Journal of Family Psychology 2002, Vol. 16, No.
Copyright 2002 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0893-3200/02/$5.00 DOI: 10.1037//0893-318.104.22.168
Child Adjustment in Joint-Custody Versus Sole-Custody Arrangements: A Meta-Analytic Review
AIDS Administration/Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
The author meta-analyzed studies comparing child adjustment in joint physical or joint legal custody with sole-custody settings, including comparisons with paternal custody and intact families where possible. Children in joint physical or legal custody were better adjusted than children in sole-custody settings, but no different from those in intact families. More positive adjustment of joint-custody children held for separate comparisons of general adjustment, family relationships, self-esteem, emotional and behavioral adjustment, and divorce-speciﬁc adjustment. Joint-custody parents reported less current and past conﬂict than did sole-custody parents, but this did not explain the better adjustment of joint-custody children. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that joint custody can be advantageous for children in some cases, possibly by facilitating ongoing positive involvement with both parents.
Research evidence has clearly demonstrated that, on average, children from divorced families are not as well adjusted as those in intact families, although this relative disadvantage does not necessarily imply clinical levels of maladjustment (Amato & Keith, 1991b; Guidubaldi & Perry, 1985). Joint custody, an arrangement that involves shared legal and/or physical custody of children following divorce of their parents, has increased in popularity as an option in divorce since the 1970s, with many states now having either a preference or presumption for joint legal custody (Bender, 1994). An ongoing debate between proponents and opponents of joint custody has continued since the 1970s as well, with different researchers and authors expressing both strong opposition (e.g., Goldstein, Freud, & Solnit, 1973; Kuehl, 1989) and strong support (e.g., Bender, 1994; Roman & Haddad, 1978). Arguments in favor of joint custody have often focused on beneﬁts for the child of maintaining relationships with both parents. In contrast, opponents have argued that joint custody disrupts needed stability in a child’s life and can lead to harm by exposing children to ongoing parental conﬂict. A variety of theoretical perspectives have been proposed to explain the links between divorce and child adjustment (Hetherington, Bridges, & Insabella, 1998): individual characteristics of the child that might increase vulnerability to maladjustment; the change in family composition and the possible negative effects of father absence in the typical maternal custody situation; the increased economic stress and problems in shifting from a two-parent to a one-parent
This research was not done as part of ofﬁcial duties with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene or under its auspices. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Robert Bauserman, AIDS Administration/Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 500 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
household; effects of parental distress on the child; and changes in family processes such as conﬂict and expression of emotion. Buchanan, Maccoby, and Dornbusch (1996) classiﬁed factors affecting children’s postdivorce adjustment into three categories: loss of a parent, interparental conﬂict, and diminished parenting (in which the quality of parenting from the custodial parent deteriorates, typically during the ﬁrst 2 years after divorce). In an analysis of several large-scale national samples, McLanahan (1999) found that father absence due to divorce is associated with less school achievement for both boys and girls, more labor market detachment (i.e., unemployment) for boys, and early childbearing for girls. The impact of father absence seemed to be mediated by several variables, including loss of parental resources (less involvement and supervision), loss of ﬁnancial resources, and loss of community resources (the broader network of social involvement, interaction, and support obtained from each parent). In a meta-analysis of 63 studies of nonresident fathers’ role in children’s well-being, Amato and Gilbreth (1999) found that authoritative parenting and feelings of closeness between father and child related to well-being. In addition to child support payments, authoritative parenting by the father was the most consistent predictor of outcomes including school achievement, externalizing (behavioral) problems, and internalizing (emotional) problems. Notably, joint custody (and joint physical custody in particular) is relevant to many of the issues raised by Buchanan et al. (1996), Amato and Gilbreth (1999), Hetherington et al. (1998), and McLanahan (1999). For example, ongoing and frequent access to both parents may mitigate potential effects of parental absence as seen in sole-custody households, and access to the households and resources of both parents may reduce economic stress and disadvantage for the child. On the other hand, as critics of joint custody have noted, close ongoing contact with both parents might expose the child to ongoing conﬂict. Thus, research on custody and adjustment needs to examine not just differ91
Guidubaldi & Perry. a meta-analysis of child adjustment in sole.g.. such reviews are subject to a number of potential problems: selective citation of studies. As noted previously. socioeconomic disadvantage. and failure to examine study characteristics as moderators of results (Johnson. wherever possible joint-custody and sole-custody groups were compared on levels of conﬂict between parents either now or in the past. and conﬂict level was examined as a moderator of adjustment differences. Still others presented mixed ﬁndings in which no single custody arrangement can be assumed to be preferable (Kelly. it was hypothesized that jointcustody children would be relatively better adjusted than paternal custody children. 1984) by converting different statistical results into a common metric of effect size such as Cohen’s (1988) d and systematically examining the effect of various study qualities on the magnitude of the effect. These reviewers presented varying conclusions: some argued that the research literature unequivocally supports joint custody (Bender. and intact-family and joint-custody children. which allows them to enter into joint-custody arrangements to begin with. 1996). A secondary goal of the current review was to examine how theoretically relevant characteristics of participant populations and of studies might moderate the relationship between custody arrangements and outcomes. Given that most sole-custody arrangements involve maternal custody. 1995.. by providing for an ongoing. Hetherington et al. For example. Rosenthal. Exposure to parental conﬂict may potentially be greater in a joint-custody setting than in a sole-custody setting. Amato & Keith. 