THE TRUTH About Joint Custody
DO NOT Call It "Shared Parenting."
There is Nothing "Shared" About It.
By Trish Wilson, © 2001
All rights reserved by author
CONTRARY TO POPULAR FEEL-GOOD CLAIMS MADE ABOUT JOINT CUSTODY ...
"Shared Parenting" is a political euphemism for "men's rights."
It is used as a substitute for joint custody.
This term is promoted by and preferred by fathers' rights groups to
downplay the true nature of joint custody,
which is neither "shared" nor is it "parenting."
Joint Custody Exacerbates Conflict
Joint Custody Is Unsuccessful at Forcing Parents to "Cooperate" for the Sake of the Children
Joint Custody Is Not A Panacea
Children Do Poorly When They Are Shunted Back and Forth Between Two Homes
Joint Physical Custody Enables Fathers To Avoid Or Eliminate Child Support Payments
Joint Custody IN NO WAY Recreates An Intact Home
"Physical custody" refers ONLY to where the child lives. It DOES NOT refer to the act of parenting itself or the ability to parent. "Visitation" refers ONLY to when the child is scheduled to be with the noncustodial parent.
Misunderstanding what these legal terms mean as well as purposefully
encouraging confusion over their meaning has fueled the political drive
to replace them with "shared parenting" (in the case of "joint physical
custody") and "parenting time" (in the case of "visitation"), thereby
proscribing meaning to the current terms that they do not have.
Contrary to father's rights and joint custody advocates, the term
"visitation" in no way reduces the noncustodial parent to "visitor."
Custody and visitation ARE NOT
about parenting. These terms are about residence and scheduling,
nothing more. More time re: joint physical custody does not directly
correlate to well-child outcomes. The act of parenting is completely
separate from where a child physically resides and the time a child
spends with either parent.
Even though the politically-motivated terms may seem innocuous, they fuel the promotion of Friendly Parent Provisions,
legislation that punishes mothers and children. A mother or child who
may find it necessary to request a change in the visitation schedule
due to scheduling conflicts or the accommodation of a growing child's
personal interests such as after-school activities stand a good chance
of being accused of "interfering" with the father's "parenting time" --
although visitation has NOTHING to do with the nuts-and-bolts
act of parenting or the responsibilities inherent in parenting. Primary
caregiving mothers have lost custody under "friendly parent" provisions.
The father's rights friendly terminology elevates the father's demands
over the welfare of the child and the established authority of the
primary caregiving mother.
There are several types of joint custody.
Joint Physical Custody refers only
to the time the children spend in the domicile of either parent. It
does not mean that the children spend exactly 50% of their time with
each parent. It is time that exceeds the amount of time the children
are in the noncustodial parent's home per a sole custody order. In many
states, this amount of time may be as little as 35%. Parents may select
a schedule of their own choosing, or one may be ordered by the court
based on state custody guidelines. Due to the increased amount of time
the noncustodial parent has the child, child support may be either
completely eliminated or greatly reduced. The California Gender Bias
Report noted that some dads sought the minimum amount of time which
would give them a joint physical custody award -- as well as the
reduced or eliminated child support order, which was what they were
really after. Some dads who were under the impression that joint
physical custody equaled a small or no child support obligation have
been angered and disappointed to discover that they were ordered to pay
more than they thought they should pay. There are several forms of
physical custody. Three of them are described below.
Joint Legal Custody means that both
parents rather than a sole custodian have legal responsibility for
major decisions related to the child, including medical, schooling, and
religious instruction. Whenever possible, it is advised that parents
consult with each other when making these decisions. Joint legal
custody is the most common form of joint custody ordered by the court.
Split Custody is a form of physical
custody. It may be ordered when more than one child is involved. It
refers to the mother having custody of, say, one of the children, while
the father has custody of the other.
Rotating Custody refers to parents
switching physical custody of the children. For example, the mother may
have primary physical custody of the children for one year, and then
the father has primary physical custody of the children for the
following year. Each parent switches off.
Birdnesting refers to the rare form
of physical custody in which the child resides in one location, and the
parents move in and out. Birdnesting has a high failure rate. It is
expensive due to the establishment of three separate living quarters.
Parents have complained that it violates their privacy. It is so
frustrating that the few parents who attempt it switch to a more
traditional arrangement of the child living primarily with one parent
while spending time with the other parent in his or her home. It stands
to reason that if adults cannot tolerate shunting back and forth
between separate homes, that children would not fare any better if they
are forced to do the same under conditions inherent in joint physical
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.
What The Experts Say About Joint Physical Custody
Quotes from Leading Divorce Researchers
In Particular Researchers Who Have Strongly Supported Joint Custody and Father's Rights
Maccoby and Mnookin
Complete text, including researcher's bios, is available on the "What The Experts Say" web page.
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
(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)
Sanford L. Braver
"There is simply not enough evidence
available at present to substantiate routinely imposing joint
residential custody the limited analyses other researchers have
performed don't strongly recommend it be imposed either."
