Children Adjust Much Better

“Children living in joint custody arrangements have described a sense of being loved by both parents and reported feeling close to more than one parent.  Contrasted with children in sole maternal custody, joint custody youngsters were more satisfied with their arrangements and did not struggle with a sense of loss and deprivation so characteristic of children in sole custody households.  Most children considered having two homes advantageous and worth the effort of making the transition between homes because it enabled them to remain close to both parents. Joint custody does not create uncertainty and confusion for most youngsters about either the arrangements or about the finality of the divorce” (Kelly 1988a). 

Susan Steinman (1983) evaluated 24 couples who chose joint custody arrangements for their children at divorce. The children felt that they were strongly attached to both parents and were not were not troubled by the loyalty conflicts, but a small number of these children felt a strong need to be fair to both parents and were meticulous about dividing their time equally between them. Perhaps even more important, while these children did perceive their parents divorce as undesirable, and in some cases harboured fantasies of reconciliation, they did not experience the overwhelming sense of rejection found in the more usual maternal sole custody/father-absent post-divorce arrangement. 

Only about 25% of the children interviewed by Steinman reported experiencing confusion or anxiety relative to the custody arrangement, and this is a fairly low figure, given the children who experience confusion in any divorce situation. "Their clarity about their schedules and the location of their homes was impressive, particularly since some children switched as frequently as several times a week and had numerous places and people to go to (including school, day care, friends' homes, lessons)."


Consequently the argument that children in joint physical custody experience more confusion and frustration was not supported in that study, as it has not been supported in other research.  Based on this research result, and many other similar studies, it is known now that the argument that children need the stability of one home etc is not valid. Children obtain emotional stability from important emotional relationships with two parents and two sets of grandparents, and these are much more important than where a child sleeps on weekends.


Isabel Lerman (1989) compared 90 children in various post-divorce situations, with equal groups in joint physical custody, sole maternal custody and joint legal custody (joint guardianship). The type of parenting order and the amount of father-child contact were significant predicators of child adjustment, with higher father-child contact associated with better adjustment of the children. The results in this study, as in the vast majority of this research, suggest that joint custody is much more beneficial for successful post-divorce adjustment of children than sole custody.

Cowan (1982) compared 20 joint custody and 20 sole (maternal) custody families. Children in joint physical custody were rated as better adjusted by their mothers compared with children of sole custody mothers. The children's perceptions in sole custody situations correlated with the amount of time spent with their father.  The more time children from sole maternal custody spent with their fathers, the more accepting both parents were perceived to be and the better adjusted were the children.

Both sole and joint custody children adjusted well to the remarriage of their parent; no significant difference found between the groups. The parents of joint custody situations, however, expressed more satisfaction with their children and indicated that they appreciated the time alone with their new spouse. Sole custody children also reported seeing their father less often after remarriage of the mother; this did not happen in joint custody situations (Bredefeld 1985).

Extreme Situations

No study has found that joint physical custody is disadvantageous to children. Where researchers have found significant differences, they favour the joint custody arrangement. 

Professor John Guidubaldi writes: Only a few empirical studies raise any concerns at all about joint custody and these have been given an unwarranted anti joint custody "spin.”  These studies merit a closer look. For example, Janet Johnston's (1994) work has been cited as opposing joint custody. She notes in her article, "Court-ordered joint physical custody and frequent visitation arrangements in high-conflict divorce tend to be associated with poorer child outcomes, especially for girls" (p. 165).

A closer look at her definition of high conflict families reveals that she estimated the incidence from Maccoby and Mnookin's (1992) California study where 25% of the divorcing families where judged to have high conflict, but only 10% of these (2.5%) show an association between joint custody/frequent contact and poorer child adjustment. Clearly, such an extreme population should not serve as the basis for policy that affects the welfare of the other 97.5% of the population. Johnston, herself, acknowledges that joint physical custody and frequent visitation are not detrimental to the majority of children. She notes that, "In some cases, especially where parents are cooperative, they are more beneficial" (p. 176).


Kelly J B (1988a). Longer–Term Adjustment In Children of Divorce: Converging Findings and Implications For Practice. Journal of Family Psychology. 2: 119–140 

Steinman S (1983) Joint Custody: What We Know, What We Have Yet To Learn, and the Judicial and Legislative Implications. University of California. Review: 739-747 

Lerman I. A (1989). Adjustment of Latency Age Children In Joint and Single Custody Arrangements. Dissertation Abstracts International, 50B, 3704 (Order No. AAC8925682)

Cowan D. B (1982). Mother Custody versus Joint Custody: Children’s Parental Relationship and Adjustment. Doctoral Thesis University of Washington. UMI No. 82-18213.

Bredefeld G. M (1985) Joint Custody and Remarriage: Its effects on Marital Adjustment and Children. Doctoral Thesis. California School of Professional Psychology, Fresno. UMI No. 85-10926

Johnston J. R. (1994). High-Conflict Divorce. In R. E. Behrman The Future of Children, 4(1): 165-182), The Centre for the Future of Children, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation

Maccoby E. E., & Mnookin R. H (1992). Dividing the Child: Social and Legal Dilemmas of Custody. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Design by Pegasus Web Design