Child Custody Policies and Divorce Rates

A growing body of research suggests that child custody policies have a significant influence on divorce rates.  States that have higher levels of joint physical custody have, on average, lower divorce rates.
 
 

Kuhn and Guidubaldi (1997) showed a significant correlation between joint physical custody awards and reduced divorce. They conjectured that a parent who expects to receive sole custody is more likely to file for divorce than one who may be awarded shared custody. Sole custody allows one parent to hurt the other by taking away the children, and usually involves higher child support transfers than shared physical custody. Sanford Braver discusses the implications of their findings in his new book Divorced Dads.

Brinig and Buckley (1998) independently found the same correlation between joint physical custody awards and reduced divorce. They conjectured that fathers are more likely to form strong bonds with children if they know that their relationship would be protected through joint physical custody in the even of a divorce. This would reduce the likelihood that fathers would initiate divorce.

Brinig and Allen (1998) showed that the parent who receives custody is more likely to be the one who files for divorce. That is, among cases where the mother received custody, the mother usually filed for divorce, and where the father received custody, the father was more likely to be the one who filed. They concluded that filing behavior is largely driven by attempts to "exploit the other partner through divorce." Significantly, they found that custody had a stronger relationship with filing than financial factors, although these factors are of course comingled through child support.
 


References

Richard Kuhn and John Guidubaldi, "Child Custody Policies and Divorce Rates in the U.S.," 11th Annual Conference of the Children's Rights Council October 23-26, 1997. Washington, D.C.

Margaret F. Brinig and F.H. Buckley, "Joint Custody: Bonding and Monitoring Theories," 73 Indiana Law Journal 393 (1998).

Margaret F. Brinig and Douglas W. Allen. "These Boots are Made for Walking: Why Wives File for Divorce," Canadian Law and Economics Association Meeting, 1998.