1985). some critics of joint custody have expressed concern that this arrangement will expose children to ongoing parental conﬂict.. It is important to recognize that such comparisons cannot establish a causal role for joint versus sole custody in child adjustment. economic stress. it would still be possible to identify which custody type (if any) is associated with better adjustment in different areas. and forming holistic impressions of the literature reviewed. Although interparental conﬂict might reduce potential beneﬁts. 1993). joint custody may work to overcome the difﬁculties for the child potentially caused by the parental absence. noting signiﬁcant and nonsigniﬁcant ﬁndings. the primary focus of the review was comparison of joint-custody samples with primarily or exclusively sole maternal custody samples. Twaite & Luchow. others argued that variables such as parental conﬂict are more important than custodial arrangement in determining child outcomes (Twaite & Luchow. and the relevance of ongoing relationships with both parents to theoretical perspectives on child adjustment in divorce (e. and changes in family processes that might accompany divorce. Johnston. Other researchers have claimed that children in solecustody arrangements are better adjusted when living with the same-sex than with the opposite-sex parent (e. During the past 20 years. Although the suggested hypothesis (and subsequent hypotheses) is directional. but this is a concern that can be examined empirically. However. jointcustody parents may experience lower levels of conﬂict at the time of divorce than sole-custody parents. 1995). focusing on statistical signiﬁcance rather than on the magnitude of the relationship between variables. However.. one variable coded as a poten-
. and consequently offset some of these possible beneﬁts. The potential confounding role of conﬂict is also considered.g. but also how the factors identiﬁed here may relate to any adjustment differences found. all statistical tests were based on appropriately conservative two-tailed probabilities.g. Based on the reasoning that joint custody is more beneﬁcial than harmful because it provides a higher degree of ongoing support and resources from both parents than other custody arrangements.. Thus. These groups were used to conduct secondary meta-analyses comparing paternal custody and joint-custody children. In this review. an increasing body of research evidence on the adjustment of children in both types of custody settings has developed. In addition. Bender. The goal of this review was to locate and metaanalytically integrate reports of child adjustment that directly compare children in joint-custody (legal and/or physical) and in sole-custody settings following divorce. such an outcome would be consistent with suggestions that. boys might therefore show more beneﬁt than girls in a comparison of joint and maternal custody.. 1994).92
ences in adjustment across different custodial settings.and solecustody settings (e. resulting in more stress and adjustment problems. 1989.g. and some reviewers have speciﬁcally compared child adjustment in joint. 1996) and that joint custody is likely to be inappropriate in high-conﬂict situations (Johnston. 1991b. joint custody cannot be proven to be the causal factor in any such difference. reporting results consistent with the reviewer’s perspective. Warshak. 1984). the literature demonstrating adjustment difﬁculties for children in sole-custody families when compared to children in intact families (e. combined with minimization or nonreporting of inconsistent results. Thus. close relationship with both parents in a way not possible in sole-custody arrangements that emphasize limited visitation with the noncustodial parents. 1994). 1986). Based on the arguments advanced in favor of joint custody (e. a variation of the family-composition perspective on the effects of divorce. Meta-analytic reviews integrate research literature in a more systematic and quantitative fashion than traditional narrative reviews (Rosenthal. However. These authors conducted traditional narrative literature reviews that attempt to organize and make sense of a literature by reporting on the ﬁndings of a number of relevant studies.and joint-custody situations was conducted in order to avoid some of the problems of traditional literature reviews and to integrate as much of the relevant literature as possible. some studies also included separate paternal custody groups or intact family groups.g. and what variables appear to moderate any relationship found. it was hypothesized that on average children in joint-custody arrangements would demonstrate better ad-
justment than children in sole-custody arrangements. Because most sole-custody arrangements are maternal rather than paternal custody. because such research is necessarily relational rather than experimental in nature. 1998). It was further hypothesized that joint-custody and intact-family children would be relatively equal in level of adjustment because both groups are maintaining ongoing relationships involving frequent contact with both parents.
with children spending equal or substantial amounts of time with both parents. Studies that reported only qualitative descriptions of different groups. For each study with more than one measure-level effect size.
Deﬁnition of Joint Custody
The term joint custody can refer to either shared physical custody. which has since been published (Gunnoe & Braver. For 12% of the studies (n 4). (b) the speciﬁc deﬁnition of joint custody used in the study (joint physical. For custody deﬁnition. and (b) reference lists of relevant studies. and some measure of adjustment. Two studies (Isaacs. (g) the proportion of boys in the joint-custody group and in the sole-custody group. including PsycINFO. studies that included both sole. active involvement of the nonresidential parent in the child’s life. t tests.g. as potential moderators of effects. and Dissertation Abstracts International. so comparisons of joint physical versus sole custody and joint legal versus sole custody were not independent within each study. Steinman. selfesteem) and the individual (e.. 2001).and joint-custody children.g. and (n) parental conﬂict now. referred to here as measurelevel effect sizes. which often represented conceptually different types of adjustment and were completed by different individuals. or shared legal custody. Dissertation Abstracts International was searched in an effort to incorporate as many unpublished ﬁndings as possible. Kline.
the measure. Leon. child or parent) who completed
. statistics were provided that allowed calculation of effect sizes for some of the measures used. measure-level and studylevel effect sizes were calculated based on sole-custody comparisons with both the joint physical and joint legal groups. if included). correlations.) A total of 140 measure-level effect sizes were coded for the joint-custody and maternal custody comparisons. a total of nine effect sizes estimated to be zero were included. However. However. studies based on either joint physical or joint legal custody were included. Rather than exclude one form or the other from the current review. (l) date of publication.
Coding of Studies
For each study.
