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


"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 custody.

What The Experts Say: Scholarly Research on Post-Divorce Parenting and Child Well-Being
Chapter Four
Report to the Washington State Gender and Justice Commission and
Domestic Relations Commission
Diane N. Lye, Ph.D.
June, 1999
Section Five
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
Such As...
Maccoby and Mnookin
Sanford Braver
Judith Wallerstein
Joan Kelly
Andrew Cherlin

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 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)

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)

Judith Wallerstein

    "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 this happens."
    (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)

Joan Kelly

    "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")

Debra Friedman

    "On the 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 doing so."
    (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 community. Starting 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 visiting parent."

"Parenting Our Children: In the Best Interest of the Nation
Report of the U. S. Commission on Child and Family Welfare
September 1996"

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 passage:

    "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.

    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 children.)"

"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 detriment."

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
Fall, 1994

DEBUNKING THE CLAIMS about Joint versus Sole Custody
By liz

Joint Custody: The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions
By liz

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
For Feminista Collaborative Lawyers Southeast Florida


Except as otherwise noted, all contents in this collection are copyright 1996-2009 the liz library. All rights reserved.
This site is hosted and maintained by Send queries to: