Public Support Rising for Joint CustodyAs a sign of how times are a-changin’, two new studies contend that the public favors equal custody of children whose parents have divorced.

In the studies, Arizona State University researchers cite polls and ballot initiatives that showed there was great public support for equal custody. Moreover, investigators present in a series of hypothetical cases that surveyed individuals had a strong preference for dividing the child’s time equally between mother and father.

Survey responders believed equally divided time was appropriate even when there were high levels of parental conflict for which both parents were equally to blame.

Equally shared custody arrangements are advocated by most fathers’ groups, according to the authors.

“The striking degree to which the public favors equal custody combined with their view that the current court system under-awards parenting time to fathers could account for past findings that the system is seriously slanted toward mothers, and suggests that family law may have a public relations problem,” said lead author Sanford L. Braver.

Survey participants in the first study were asked to imagine they were a judge deciding a series of hypothetical cases. In one case vignette, the mother provided 75 percent of the couple’s pre-divorce child care-giving duties. In another vignette, the father provided 75 percent of the couple’s pre-divorce child care-giving duties. And, in the third vignette, the parental couple was described as having divided the pre-divorce child care 50-50.

The researchers also found that for survey participants, in most of the custody cases they were asked to decide, they judged that equal custody was strongly preferred, a preference that current law does not generally allow unless the two parties agree.

There apparently is widespread belief that the legal system will fashion custody awards far more favorable to mothers than the respondents believe appropriate.

“Decision-makers need to recognize the widespread opposition to the current standards that award equal custody only rarely. If they think those standards are nonetheless necessary, they need to be more active in defending and justifying their preferences to the public,” Braver said.

The study will appear in the May 2011 journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law.

Source: Arizona State University