Method Sample of Studies
Studies were located through (a) electronic databases. The electronic databases were searched from the earliest available dates through December 1998. Lerman.g.and joint-custody groups (e. Similarly. 1989). but less in some cases where authors did not report separate results for maternal and paternal sole-custody groups). In an additional 18% of studies (n 6). (c) type of adjustment measure (described further below). there was only one sole-custody comparison group within each study. This procedure allowed examination of study qualities. joint legal. Joint physical custody clearly implies ongoing close contact with both parents. Most studies included more than one codable measure of adjustment. 1984). schedules could and did vary widely from subject to subject and study to study. or undeﬁned). In 64% of the studies (n 21)..0. It was hypothesized that the beneﬁts of ongoing involvement with both parents would be robust. Although this procedure meant that disparate measures might be averaged for some studies. means and standard deviations. such that better adjustment for jointcustody children would be found even when controlling for a variety of participant and study characteristics as potential moderators. joint legal custody implies shared decision making by the parents and ongoing. As a result. and study-level comparisons of adjustment in joint and sole custody were computed using both (a) joint physical/sole-custody comparisons only. and proportions. (The coding of some speciﬁc qualities is described in the following. all effect sizes were also averaged to obtain a single effect size. were therefore excluded. it allowed separate metaanalyses on the basis of type of adjustment measure (e. Johnston. To be included in this review. Contacts with researchers in the ﬁeld identiﬁed an additional study. 1981). effect sizes for these measures were set equal to zero and included in the measure-level meta-analyses and in calculation of the study-level effect sizes. Although this procedure meant that not all effect sizes were independent of one another. such as published versus unpublished status or sex of author. joint custody groups combined joint legal and joint physical custody. it also meant that each effect size represented an independent study. & Kline. studies were dummy-coded with “1” for timebased joint physical custody. (d) by whom the adjustment measure was completed. joint custody was deﬁned speciﬁcally on the basis of time spent with each parent. referred to here as study-level effect size (Rosenthal. Only the joint physical/sole-custody comparisons were used in later analyses of measure-level effect sizes. 1989) included separate joint physical custody and joint legal custody groups. and had to report the statistical outcome of some test comparing psychological or behavioral adjustment between the groups. (e) ages of each group of children at the time of parental separation or divorce. Tschann. (f) current ages (at time of study) of each group of children. but not for others for which comparisons were reported to be nonsigniﬁcant. or that reported the adjustment of a joint-custody group without a sole-custody comparison group (e. (i) published versus unpublished status. F tests. (k) sample source.g. & Wallerstein. Effect sizes were calculated for each result.. and “2” for joint legal custody or samples that left joint custody undeﬁned or combined the two types. coded from the ﬁrst name of the author. including group sample sizes. (j) sex of ﬁrst author. the following information was coded: (a) statistics provided on adjustment for sole-custody and joint-custody children (and paternal custody and intact-family children. In these two cases.. and (b) joint physical and joint legal comparisons with sole custody.CUSTODY AND CHILD ADJUSTMENT
tial moderator was the proportion of boys in each study’s sole-custody and joint-custody groups. Typically this meant at least 25% of the child’s or adolescent’s time was spent with each parent. Both narrowly focused searches (with the term “joint custody”) and broader searches (combining the terms “custody” and “adjustment”) were performed. were excluded if they did not provide any information (statistics or p values) on direct comparisons of the sole. study deﬁnitions were coded as “joint physical” or “joint legal” so that comparisons on the basis of deﬁnition would be possible. 1987. a study had to include groups of children living in joint legal or physical custody arrangements and in maternal or sole-custody arrangements. Rather than selectively include measures from these studies. joint custody was self-deﬁned by parents or was left undeﬁned in the report of the study. Socioﬁle. but in all of these cases involved a substantial proportion of time actually spent living with each parent. Study-level effect sizes were computed for sole-custody comparisons with both the joint physical and joint legal groups in each study. (h) proportion of custodial mothers in the sole-custody group (usually 1. with primary residence often remaining with one parent. even if residential custody remains primarily with one parent. For eight of the studies that were eventually included. (m) parental conﬂict in the past. This procedure provides a conservative and unbiased way to include these measures that does not favor either custody arrangement.
and various authorwritten items related to emotional problems and adjustment. & Katkovsky. 1980). family relations) than others (e. 1984. Lachar. 1967). hostility. the Piers–Harris Children’s Self-Concept Scale (Piers. 1965). emotional adjustment. the Externalizing subscale of the Youth Self-Report Inventory (Achenbach. & Suci. the Coopersmith SelfEsteem Inventory (Coopersmith. Walker. Porter & Cattell... Self-esteem. and various author-created scales for rating behavioral problems. 1984). items from the Cornell Parent Behavior Inventory (Devereaux. Ahrons’s scales for various dimensions of parental conﬂict. IQ. and support (Ahrons. Locus of Control (Nowicki & Strickland. 1983).
Samples were also coded for measures of current conﬂict between parents (conﬂict now) and past conﬂict between parents (conﬂict then). 1985). 1981). self-esteem. the Internalizing subscale of the Youth Self-Report Inventory. Emotional adjustment. the California Test of Personality (California Test Bureau. the O’Leary–Porter Overt-Hostility Scale. First were court and divorce records. 1968). Piers & Harris. Olson. and measures related to school performance
There were ﬁve different types of sample sources identiﬁed. 1976). 1980).
Data analysis was carried out using DSTAT software for metaanalysis (Johnson. the Tennessee Self-Concept Scale (Fitts. Kurdek & Berg. 1992). Adjustment subscale (Wirt. the program uses Rosenthal’s (1984) techniques. This category included the California Attitude Survey. & Tschann. Berg. & Kvebaek. were included (21 of the unpublished studies were doctoral
. 1965). the Louisville Behavior Checklist (Miller. the Kvebaek Family Sculpture Test (Cromwell. Klinedienst. 1987). 1989. and author-written items or composites of selfesteem items. the Differential Emotions Scale (Boyle. ch. 1966). and positive versus negative experiences in the divorce. academic performance. For modeling of study qualities that are continuous rather than categorical variables. 1982). This difference is reﬂected in the statistics reported for modeling of study qualities. 1959). the Structured Divorce Questionnaire (Kurdek & Siesky. This category included the Child Report of Parental Behavior Inventory (Schaefer. & Seat. 1982). the O’Leary–Porter Overt Hostility Scale (B. 1965). and various author-created items or scales for parents or children to rate parental conﬂict in the past. 1987). and divorce-speciﬁc adjustment. 1964). the Personality Inventory for Children. Achenbach & Edelbrock. Family relations. the Parental Acceptance and Rejection Questionnaire (Rohner. And ﬁnally. 1979. 1985). and conﬂict over custody or other issues. the Externalizing subscale of the CBCL (when scale scores for the CBCL were reported rather than total scores). 1986). the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL. in which researchers identiﬁed joint-custody families by examining court records of divorce and custody proceedings in speciﬁc jurisdictions. cooperation. measures of general adjustment). the Culture-Free SelfEsteem Inventory. Fourth were national samples (only one. Johnston. 1984). the Internalizing subscale from the CBCL. Measures of past conﬂict were coded from 5 studies and included the Locke–Wallace Marital Adjustment Scale (Locke & Wallace. This category included measures speciﬁcally assessing behavioral problems. Donnelly & Finkelhor. 1979. 1991). 15). 1981. the Family Relations Test (Anthony & Bene. the Loyalty Conﬂict Assessment Test (Shiller. 1983). the Inferred Self-Concept Scale (Hughes. behavioral adjustment. This program uses the Hedges and Olkin (1985) methods for meta-analysis for most calculations. Behavioral adjustment. 1980). the Draw-A-Person Test (Koppitz. Braver. Third were school-based samples. 1962). including the Child Symptom Checklist. and various author-created items or scales for parents (and sometimes children) to report on such constructs as discord. & Sandler.. word of mouth. 11 published and 22 unpublished. 1957). the Classroom Adjustment Rating Scale (Lorion. the Health Resources Inventory (Gesten. General adjustment. 1989). 1991). Fournier. and scales or items created by the authors included in the meta-analysis. This category included one measure speciﬁc to classroom behavior. the Divorce Experiences Scale for Children (Wolchik. however.
