Child Custody Arrangements: Their Characteristics and Outcomes



This review of the literature summarizes what is known about the factors that affect child custody arrangements, the characteristics of different custody arrangements, and their effects on children and their parents. The focus is on shared custody arrangements.

1.1 Background

The purpose of this report is to review the social science research from Canada and other countries that describes the comparative benefits of different types of custody arrangements and the characteristics of shared custody. At the time of writing this paper the Department of Justice Canada is reviewing federal custody and access policies. In 1998, the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access recommended that shared parenting arrangements be favoured. In its response, the Government of Canada emphasized the need for review and research.

To respond to the concerns raised in the Report [of the Special Joint Committee], the Government of Canada will review the concepts, terminology and language used in family law with a view to identifying the most appropriate way to emphasize the continuing responsibilities of parents to their children and the ongoing parental status of both mothers and fathers post-divorce (Government of Canada, 1999: 10).

This report on sole, joint and split custody is part of the review of the effects of different types of custody arrangements on children and parents.

This review is also intended to shed light on the costs associated with shared custody compared with other types of custody. The calculation of child support amounts in cases of shared custody, within the meaning of the term under the Federal Child Support Guidelines, is also being reviewed by the federal government. Part of the developmental work involves assessing the difference in costs, if any, between shared custody arrangements and sole custody arrangements that include frequent access by the non-resident parent.

Although the report occasionally refers to the differences between intact and separated and divorced families, its primary focus is the differences among the custody arrangements of separated and divorced families. Consequently, there is little or no reference to the impact of the separation or divorce itself on children and their parents.

1.2 Organization of the Report

The report is structured as follows. Chapter 2 examines the terminological confusion that sometimes accompanies research on the living arrangements of children after separation and divorce. Gaps and weaknesses in the research literature are addressed in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 describes the factors that seemingly affect parents' selection of one custody arrangement over others. Chapter 6 looks at the effects of different custody arrangements on children and parents in several categories: parent-child contact, the well-being of children, parental adjustment, parent-child relationships and parenting skills, the relationship between the parents, child support payments, and returns to court and re-litigation. Chapter 7 summarizes the main findings of the review.

Appendix A contains an overview of the policy and legislative approaches to shared custody in other countries.