Custody and Placement

IRP Reports

Patricia Brown and Steven T. Cook, 2012 [PowerPoint Presentation]
Carol Chellew, Jennifer L. Noyes, and Rebekah Selekman, 2012
Maria Cancian, Steven Cook, Mai Seki, and Lynn Wimer, 2012
Maria Cancian, Steven Cook, Mai Seki, and Lynn Wimer, 2012
Judi Bartfeld, 2011

Divorce rates have increased dramatically since the 1960s, reaching their highest rate in the 1980s and since stabilizing. Over the course of this period, there have been major changes in law and practice around marital dissolution, with implications for parental roles in custody arrangements and financial responsibility. In this report, the author reviews existing research conducted in Wisconsin and elsewhere, in order to examine trends, patterns, and implications of shared placement custody arrangements.

The author finds compelling evidence of rapid and continuing growth in shared placement in Wisconsin with the suggestion of similar patterns across the country. Despite this growth, we know very little about how to assess economic well-being in the context of shared placement. The little existing research suggests that children's economic well-being does not generally change substantially under shared placement relative to traditional mother placement arrangements, although children on average do seem to fare somewhat worse in one of their homes than they would under sole-mother placement. Existing research also provides little evidence that shared placement is worse for overall child well-being than sole-mother placement, and at least some evidence that it is better. Overall the evidence offers reason to be cautiously optimistic about shared placement as used, while leaving many unanswered questions. The report calls for more nationwide data on shared placement, and rigorous studies that make stronger causal links between placement type and family economic and child well-being.

Patricia Brown and Tonya Brito, 2007

In this report IRP examines the most current child support guidelines used in other states in shared placement cases. This study includes time-share threshold levels for defining shared placement, formulas used to calculate child support, factors used in those formulas, and the consideration of "variable costs" such as medical, educational, and child care expenses.

Eight to ten of the more common or most promising formulas are then applied to a variety of common and uncommon parental income and time-share situations to compare their effect on equity issues: for example, which parent is the child support obligor, what is the level of child support obligation, and whether "cliff effects" in the formula outcomes would provide incentives for parents to litigate or would generate substantial financial inequities among obligors.

Patricia Brown and Maria Cancian, 2007

Using the Wisconsin Court Record Data (CRD), this report studies differences in child support orders and time-share placement before and after significant changes were made to the Wisconsin child support guidelines in January 2004. The new guidelines generally include lower child support orders at lower levels of time-share, and higher child support orders at or near the level of equal shared placement. The authors analyze whether there is evidence that the changes influence parents’ behavior and divorce-case final judgments.

They find continued growth in shared placement in divorce cases, and declines in both sole-mother and sole-father placement, consistent with long-term trends in Wisconsin. They find a greater increase in unequal shared-placement cases, compared to equal shared-placement cases. They also find a long-term trend of declining litigation in divorces cases, in all categories except those with unequal shared placement. These findings suggest some parents could be influenced by the inadvertent financial incentives introduced by the 2004 guidelines.

Patricia Brown, Eun Hee Joung, and Lawrence M. Berger, 2006

Shared-placement living arrangements are becoming more common in Wisconsin divorce cases, constituting nearly 25 percent of physical placements in 1997–98. Research from a California study in the 1980s had suggested that shared-placement living arrangements might become, over time, more like mother sole-placement arrangements.

An IRP parent survey conducted in 2001 had, however, suggested that there was considerable stability in such arrangements and that fathers in these arrangements were considerably more involved with their children than were fathers where the mother had sole custody (see IRP Special Report 83). A 2004 survey, the fifth in a series conducted by IRP, provides valuable information on the viability of shared-time placement over longer periods of time, and on the effect of such arrangements on the payment of child support. Together, the fourth and fifth surveys provide a large enough sample, over a long enough time, to assess how shared custody placements affect contact with children and the provision of child support in both divorce and paternity cases.

Patricia R. Brown, 2006

This report examines the effect of voluntarily acknowledged paternity on the relationship between fathers and their nonmarital children in the two to five years after the child’s birth. Previous research has shown the benefits of paternity establishment for nonmarital children, particularly in the area of financial support during their childhoods. Given this, policy makers have tried to improve the paternity establishment process, in part by establishing in-hospital and other voluntary procedures. The question addressed by this paper is whether voluntary paternity establishment is associated with differences in the father-child relationship in the early years of the child’s life.

Steven T. Cook and Patricia Brown, 2006

In Wisconsin the policy environment has been increasing the pressure on courts to use shared placement arrangements. This culminated in new legislation in May 2000 that directed courts to maximize the time the children spent with both parents. A previous report (Cancian, Cassetty, Cook, and Meyer, 2002: ) found that the use of shared placement in divorce cases had more than doubled even before this legislation went into effect (from 11.4 percent in the early 1990s to 23 percent in the late 1990s) with accompanying reductions in the use of mother sole placement. This report examines several questions: Has the trend toward equal shared placement continued in the aftermath of this legislation? Has the use of shared placement increased in paternity cases as it has in divorce cases? What parental characteristics are associated with the use of shared placement?