Results Study Characteristics
A total of 33 studies. This category included results reported for broad-based measures of adjustment covering a range of behavioral and emotional problems. 1950). the Revised Children’s Manifest Anxiety Inventory (Reynolds & Richmond. 1985). and school attendance. Crandall. including the Neuroticism subscale of the Adolescent MPI. the Children’s Depression Inventory (Kovacs. Measures of current conﬂict were coded from 14 studies and included such measures as the Straus Conﬂict Tactics Scale (Straus. including the Conduct Disorder subscale of the Adolescent Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MPI. 1985). clinical samples of families undergoing counseling or other mental health services related to the divorce (only two. the Self-Esteem subscale of the Children’s Personality Questionnaire (R. in which participants were recruited within particular schools or school systems. Duthie. 1980). 1970). Past conﬂict typically involved assessments of conﬂict during the marriage or around the time of separation. 1979). Academic/scholastic.g. Second were convenience samples. Divorce-speciﬁc. and various author-created scales. in which researchers identiﬁed and recruited participants through such means as newspaper and media advertisements.
Types of Adjustment Measures
Because of the possibility that differences between sole and joint custody children might be greater on some dimensions of adjustment (e. 1975). communication. Children’s Beliefs about Parental Divorce (CBAPD. This category included measures intended to assess emotional symptoms and reactions. the Perceived Competence Scale for Children (Harter. the Stepfamily Adjustment Scale (Crosbie-Burnett. Bronfenbrenner. the Draw-A-Family Test (Isaacs et al.g.94
BAUSERMAN or intelligence such as grade-point average. 1977). and personal contacts. 1986). Porter & O’Leary. the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scales (FACES. the House–Tree–Person Test (Buck. 1977). such as parental ratings of whether the child was harmed by or beneﬁted from the divorce. Kline. This category included the Children’s Attitudes Toward Parental Separation Inventory (CAPSI. family relations. 1984). 1973). the Behavior Problem Checklist (Quay & Peterson. the Children’s Social Desirability Questionnaire (Crandall. and various author-written items speciﬁcally concerning adjustment to the divorce. 1979). the Adaptive Behavior Inventory for Children (Mercer. the Kinetic Family Drawings Test (Burns & Kaufman. measures were categorized into the following groups: general adjustment. the Straus Conﬂict Tactics Scale.
95% conﬁdence interval (CI) . The proportion of mothers in the sole-custody groups also did not affect the relationship between custody and adjustment. 95% CI .14 –. 1987. meaning that they were statistically consistent across studies.10 –... 1989).31.06. 95% CI .29 (SD . and Lerman. Table 1). As noted previously. 1992.66.53. the joint physical and joint legal custody comparisons to sole custody were combined for all further analyses. and effect sizes were not heterogenous.45).21.27.28).. because they may still reveal signiﬁcant results and provide useful information. Q(14) 12. d .34). p .02–. a separate analysis (see the following) was conducted to compare joint and paternal custody children. and 2 2.50.40. Importantly. For joint legal custody versus sole custody (n 15 studies. and Z 1.CUSTODY AND CHILD ADJUSTMENT
dissertations). For joint physical custody versus sole custody (n 20 studies). corresponding to an r of .32. d . In both cases. The combined effect size for the two clinical samples did not differ from zero. Q(19) 18.76. Results were nearly identical to the ﬁrst analysis. p .19 –.34). According to the guidelines described by Cohen (1988).33. Because joint physical and joint legal custody may differ greatly in terms of time spent with each parent (with only the former clearly involving substantial amounts of time spent living with each parent).40. this does not necessarily disallow examination of possible moderators of effect sizes.19. p . 1 from highly conﬂicted parents (Johnston et al. single-parent groups. p . so each of these studies contributed two effect sizes. 2 0. this effect size is slightly greater than what would be considered a small effect size (d . 95% CI . Age at time of separation/divorce for sole-custody and joint-custody groups also did not relate to effect sizes.39. and Lerman. Rosenthal (1995) stated that contrasts can and should be computed among obtained effect sizes regardless of heterogeneity.80. the study-level effect sizes for joint versus sole custody were analyzed (this analysis included only the joint physical custody effects for Isaacs et al.32).62.09. 1987. Based on these ﬁndings.846 sole-custody and 814 joint-custody children. (1987) and Lerman (1989). A direct contrast of the mean effect sizes for joint physical and joint legal samples revealed that they did not signiﬁcantly differ from each other either including or excluding the Isaacs et al. 1989).12. respectively.28 (SD . 95% CI . and the single national sample had a negative effect size. Z 1.59. 2 from clinical samples. Sex of ﬁrst author also did not moderate effect sizes. the joint-custody groups were better adjusted.24 –. joint-custody children scored signiﬁcantly higher on adjustment measures than sole-custody children. and 1 from a national telephone survey (Donnelly & Finkelhor. p . Court records of divorce ﬁlings and litigation were the source of 11 samples: 6 were drawn from school populations. As noted earlier. so there was only one effect size for every study). 1 from parents seeking counseling at a social services agency (Walker. The proportions of boys in sole-custody groups and in joint-custody groups were not separately related to effect sizes.23 (SD . and Lerman. Z 0.22 (SD .17. and Z 0. p . p . each of these studies had only one sole-custody comparison group. d . respectively. When examined separately.74.64. Effect sizes in each of the categories with more than one effect size (court.20). Q(34) 32. p . Q(12) 6.26 (SD .14 –.55.67.17–.19. p . Z 0. d . school. the sole-custody groups were either exclusively maternal custody or primarily maternal custody with a small minority of paternal custody cases. 95% CI . and word of mouth.49.74. p . p .15.30.11–. d .114.56). Q(32) 27. p .34.69.28. overall effect sizes were signiﬁcantly different from zero for convenience samples.