(Page 223 in Divorced Dads)
"If each parent is empowered by joint legal custody and is allowed
involvement in the full variety of child rearing activities, few
parents or children will feel deprived. A
parent overly concerned that he see his child exactly the same amount
of time as his ex-spouse becomes more of an accountant than a parent.
Furthermore, this strict accounting of time can also set the stage for
many future arguments, when arrangements must be changed because of
extenuating circumstances, which routinely come up. Finally, such
arrangements are often transitional. As children get older, they
frequently don't want to switch households so often. In short, insisting
upon strict equality of time spent with the child may be in the weaker
parent's interest but it is rarely in the child's."
(Page 224 in Divorced Dads)
"Joint custody can be helpful in families where it has been chosen voluntarily by both parents and is suitable for the child. But there is no evidence to support the notion that "one size fits all" or even most.
There is, in fact, a lot of evidence for the idea that different
custody models are suitable for different families. The policy job
ahead is to find the best match for each family. Sadly,
when joint custody is imposed by the court on families fighting over
custody of children the major consequences of the fighting are shifted
onto the least able members of the family--the hapless and helpless
children. The children can suffer serious psychological injury when
(Page 304 in Second Chances)
Frank Furstenberg and Andrew Cherlin
"Custody arrangements may matter far less for the well-being of children than had been thought . The
rationale for joint custody is so plausible and attractive that one is
tempted to disregard the disappointing evidence and support it anyway.
But based on what is known now, we think custody and visitation matter
less for children than how much conflict there is between the parents
and how effectively the parent the child lives with functions. It is
likely that a child who alternates between the homes of a distraught
mother and an angry father will be more troubled than a child who lives
with a mother who is coping well and who once a fortnight sees a father
who has disengaged from his family. Even the frequency of visits with a father seem to matter less than the climate in which they take place.
Joint physical custody should be encouraged only in cases where both
parents voluntarily agree to it imposing joint physical custody would
invite continuing conflict without any clear benefits In weighing
alternative public policies concerning divorce, the thin empirical
evidence of the benefits of joint custody and frequent visits with
fathers must be acknowledged."
(Pages 75-76 in Divided Families)
Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur
"Joint custody arrangements, while not common, are found in
many communities, particularly in more privileged socioeconomic groups.
Whether or not high levels of contact with
both biological parents can reduce or eliminate the negative
consequences associated with divorce is an open question. To date,
researchers have found very little evidence that it does."
(Pages 6-7 in Growing Up With a Single Parent)
"We have demonstrated that children raised apart from one of their
parents are less successful in adulthood than children raised by both
their parents. For children living with a single parent and no
stepparent, income is the single most important factor in accounting
for their lower well-being as compared with children living with both
parents. It accounts for as much as half their disadvantage."
(Page 134 in Growing up With a Single Parent)
"Recent studies suggest that the relationship between child
adjustment and conflict is neither universal, simple, nor particularly
straightforward It appears that, rather than discord per se, it is the
manner in which parental conflict is expressed that may affect the
children's adjustment. High interparental discord has been found to be
related to the child's feeling caught in the middle, and this
experience of feeling caught was related to adjustment. Adolescents in
dual (shared) residence arrangements did not feel more caught than did
adolescents in mother or father custody type arrangements. Nor was
amount of visiting related to feeling caught. There was a significant
effect, however, of the interaction between type of residence and the
parental relationship. Dual residence
arrangements appeared to be more harmful when parents were in high
discord than were sole residence arrangements. In contrast, adolescents
in dual residence arrangements where there was cooperative
communication between parents benefited more than did adolescents in
sole residence arrangements."
(Pages 34-35 in "Current Research on Children's Post-divorce Adjustment")
face of it, joint custody seems to be an equitable solution to the
problem of dividing the child . [Proponents of joint custody] suggest
that parents whose conflicts or incompatibility are so great as to
necessitate divorce are somehow able to manage to concur on a joint
path when raising their children . Without
coordination, and without a structure in which each parent has the
means to compel the other to engage in appropriate behaviors and make
investments in their children, joint custody is hardly akin to an
intact family. Joint custody is at least as likely as alternative
custody arrangements are to result in diffusion of responsibility for
the child. When both take responsibility it is tantamount to neither
(Page 129 in Towards a Structure of Indifference)
Excerpt of Testimony Before the New York State Assembly Committee on Children and Families
SUBJECT: A.3950 Presumptive Joint Custody
Assemblymember Roger L. Green, Chairman
By: Lillian Kozak, C.P.A. and Gloria S. Jacobs, Esq.
Co-Chairs, Domestic Relations Law Task Force
May 30, 1997
Why Joint Custody is Overrated?
By J. Richard Kulerski, P.C.
"The public seems to have been misled, either by myth or otherwise, regarding the concept of joint custody. It does not mean 50/50 time with the children."
