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Co-parenting over time The impact of legislative changes on the incidence and predictors of joint custody. Divorce Conference - Valencia Saturday 16th of October 2010. An Katrien Sodermans Koen Matthijs Research Group Family & Population. CeS0. K.U.Leuven.

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Co-parenting over timeThe impact of legislative changes on the incidence and predictors of joint custody

Divorce Conference - Valencia

Saturday 16th of October 2010

An Katrien Sodermans

Koen Matthijs

Research Group Family & Population. CeS0. K.U.Leuven


Evolutions in the area of child custody

  • Changed evaluation of parental role

    • From mother as primary caregiver towards equality of parents

    • “The parental couple survives the conjugal couple” (Villeneuve-Gokalp, 2009)

  • Changes in Belgian custody legislation (as in many Western countries)

    • 1995: Joint legal custody

    • 2006: Joint physical custody (as preferred residential model)

  • Joint custody: assumed beneficial effects on child well-being (Meta-analysis of Bausermann, 2002):

    • Maintaining parent-child relationship

    • More parental involvement

    • Better financial resources

  • Consequence: Increased number of children in bi-location, commuting between the household of mother and father after divorce = shared residence


Consequences of joint physical custody

  • Be careful with a selection bias! Selection of higher social class-families into shared residence

  • Predictors of shared residence:

    • Higher income, higher educated parents

    • Lower parental conflict

    • Less children, more often boys

  • Studies about the effects of shared residence for the well-being of children are mostly based on the situation where the residence type was a “free choice”

  • In Belgium: “shared residence” became the standard.

    RESEARCH QUESTION:

    Did predictors of shared residence change due to legislative changes in 1995 and 2006?


Data and sample

  • “Divorce in Flanders” dataset (19/07/10)

  • 1819 divorced individuals with at least one child at the time of the divorce

  • Independent observations

  • Random selection of one partner from each dissolved marriage

  • 801 fathers (44%) and 1018 mothers (56%)

  • Separated (started living separately) between 1973 and 2009

  • Selected child:

    • Between 0 and 40 years old at time of separation (mean age: 9,4)

    • 954 boys (52%) and 865 girls (48%)


Dependent variable: Residence type

  • Residence type at time of separation (unless temporary

    arrangement of one year or less)


Independent variables

Divorce cohort: based on year of starting living separately

Educational level


Independent variables

Parental conflict

How much conflict was there between you both after the decision to definitely break up? Give a number from 0 (no conflict) to 10 (a lot of conflict).


Results: Incidence of joint physical custody

Distribution (column %) of residence type per divorce cohort

 Flexible residence omitted from further analyses

Chi² = 68,19; p<0,0001


Results: Factors associated with shared residence

1. Education of father

Distribution (column %) of father’s educational level per residence type and divorce cohort


Results: Factors associated with shared residence

2. Education of mother

Distribution (column %) of mother’s educational level per residence type and divorce cohort


Results: Factors associated with shared residence

3. Sex of the child

Distribution (column %) of sex per residence type and divorce cohort


Results: Factors associated with shared residence

4. Age of the child (at time of separation)

Median age of children per residence type and divorce cohort


Results: Factors associated with shared residence

5. Family size

Distribution (%) of number of children per residence type and divorce cohort


Results: Factors associated with shared residence

6. Conflict between ex-partners

Distribution (%) of conflict level per residence type and divorce cohort


Results: Change in predictors of shared residence

*** p<0.001; ** p < 0.01; * p < 0.05; ° p < 0.10


Summary of results

Education of father

  • Before 1995: higher incidence of joint custody with high and middle educated fathers

  • After legislative changes in 1995 and 2006: effect of education decreased

  • Legislative changes have led to cumulative diffusion process of joint physical custody from high to low SES

    Age of the child at separation

  • Effect of age increased over time

  • Before 1995 no effect, after 1995, joint custody more often with younger children

  • Evidence that custody decisions are now more in the interest of the child? (Maintaining good parent-child relationship especially important with younger children)

  • Or measurement issue?

    Sex of the child

  • Before 2006 higher incidence of joint custody with boys (bivariate results)

  • After 2006: no association with sex of child

  • Joint custody used to be popular for higher educated fathers with sons!


Summary of results

Family size

  • Before 1995: lower incidence of joint custody in large families

  • Since 1995: effect of family size decreased

  • Confirmation for normalisation process: joint custody became the new standard, whatever the composition of the family

    Parental conflict

  • Before 1995: joint custody especially in low-conflict divorces

  • Since 1995  decreased association between conflict and joint custody

  • Since 2006: the opposite trend becomes visible: more joint custody in middle and high conflicted families (bivariate results).

  • Link with diffusion of joint custody to lower ses-families?

  • Joint custody as “victory” in court? “Having the children” as a goal?

  • Joint custody to avoid alimony payment?


Discussion

  • What will be the consequences of the diffusion process regarding joint custody from high to low ses (and from low to high conflict couples), given the fact that joint custody

    • is an expensive arrangement (housing, transport, double equipment)

    • requires higher parental communication/cooperation skills

  • Are the positive effects of joint custody for children, reported in many research, conditional upon the socio-demographic profile of the parents (higher SES, lower conflict)?

  • Is it desireable that joint custody is ‘promoted’ by the law as standard model?


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