.66 and Z 0. and convenience samples) were not signiﬁcantly heterogenous (only the national sample category had a single effect size. the effect size for the joint legal comparison was smaller but still signiﬁcant.24. Over one third (n 12) were convenience samples drawn from various sources such as child-care centers. A second overall analysis was conducted using both the joint legal and joint physical samples from Isaacs et al.50. and samples obtained from in-school students. These analyses included only the joint physical custody effect size for Isaacs et al. p . so the study-level effect sizes for joint physical and joint legal custody were not truly independent of each other. separate study-level analyses were conducted to compare joint physical custody and joint legal custody groups to sole-custody groups.27. respectively. 95% CI .01–. samples based on court records. due to an ambiguous name. The effect sizes were not signiﬁcantly heterogenous.15 (SD .15 (SD . and effect sizes were not signiﬁcantly heterogenous. The 33 studies contributed a total of 140 measure-level effect sizes. d . QB(1) 0. including the joint legal samples from Isaacs et al. QB(4) 8. respectively. 95% CI .47 (SD . d . whereas 26 had a female ﬁrst author (author sex could not be determined for one study.70). These studies dated from 1982 to 1999. neither did current age of child/adolescent for sole-custody and joint-custody groups. sample source was unrelated to effect sizes. 95% CI . indicating better adjustment for solecustody children. 1985). Although effect sizes were not signiﬁcantly heterogenous. Only 6 had a male ﬁrst author.42). see Donnelly & Finkelhor. see Table 1). Z 0. p .
and effect sizes were again not signiﬁcantly heterogenous.44. Without Isaacs et al. (1987) and Lerman (1989). 1989. so each study was represented only by a single effect size. d .93.75. and Lerman samples. Across the study-level effect sizes.09 (studies not reporting sample source were excluded from this analysis). d . p .29.18 (SD .
Comparisons Based on Study-Level Effect Sizes
Modeling of both categorical and continuous study qualities was performed to determine whether speciﬁc qualities of studies or of samples moderated the difference between sole and joint custody. Published and unpublished studies did not differ signiﬁcantly in effect sizes. QB(1) 0.86. The combined sample size across studies was 1. p .29). 1992).08.
Adjustment in Joint Versus Sole Custody
First. p .
6 7.52 .3 7.176 .114 .50 .5 4.702 .43 .5 10.39 1.5 12.7 5.5 10.0 4. (1987) joint physical joint legal Johnston et al.5 8. N not published. NA not available.63 .276 . F female.00 1. or undeﬁned. 1983).48 .00 .724 .50 .78 1.5 14.3 10.455 .47 .5 9.50 .00 1.50 .0 5.3 7.48 .5 1.00 .2 2.5 8.43 117 117 53 22 13 40 39 1 2 1 1 1 1 2
F F F M NA F
Bowman (1983) Bredefeld (1985) Buchanan et al.5 8.0 4.5 8.038 .41 .61 .0 9.7 12. Detailed information on the measure-level effect sizes from each study are available from the author.6 9.50 1.5 7.50 1. (1989) Karp (1982) Kauffmann (1985) Lakin (1994) Lee (1993) Lerman (1989) joint physical joint legal Livingston (1984) Luepnitz (1982) Mann (1984) Mensink (1987) Noonan (1985) Nunan (1980) Pojman (1981) Rockwell-Evans (1991) Shiller (1986) Silitsky (1996) Spence (1992) Vela-Trujillo (1996) Walker (1985) Warren (1983) Welsh-Osga (1982) Wolchik et al.1 9.132 . mean unweighted effect size (each study 1).48 .00 10.0 7.5 15.5 16.1 9.52 .00 .2 9.23.251
Note.71 1.8 5.00 .8 5.9 4.1 10.4 11.83 1.2 Y N N N N N N N Y N Y Y Y N N N Y Sole Deﬁnitiona Joint Sole Proportion mothersb Proportion boys Age at divorce
Study-level effect size .5 15.067 .46 .55 .209 (Bowman.5 9.5 8.75 .4 9.38 .00 .5 10. d .220 .1 11.5 N Y N N N N N N Y Y N N N N N Y
F F M M F F M F F M F F F F F F
Table 1 Study Variables and Study-Level Effect Sizes
Sample size Current age Joint 8.665 .652 .55 .9 15.284 .8 10.27.63 .9 11.65 .1 9.027 .0 12.44 54 20 384 20 52 141 8 19 51 10 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 2 2 1 1.005 .6 8. median effect size.00 .38 .2 5.5 15.050 .65 .4 5.50 . mixed samples. a code of 2 refers to joint legal custody.8 9.5 12. a A code of 1 means joint custody was deﬁned on the basis of time spent with each parent (joint physical custody).59 1.61 .00 .45 .00 .151 . Y published.5 10.00 .0 10.6 10.45 .49 .068 .5 9.174 .48 1.3 4.3 10.253 .92 11.3 4.51 .00 .50 .1 14.0 9.5 10.5 8.48 .0 6.1 6.51 .6 12.9 9.0 8.3 8.00 NA NA NA .1 9.9 Sole Joint Sole Published Joint 28 20 52 20 26 19 8 20 28 10 .5 9.44 .5 16.9 15.61 .63 . (1991) Cowan (1982) Crosbie-Burnett (1991) Donnelly and Finkelhor (1992) Glover and Steele (1989) Granite (1985) Gunnoe & Braver (2001) Hendrickson (1991) Isaacs et al.7 8.674 .00 .0 6.50 .1 5.9 4.5 9.8 6.88 .8 8.040 . d .44 .9 12.8 12.45 .101 .5 8.00 1.2 5.209 .246 .8 9.53 .59 .