"When joint custody first got started in Illinois, it was generally
believed to be a situation where the parents would each be with the
children 50% of the time. That belief did not last long in our legal
in the early 1980's the psychiatric community (in custody and
visitation cases) recommended to the Courts and to divorce lawyers that
children do not nurture well in a 50/50 time sharing arrangement. Please
note that there are some rare exceptions to the last sentence. It was
concluded that children do the best when one parent serves as the
primary caretaker or residential parent and the other parent is the
"Parenting Our Children: In the Best Interest of the Nation
Report of the U. S. Commission on Child and Family Welfare
Portions of the minority reports written by father's rights and joint
custody ideologues John Guidubaldi and Rich Kuhn have been posted on
the Internet without indicating that their arguments for presumptive joint custody had been rejected by the Commission.
The Majority Report is never quoted by the fathers' rights and joint
custody advocates because they don't want anyone to find out about this
"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
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."
Joint Custody Bill Fails In Maryland
By Trish Wilson
Testimony Against Maryland SB571
The Shame of Maryland Joint Custody Laws
By: Pam J. A. Issa
A story from a mom with joint custody that proves that joint custody
will not force a parent to "behave" for the sake of the children. Joint custody exacerbates conflict, which is made very clear in this case.
Parental Custody Is Sometimes Out Of Joint?
by Honorable Anne Kass
Ann Kass is a District Judge in the Second Judicial District State of New Mexico.
"The general belief of parents is that joint custody means equal time
with the children and that any and all decisions must be jointly made.
Some parents believe joint custody means equal financial responsibility
for the children."
"Anyone who has experience with children who
actually are made to live equal time with each parent knows that many
of those children suffer from a sense of instability and a sense that
they have no home base. (Obviously equal time does work for some
"Also, anyone who has experience with divorced parents who hold
significantly different beliefs about how to parent (as many divorced
parents do) knows that it is highly unlikely that they will be able to
reach joint decisions about much of anything."
Split Up - Helping People Deal With Divorce
Drawbacks to Joint Physical Custody:
"Stress and anxiety. Judith Wallerstein's study of joint custody
described in her book "Second Chances" found joint custody not to be
any better than sole custody. The
disruptive effect of having of two different households, different
bedtimes, different TV rules, different sets of friends, and so on, was
too much for the children. They felt anxious and insecure."
"Risk of rejection. If a parent pulls out of joint custody, it is perceived as a stunning rejection of the child."
"Risk for Child. Joint custody can actually lock a child into a destructive relationship with a violent or inadequate parent."
"Involuntary Joint Custody. Court-ordered
(that is involuntary) joint custody apparently does not work well,
according to a very preliminary study cited in Wallerstein's "Second
Chances." The parents tended to fight bitterly, to the child's
Joint Custody: Implications for Women
By Renee Leff
Progress: Family Systems Resarch and Therapy, 1995, Volume 4, (pp. 29-40)
Encino, CA : Phillips Graduate Institute
"Johnston (1995) concluded from her most recent review that "highly
conflictual parents" (not necessarily violent) had a poor prognosis for
becoming cooperative parents and there is increasing evidence that
children of divorce have more problems because of the conflict between
the parents before the divorce and not because of the divorce itself
(Kelly, 1993). "High conflict" parents should be allowed to develop
separate parenting relationships with their children. Frequent
visits and joint custody schedules led to more verbal and physical
abuse. More frequent transitions between high-conflict parents were
related to more emotional and behavioral problems of the children. If
this is true of "high conflict" parents, it is likely to be even more
true if mothers are being physically victimized."
Joint Custody Moms
By Renee Leff
For the Coalition for Collaberative Divorce
Woodland Hills, California
The downside for eight women in this study of high-conflict divorces
where the moms did not want joint custody included more conflict,
income reduction, feelings of "loss," parental competition, logistical
nightmare, teenager hostility, limited social life, and career loss.
These women wanted sole custody but chose joint custody because of the
feel-good propaganda that has been written about joint custody. As they
learned, the propaganda did not match reality.
"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.
This demonstrates that an award of joint custody does not, in and of
itself, improve the relationship between hostile parents.
Consequently, it would appear to be undesirable - from the child's
perspective - for courts to impose joint custody on unwilling parents."
Contact With Non-custodial Fathers and Children's Wellbeing
by Paul R. Amato
"Family Matters", No. 36, Dec, pp. 32-34
Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne, Australia
Child Custody and Visitation Decisions in Domestic Violence Cases.
Legal Trends, Research Findings, and Recommendations
Violence Against Women Online Resources
The Abuse of Custody
An Interview with Ruth Lea Taylor, Lawyer
British Columbia Institate Against Family Violence
DEBUNKING THE CLAIMS about Joint versus Sole Custody
Joint Custody: The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions
Joint Custody Is Not In The Best Interest of Children
Research Contradicts Claims of Father's Rights Groups
By Trish Wilson
The Usual Suspects: Connections Between Fathers' Rights Groups
By Trish Wilson
American Fathers: Equality or Patriarchy?
By Trish Wilson