Joint Physical Custody Is What Children Want

Joint physical custody, insofar as it allows them to continue their relationship with both parents is what children want. Each of the studies that sought the views of children indicates that while they would prefer the intact family of origin, they are satisfied with joint custody and value the opportunity to continue their relationship with both parents. 

In Deborah Luepnitz’s (1982) work for example, nearly all the joint physical custody children were content with the arrangement. These children echoed the sole physical custody children in responding to the question, “With whom would you have wanted to live after the divorce?” by saying, “With both.”  Not only were joint physical custody children not confused by the arrangement they were able to cite specific advantages in the twohousehold lifestyle. They described their arrangement as “more fun, more interesting or more comfortable.” 

An earlier investigation conducted by the University of Michigan (1979) asked 165 school children in grades three to six from divorced and intact families their custody preferences.  The study found that the majority of interviewed children wanted to live half the week with one parent and the remaining half of the week with their other parent.  None of the children in the divorced group had experienced this type of parenting. The high prevalence of reconciliation fantasies among children in sole custody arrangements would also seem to indicate a strong desire for continued involvement of both parents in children's lives. 

'A more recent study adds weight to the view that children are better off spending equal time with both parents after divorce. The study is one of the first in Australia to look at how children feel about spending time with their parents, When they were asked how parents should care for children after divorce, the most common answer was equal or half and half. Half also said they wanted more time with their non-resident parents (Parkinson, Cashmore & Single 2003).

In a research review Kelly (1988a) summarizes children's own descriptions: 

  • The children continue a daily life with both parents, and they consequently don't become strangers to each other. 

  • The children feel that it is "Just": neither of the parents is favoured. 

  • The children are less likely to feel guilty and/or to miss his father.

  • The children get to experience that they are loved and important to both parents, which strengthens self-confidence. 

  • The boys continue to have a father as a role model for identification. 

  • For small children with frequent changes they can experience that they still live with both. 

  • The children can feel that they contribute to the parents meeting and have a near and good cooperation. 

  • There is no risk that contacts with either of the parents will cease in the teenage years. 

  • It can feel good to "have a rest" from one of the parents (especially for teenagers).

  • A divorce is not experienced as a devastating loss, because the child has not lost any love and important person from their daily life (p 133). 

"Compared with children in sole maternal custody, joint physical custody youngsters were more satisfied with their arrangements (Handley 1985;  Luepnitz 1982; 1986) and did not struggle with the sense of loss and deprivation so characteristic of children in sole custody families. (Steinman 1981; Luepnitz 1982).  Most youngsters considered having two homes advantageous and the extra effort of making transitions between homes to be very worthwhile, because it enabled them to be close to both parents."



Handley S (1985). The Experience of The Latency Age Child In Sole and Joint Custody: A Report on A Comparative Study. Doctoral dissertation. California Graduate School of Marriage and Family Therapy. 


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


Luepnitz D. A (1982). Child Custody: A Study of Families After Divorce. Lexington Books: Massachusetts. p 46 & 47 


Luepnitz D. A (1986). A Comparison of Maternal, Paternal, and Joint Custody: Understanding the Varieties of Post-Divorce Family Life. Journal of Divorce. 9(3): 1-12.


Note: 5 Family Law Report (1979) at 2395 

Parkinson P, Cashmore J & Single J (2003). Adolescents' Views on the Fairness of Parenting and Financial Arrangements After Separation. Faculty of Law, University of Sydney

Steinman S (1981). The Experience Of Children in A Joint-Custody Arrangement. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 51: 403-414.  

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