.5 9.8 12.5 15.8 7.4 10.193 .101 .50 1.8 6. b The proportion of mothers with physical custody in the sole custody group.1 7.1 9.609 .7 14.50 . Mean weighted effect size.5 8.5 6. M male.216 .48 1.50 1.0 12.5 4.90 1.00 30 30 54 34 26 64 20 20 20 21 20 169 30 26 15 37 10 89 1 2 2 1 1 2 1 2 1 1 1 2 2 2 1 1 1 2 7.688 .340 .00 1.977
F M F F F F F F F M F 41 44 35 16 17 40 20 .0 5.1 14.9 11. d . (1985) 30 30 32 25 32 8 20 20 20 21 20 32 15 19 12 17 10 44 .00 1.0 7.
1985. 1982.43). p . joint-custody groups reported signiﬁcantly less across the 14 studies. QB(6) 4. joint custody children were better adjusted than solecustody children. 95% CI .74. 95% CI . Measures of general adjustment were rendered homogenous by removal of two outliers.01–.19 (SD . for mother-completed measures (n 18). d . Person completing measure. 95% CI . Spence. for measures completed by an unspeciﬁed parent (n 17).
Adjustment in Joint Custody Versus Intact Families
A total of 8 studies compared joint-custody children with intact-family children.45). 1989. adjusted d . For past conﬂict. p . joint-custody children were better adjusted than solecustody children: for general (broad) measures of adjustment (n 24). for emotional adjustment (n 20).. The identity of the person completing the adjustment measure did not signiﬁcantly moderate effect sizes.64).24 (SD . 1989. Hendrickson. Karp. Type of measure did not signiﬁcantly moderate effect sizes. d . analyses were conducted based on study-level effect sizes only. for current conﬂict.26.30 (SD . d .31.25 (SD . but this difference was nonsigniﬁcant (95% CI . if removed.0002 (95% CI 0.38). only 5 studies allowed such a comparison. across multiple types of measures.27). As with the joint-custody/paternal custody comparison.17– .24. 95% CI . Again. Luepnitz.34. resulting in an adjusted d . Next.06 (95% CI . Welsh-Osga. 95% CI .09 –.32).18 –. adjusted d .46). Johnston et al. these effect sizes were obtained by calculating measure-level effect sizes and then averaging for each study (there were a total of 40 effect sizes across all 8 studies). children in joint custody are better adjusted.29 (SD .10 –. p . 1982.29 (95% CI .20. 95% CI .42. as were divorce-speciﬁc effects. 1981. There was no difference between joint-custody and intact-family children. 95% CI . Mensink. d .41. joint-custody groups again reported less across the 5 studies. Pojman.
Based on these results.62.
conﬂict.37). 1982).23 (SD .07–. p .48). for self-esteem (n 22). Neither was a signiﬁcant predictor of the joint-custody advantage in adjustment (for past conﬂict.21 (SD .45. 95% CI . the homogeneity statistic Q indicated that the effect sizes were signiﬁcantly heterogenous.20.11–.06 –.32). Effect sizes were not signiﬁcantly heterogenous. and study qualities were not analyzed as moderators of this comparison.07–. 1983.18 –. The remaining studies did not report conﬂict data. p .16 –.37. Q(7) 5. d . differences in adjustment were in the direction of better adjustment for joint-custody children. This difference is found with both joint legal and joint physical custody and appears robust. for father-completed measures (n 17). d .18).32).55). Z 1. Mensink. the procedure was repeated if effect sizes remained nonhomogenous. study qualities were not analyzed as moderators of the adjustment comparisons.CUSTODY AND CHILD ADJUSTMENT
Comparisons Based on Measure-Level Effect Sizes
Measure-level effect sizes were used for meta-analysis of the effects of type of adjustment measure and identity of the person evaluating the child’s adjustment. 95% CI .25). Again. 1987. for teacher-completed measures (n 9).20 –.38. Welsh-Osga. For several categories of adjustment measures. remaining signiﬁcant even when testing various categorical and continuous qualities of the research studies as moderators.13 (SD . For measure-level effect sizes. The DSTAT program identiﬁes the largest outlier as that effect size which. Spence.07–. 1987. d . d . 1992. with the 95% conﬁdence interval excluding zero: for child-completed measures (n 81).19 (95% CI .31). Hendrickson.18. One problem that may have obscured a potential relationship was the relatively small proportion of studies that actually provided codable data on group differences in conﬂict. For all categories of persons completing the adjustment measure. Type of adjustment measure. both past and current conﬂict were tested as moderators of the adjustment difference between joint and sole custody. Warren. 95% CI .19 (95% CI . Family adjustment effect sizes were homogenous after removal of one outlier. p . for family relations (n 41).42. 1991. d . Q(7) 5. Because of the relatively small number of samples. the effect
The Role of Conﬂict
Effect sizes were calculated comparing joint-custody and sole-custody groups on the basis of conﬂict now (n 14 studies) and conﬂict in the past (n 5 studies). Academicadjustment effects also were homogenous after removal of a single outlier.47.41).46). 1992. would reduce the homogeneity statistic Q by the largest amount.27 (SD .85.39.349. 1982).12–. 95% CI .28). QB(5) 6.30 (SD . 1989. average effect sizes were computed for each study and comparisons were based on the study-level effects. d .32 (SD .56.
Adjustment in Joint Versus Paternal Custody
A total of 8 studies included paternal custody groups composed entirely of custodial fathers (Granite.12–. d .33 (SD .18.44. than children in sole (primarily maternal) custody. The measure-level effect sizes obtained for this analysis are displayed in stemand-leaf format in the Appendix. Overall.41). for behavioral adjustment (n 12). As with sole custody.versus sole-custody comparisons already examined. 1991.14 –. Separate groups of custodial mothers from these studies were included in the joint. d . 95% CI .63.13–. adjusted d .17–.505. Ilfeld. d .25). 95% CI . For all categories of adjustment except academic adjustment. with 45 effect sizes (Glover & Steele.19 (SD .30).61. and for measures completed by clinicians (n 7).40 (SD . d .27– 0. and for divorce-speciﬁc adjustment (n 14).11–. for past conﬂict in particular.58. d . For current
. d . 95% CI . The largest outlier for each of these categories was removed and the homogeneity rechecked. Z 0. the effect sizes were not significantly heterogenous.
