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Joint custody: Generations of "overwhelmingly consistent" expert research, reviewed by two of the wisest people I know

SUMMARY OF RESEARCH RELATED TO THE DEBATE ABOUT JOINT PHYSICAL CUSTODY AND SOLE PHYSICAL CUSTODY

By Lisa Herrick, Ph.D. and Adele D’Ari Ed.D. 

July 28, 2021

Excerpts:

"These are social scientists who have devoted entire careers to exploring that question. Many of the authors of the studies we will reference have been publishing research results since the 1990’s. Some of them have followed the same families for 25 years in an effort to draw valid and trustworthy conclusions."

"... shared parenting couples are not an exceptional, rare group among divorced parents ..."

"Misconception: 'Joint Physical Custody is a “grand experiment” being conducted without our knowing the impact on children and without the support of a full body of research.' In fact, Sole Physical Custody has been shown to have strong correlations to emotional and behavioral problems in children of all ages in many countries and yet has been codified in most states. There is a large body of research indicating repeatedly that families in which there are absent fathers, or minimally involved fathers produce children with the worst outcomes of adjustment. There is, in fact, a paucity of data in favor of Sole Physical Custody. There is a plethora of data in favor of Joint Physical custody."

"The social science evidence on the development of healthy parent–child relationships, and the long term benefits of healthy parent–child relationships, supports the view that shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children. . . . In general the results of the studies reviewed in this document are favorable to parenting plans that more evenly balance young children’s time between two homes. Child developmental theory and data show that babies normally form attachments to both parents and that a parent’s absence for long periods of time jeopardizes the security of these attachments. Evidence regarding the amount of parenting time in intact families and regarding the impact of daycare demonstrates that spending half time with infants and toddlers is more than sufficient to support children’s needs. Thus, to maximize children’s chances of having a good and secure relationship with each parent, we encourage both parents to maximize the time they spend with their children. . . . Research on children’s overnights with fathers favors allowing children under four to be cared for at night by each parent rather than spending every night in the same home.” (Quoting Warshak, 2017)

"Children in [joint physical custody] report no weaker attachment to Mothers than do children in [primary physical custody]. (Kelly, 2012; Fabricius 2012; Sokol, 2014; Warshak 2016)"

Children in [joint physical custody] look more similar to children in intact families on various measures of psychological and physical health than they look to children in [primary physical custody]. (Bergström, 2017; Fransson et al., 2016)

"With less access, fathers tend to have [even] less contact with children over time ..."

" When young adults are surveyed or interviewed about their own perspectives on the custody arrangements their parents had created for them, a significant majority report they did not see their fathers enough, and felt - as college students - that an equal division of time between their parents would have been their top preference. Most subjects in these studies perceived that their mothers were satisfied with the status quo while their fathers wished for more custodial time.  Children as young as 3 years old have reported in some studies that they want more time with their fathers. (Kelly, 2012; Warshak, 2016)"

"No one in this field of study is suggesting that joint physical custody would be beneficial to children when a family does have a history of domestic violence."

"In each study that shows the best outcomes for children in joint physical custody are in families where parenting conflict is low, the only reporters were mothers. No study that has found conflict to be a significant variable modulating outcome ... has included the perspectives of both parents and the children. (Fabricius et al., 2018; Berman and Daneback, 2020; Pruett et al., 2012; Steinbach and Augustijn, 2021)

"When young adults are surveyed or interviewed about their own perspectives on the custody arrangements their parents had created for them, a significant majority report they did not see their fathers enough, and felt - as college students - that an equal division of time between their parents would have been their top preference. Most subjects in these studies perceived that their mothers were satisfied with the status quo while their fathers wished for more custodial time."

"Studies of JPC and SPC receive careful scrutiny by all journals considering their inclusion and these scholars are considered to be leaders in their field."

"Scholars who support JPC universally acknowledged that symmetrical arrangements are not always best for families, and that JPC is not necessarily a 50-50 division of time. Researchers generally define JPC as providing each parent with a minimum of 35% of parenting time."

"Co-parent relationships are more cooperative over time when fathers are more engaged with their children and coparent from early on.  This suggests that father engagement positively contributes to positive parent cooperation and counters the argument that only parents who are cooperative from the get-go ultimately find ways to keep both parents involved.  This study also found that covert conflict in the early months after a divorce predicts later overt conflict. The authors suggest that when there are custodial arrangements that enable fathers to remain centrally involved in children’s lives, conflict over time may be mitigated."

"Virtually all studies to date support the idea that JPC is correlated with more positive outcomes for children even when one parent opposes it.   ...  Even when parents are in conflict, and JPC is assigned by a Court, outcomes appear to be better for the children in those families."

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