children to feel caught in the middle of parental conflict, and in those cases where the parents are involved in a bitter dispute we believe a presumption for joint custody would do harm . . . We wish to note, however, that joint custody can work very well when parents are able to cooperate. Thus we are by no means recommending that joint custody be denied to parents who want to try it."

(Pages 284-285 in Dividing the Child)

                      What The Experts Say: Scholarly Research on Post-Divorce Parenting and Child Well-Being; Report to the Washington State Gender and Justice Commission and Domestic Relations Commission, Diane N. Lye, Ph.D., June, 1999, Chapter Four, Section Five, What The Experts Say About Joint Physical Custody.


Fewer child support awards are ordered in joint physical custody cases; there is a greater income differential between fathers' households and mothers' households post-divorce in joint custody situations than in sole custody situations; and fathers with joint custody are more likely to have higher incomes relative to their ex-wives than fathers in situations of maternal custody.

                      Maccoby, E. E., & Mnookin, R. H. (1992). DIVIDING THE CHILD: SOCIAL AND LEGAL DILEMMAS OF CUSTODY. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

"In a large California study, Maccoby and Mnookin (1992) found that joint custody is sometimes used to resolve custody disputes. They found that joint custody was awarded in about one-third of cases in which mothers and fathers had each sought sole custody. And the more legal conflict that occurred between parents, the more likely joint custody was to be awarded. Three and one-half years after separation, these couples were experiencing considerably more conflict and less co-operative parenting than were couples for whom joint custody was the first choice of each parent."

                      Amato, Paul R., Citing Maccoby and Mnookin. Contact With Non-custodial Fathers and Children's Wellbeing, "Family Matters", No. 36, Dec, pp. 32-34, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne, Australia.
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