The result may be an artifact of the small amount of variance found on this measure. but it is important to note that joint legal custody children typically spent a substantial amount of time with the father as well. more studies with larger samples may be needed to detect the effect at the level of statistical signiﬁcance. Notably. lack of statistical power may have been a problem. parental conﬂict remains an important confound in research comparing adjustment in different custody settings.or joint-custody groups. or even directly compare levels of conﬂict between joint. as shown previously. Joint-custody children showed better adjustment in parental relations and spent signiﬁcant amounts of time with the father. This is consistent with the argument that joint-custody couples are self-selected for low conﬂict and that better adjustment for their children may reﬂect this lack of conﬂict. parental conﬂict. However. direct relationship among these variables. Importantly. especially national samples if possible. emotional adjustment. 1989) was speciﬁcally selected for unusually high levels of parental conﬂict. and clinicians. Low conﬂict could signal either good parental relations or very little or no father contact (due to maternal desires. indicating that on average mothers. Conﬂict was highest at middle levels of visitation and lower when father contact was very high (as in joint physical custody) or very low. the small number of studies where such a comparison was possible (n 5) may also have limited power to detect a signiﬁcant relationship. For study-level effect sizes. mothers appear just as likely as other evaluators to perceive joint custody as beneﬁcial to their children’s adjustment. the literature on child adjustment in different custody arrangements does not show a bias toward larger effect sizes in published studies. In fact. Given the relatively small magnitude of the apparent effect size. the source of the sample (court. and mother satisfaction in divorced families and found no simple. The two clinical samples also did not show an advantage for joint custody. convenience. Effect sizes for joint-custody/sole-custody conﬂict
comparisons tended to be small. emotional. It is also possible that direct comparisons of conﬂict between joint. The ﬁndings for joint legal custody samples indicate that children do not actually need to be in joint physical custody to show better adjustment. such as unpublished versus published status. However. fathers. father withdrawal. With only 8 studies for the joint versus paternal comparison. King and Heard (1999) analyzed the relationships between father contact. Mother satisfaction was higher at the most and least frequent levels of visitation. and school achievement. Unlike research literature in some areas. King and Heard argue that some mothers may be grateful for ongoing father contact even if some conﬂict occurs. The fact that jointcustody couples also reported less current conﬂict is important because of the concern that joint custody can be harmful by exposing children to ongoing parental conﬂict. Some authors have claimed that mothers are the primary “losers” in joint-custody situations (Kuehl. This ﬁnding is consistent with
. Similarly. The effect size did not signiﬁcantly vary according to the identity of the person completing the adjustment measure. and statistically control for. The effect size for the single national sample (Donnelly & Finkelhor. it was the sole-custody parents who reported higher levels of current conﬂict. As hypothesized. a causal role for joint custody cannot be demonstrated because of the correlational nature of all research in this area. 1992) was not signiﬁcantly different from zero. behavioral. failing to support the hypothesis of better adjustment for joint-custody children. allowing more opportunity for authoritative parenting. some research that has controlled for preexisting levels of conﬂict continues to show an advantage for child adjustment in joint custody (Gunnoe & Braver. Although the period from early childhood through adolescence is marked by many developmental tasks and changes.). Further research with a variety of sample types. so the small differences found when comparing groups may have obscured a genuine relationship between parental conﬂict and child adjustment within groups. joint custody and intact family children did not differ in adjustment. It is also surprising that the majority of the studies reviewed did not attempt to statistically control for parental conﬂict levels. joint-custody couples reported less conﬂict at the time of separation or divorce. if joint-custody and paternal custody children really do differ in adjustment. 1989). or school-based) did not moderate effect sizes either. the fact that lesser conﬂict in joint-custody groups did not signiﬁcantly predict the better adjustment of children in joint custody may seem puzzling. is clearly needed. The ratings by mothers are notable because mothers might perceive joint custody as a loss of expected control as primary custodians and be less likely to perceive children as beneﬁting. Future research on custody and adjustment should measure.versus sole-custody comparison. 2001). In those studies that did examine conﬂict. the better adjustment in joint custody did not vary according to the age of the children in either the sole. but 33 for the broader joint. all rated child adjustment as better in joint-custody settings. Given the relevance of parental conﬂict to child adjustment. Conﬂict did not moderate or mediate the relationship between father contact and mother satisfaction. and highest with high levels of paternal contact and low levels of conﬂict. children. The effect sizes also did not signiﬁcantly vary according to characteristics of the study.98
sizes do not signiﬁcantly differ across types of adjustment measures.. This ﬁnding is consistent with the hypothesis that joint custody can be beneﬁcial to children in a wide range of family. the effect was almost the same in magnitude as the effect size favoring joint over maternal/sole custody.and sole-custody parents. it may be that ongoing positive involvement with both parents at any of these ages can prove beneﬁcial. The effect size indicating better adjustment of jointcustody versus paternal custody children was statistically nonsigniﬁcant. teachers.and sole-custody parents may not be especially meaningful. For past conﬂict. However. and academic domains. but at least one of these (Johnston et al. etc. the effects of level of parental conﬂict. but this telephone survey included only three questions about parent– child relationships only. Amato and Gilbreth’s (1999) meta-analysis of nonresident father involvement showed that closeness to the father and authoritative parenting by the father were positively associated with behavioral adjustment.
Especially in studies involving relatively small numbers of participants. This suggests that courts should not discourage parents from attempting joint custody. A further need exists for longitudinal research to assess the relative advantage of joint over sole custody across time.
. The current results appear favorable to advocates of joint custody (e. Of the 33 studies included in the meta-analysis. Also. and fails to show any clear disadvantage relative to sole custody. & Rock-Facheux. simply stating that there were no signiﬁcant differences between groups (e. For instance. Similarly. By the early 1990s. is consistent with this alternative hypothesis. There continues to be an urgent need for additional research on child custody and adjustment that corrects problems such as small sample sizes. because most
of the research to date has been limited to convenience samples or samples from court records. when one parent is clearly abusive or neglectful. Some studies failed to report any useful statistics at all. or even as a rebuttable presumption. researchers have found that as adults. joint custody may be detrimental because it will expose the child to intense. on average. 1997). Joint-custody arrangements (whether legal or physical) do not appear. Future researchers need to report statistical ﬁndings more carefully to make sure their results are useful for quantitative as well as qualitative reviews. Burlington: University of Vermont. Statistical signiﬁcance is a function of both the effect size. most states had introduced laws making joint custody available as an option.
