Joint Custody: Is it Good for the Children?

February 3, 1989

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Perhaps nothing says as much about the changing roles of men and women as what couples do with their children upon divorce. In the last 20 years, as part of the drive for equality of the sexes, a new post-divorce family structure came about: joint custody. Divorced fathers and mothers were to share equally in the upbringing of their children. Nearly everyone agrees that such custody arrangements sometimes work. But there is now a battle raging over whether they should be imposed on couples when one parent objects. Will the children suffer because of logistical nightmares? Can parents put aside their bickering to raise their children well?

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In the 1970s, when progressive-minded couples were striving for sexual equality in marriage, a new family form emerged as a way to preserve parental equality after divorce. Joint custody, as this new approach was known, allowed the children of divorced parents to spend equal periods of time with both parents. For some children this meant spending half the week at Mom's house and half the week at Dad's; for others it meant alternating weeks or months at each parent's home.

At first, joint-custody arrangements were concentrated among two-career professional couples, who often had a radically different view of marriage from that of their parents' generation. Joint custody, which gave parents equal responsibility for raising the children and equal time to be away from the children, perpetuated the idea that domestic and job duties should be split equally between the sexes. Parents experimenting with joint custody hoped, too, that the arrangement would spare their children some of the worst traumas of traditional divorce—the lifelong loss of a father and bitter fights over custody.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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May 07, 2004  Future of Marriage
Jan. 19, 2001  Children and Divorce
Jun. 02, 2000  Fatherhood Movement
May 10, 1996  Marriage and Divorce
Jan. 13, 1995  Child Custody and Support
Jun. 07, 1991  Children and Divorce
Oct. 26, 1990  Child Support: Payments, Progress and Problems
Jul. 06, 1990  Are Americans Still in Love with Marriage?
Feb. 03, 1989  Joint Custody: Is it Good for the Children?
Mar. 12, 1982  Trends in Child Custody and Support
Jun. 03, 1977  The Changing American Family
Sep. 10, 1976  Single-Parent Families
Jan. 25, 1974  Child Support
Oct. 10, 1973  No-Fault Divorce
Oct. 06, 1971  Marriage: Changing Institution
Nov. 27, 1963  Divorce Law Reform
May 24, 1961  Mixed Marriage
Apr. 20, 1959  Rise in Illegitimacy
Feb. 02, 1949  Marriage and Divorce
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