Implications for Application and Public Policy
A major shortcoming of many of the studies reviewed was inadequate reporting of statistical results. Thus. or during. However. counselors. Parents who have better relationships prior to. a child may be harmed by continued exposure to such an environment. if one parent suffers from serious mental health or adjustment difﬁculties. and other professionals involved in divorce counseling and litigation. 1989). or magnitude.23) is just above what Cohen (1988) labeled a small effect size. However. the research reviewed here does not support claims by critics of joint custody that joint-custody children are likely to be exposed to more conﬂict or to be at greater risk of adjustment problems due to having to adjust to two households or feeling “torn” between parents.g. this last argument may be applicable mainly to extremes of parental conﬂict. relative to solecustody families. during. Some research indicates that joint custody may actually work to reduce levels of parental conﬂict over time. beyond adolescence and into adulthood. Johnston et al. children from divorced family backgrounds continue to have more difﬁculties than those from intact-family backgrounds (Amato & Keith. which required that effect sizes be set to zero to allow inclusion of the study. current research suggests that judges in some areas continue to show a strong preference for maternal custody and tend to oppose joint physical custody (Stamps. However. meaning that whatever risk exposure to parental conﬂict involves will be reduced (Bender. inadequate control of confounding variables..g. and betterinformed decision making in individual cases. sole custody in all situations. Another possibility for controlling selection bias might be separate comparisons of sole custody with voluntary and court-imposed joint custody. Comparison of college or community samples of adults from joint. Ilfeld.. In general.g. the divorce process may self-select into joint custody. Results of custody and adjustment studies need to be communicated more widely to judges. means were reported but no standard deviations. It is important to recognize that the results clearly do not support joint custody as preferable to. 23 had jointcustody groups and 16 had sole-custody groups with fewer than 30 participants. some authors have proposed that in situations of high parental conﬂict. Kunen. (1991). such that quality of parental relationship is confounded with custody status.versus sole-custody backgrounds would be especially useful in determining whether joint-custody beneﬁts extend into adulthood. social workers. of the phenomenon being studied and the sample size used in the research. as well as divorce researchers in general. The lower level of conﬂict in joint-custody families.(and sole-) custody groups in the research to date increases the risk of Type II error (failure to detect real differences).
References marked with an asterisk indicate studies included in the meta-analysis. in divorce cases (Bruch. many did not provide basic information on means and standard deviations of adjustment measures in the different custody groups. 1991a). Larger sample sizes would also be valuable in future research. or even equal to. 1992). researchers should report basic data for each group on each adjustment measure to help reviewers assess the magnitude of effects. and may in fact be beneﬁcial. ongoing parental conﬂict (e. The effect size favoring joint custody in the current meta-analysis (d . T. a sole-custody arrangement may be the best solution. and after divorce may be the only practical way to compensate for this possibility.. 1989). the small size of many of the joint. 1994) who favor a presumption of joint custody in divorce cases. 1994). to be harmful to any aspect of children’s well-being. At the same time. Such communication could lead to better-informed policy decisions based on research evidence. However. More follow-up studies reporting on the same sample over time. It is important to recognize that the ﬁndings reported here do not demonstrate a causal relationship between joint custody and better child adjustment. the available research is consistent with the hypothesis that joint custody may be beneﬁcial to children. as mentioned earlier. Achenbach. selection bias cannot be ruled out. Manual for the Youth Self-Report and Proﬁle.CUSTODY AND CHILD ADJUSTMENT
the argument made by some researchers that joint custody is beneﬁcial because it provides the child with ongoing contact with both parents. Further research that controls for parental conﬂict prior to. lawyers. M.. and inadequate reporting of statistical results. even when t tests or other statistical tests were reported and indicated signiﬁcant differences. In some cases where differences were reported to be nonsigniﬁcant. are needed. making it necessary to estimate standard deviations from published norms for the measures used. Bender.
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8 23446 0. (1996). *Welsh-Osga. & Seat.4 01223555 0. R. Behavioral Sciences and the Law. K. 99. V.4 3 0. N.1 0346 0. (1985).48 Median: 0. Post-divorce adjustment of latency-aged children as a function of custody arrangement.13 High: 2.5 11134556 0.2 8 1.01 Low: 1. I. D. 2000 Revision received March 13. 5–10. and interparental relationship: Dissertation Abstracts International.74. *Warren.1 59 1. Maternal versus joint custody: Children’s postseparation experiences and adjustment. 53–75. A.5 75th percentile: 0.50 1.2 00011233 0. K. 2001 Accepted July 25.3 000268 0. *Wolchik. Braver. S.36. D. J. 4946. S.6 0178 0. L. Harvard University. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology. D. A.5 14 Extremes: 0. 4. (1982). 2. (1984). 58. Lachar. 136 –137. Dissertation Abstracts International. parent– child contact. Dissertation Abstracts International. Satisfaction of adolescents experiencing various patterns of visitation with their divorced fathers.0 14467 0. A.2 4569 0. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services. *Vela-Trujillo.7 02288 0. Cambridge. The effects of custody arrangements on children of divorce. Wirt. Adolescent adjustment to parental divorce as a function of custody arrangements. Father-custody and child development: A review and analysis of psychological research. *Walker. Multi-dimensional description of child personality: A manual for the Personality Inventory for Children. B. P.0 29 0. 14. A. The Journal of Psychiatry and Law. MA. 112–135.. (1983). & Sandler.. 2001
.1 00022233 0. R.3 02467779 0. 42.
and parental conﬂict following divorce: The impact on children’s adjustment.. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Klinedienst.0 00000000 0.13
8 6 9 4 4 0
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Received September 6. 1.102
BAUSERMAN Warshak..23 25th percentile: 0.9 789 0. S. 24. (1985).
Appendix Stem-and-Leaf Display of Measure-Level Effect Sizes
Extremes: 1. 45. (1986)..