M. L. Krecker, P. Brown, M. S. Melli, and L. Wimer, 2003

In their 1992 book Dividing the Child, Maccoby and Mnookin found that divorce settlements involving joint physical custody tended to be very fluid; the authors questioned whether a shared placement order by the court is really in the child’s best interests over the long term. Answering this question has become more important as shared parenting has become common nationwide. This report sheds new light on the stability of shared physical placement for children after a divorce and provides useful evidence on the issues raised by Maccoby and Mnookin. The report examines evidence concerning shared physical custody for families who were awarded divorces in 21 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties between 1996 and 1998.

Maria Cancian, Judith Cassetty, Steven T. Cook, and Daniel R. Meyer, 2002

National and state placement policies have changed in recent years, no longer invariably favoring the placement of children with their mothers. This research, using IRP’s court record data, is documenting changes in the proportion of cases that result in sole placement with the mother or the father, and in variations of split or shared placement decisions. In May 2000, state policy was again revised to encourage arrangements maximizing the amount of time children spend with both parents. IRP is assessing the extent to which policy changes may have affected placement arrangements.

Daniel R. Meyer and Maria Cancian, 2002

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 made radical changes to the way the nation provides income support to low-income families, and included substantial changes to the child support system. Although the political rhetoric suggested that nonresident fathers could be providing substantially more for their children, several factors lead to skepticism regarding the potential for considerable increases in child support collections from this population. This volume includes the results of two studies of the characteristics and experiences of fathers of children in families participating in W-2, Wisconsin’s TANF program. Chapter 1 presents a portrait of nonresident fathers drawn from survey and administrative data. Chapter 2 presents the results of an ethnographic study of the life experiences of African American fathers with children on W-2.

IRP Discussion Papers

Meta Brown and Christopher J. Flinn, 2007

In this paper the authors argue that in order to assess the child welfare impact of family policies, one must consider their influence on parents' investments in their children as well as the stability of the marginal marriage. Further, the authors expect that changes in the regulatory environment induce changes in the distribution of resources within both intact and divided families. The authors develop a continuous time model of parents' marital status choices and investments in children, with the main goal being the determination of how policies toward divorce influence outcomes for children. Estimates are derived for model parameters of interest using the method of simulated moments, and simulations based on the model explore the effects of changes in custody allocations and child support standards on outcomes for children of married and divorced parents. The authors find that, while small changes in children's academic attainment are induced by significant shifts in custody and support, the major effects of these policies in both intact and divided households are on the distribution of welfare between parents. In addition, children's attainments are not necessarily best served by the divorce-minimizing policy.

Brown, P., Melli, M., and Cancian, M., 1997

This report examines data from the court record of 9,500 Wisconsin divorce cases in twenty-one representative counties for a period of twelve years, from 1980 to 1992, in order to document how child custody is being handled in divorce. We find an increased involvement of fathers with their children after divorce, particularly through joint legal custody (81 percent in 1992), but also in shared physical custody (14 percent in 1992), and in an increase in specific and detailed physical placement awards. We find substantial differences in custody awards related to situations and actors in the divorce process, and wide variations in custody awards between counties. We also find major differences between families who have equal 50/50 time-share and those who have unequal shared-custody arrangements. These two kinds of shared-custody cases have been treated as one type in the research on custody to date, but appear in our data to characterize two quite different kinds of families.

Meyer, D. R., and Garasky, S., 1992

Men are increasingly receiving custody of their children, and single-father families with children are growing at a faster rate than even single-mother families. However, many observers still believe that custodial fathers are small in number. Indeed, there are a number of myths concerning custodial fathers, myths that are dispelled by empirical data. The authors examine data from the Current Population Survey, the Survey of Income and Program Participation, and Wisconsin court records, and determine that many assumptions about custodial fathers are simply not true. Many child support policies are founded on misconceptions about custodial fathers and custody arrangements themselves, especially the misconception that only mothers gain custody of their children. The authors argue that current child support policies should be reexamined to ensure that they follow the same principles when the custodial parent is the father as when the custodial parent is the mother.

Teachman, J. D. and Polonko, K., 1989

As nuclear families have become increasingly less stable over the past quarter century, married couples have been faced with the difficult task of negotiating the terms by which marriage is ended. For parents, divorce involves questions revolving around the care and sustenance of children. In this paper we investigate whether observed divorce settlements indicate that parents make trade-offs in several areas concerning their children, including custody, visitation, child support, and marital property division. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972, we find evidence that parents make trade-offs of this nature. We also suggest a framework within which these results can be interpreted.

Seltzer, J. A, 1989

This analysis explores the relationship between legal custody and legal child support obligations (awards) to set the stage for an investigation of custody effects on child support payments. Joint legal custody is associated with higher support awards, but the association between custody and awards is explained by the higher incomes of fathers with joint custody. Legal custody arrangements do not affect levels of child support payments, controlling for family characteristics and the amount of child support awarded at divorce. Legal custody does, however, alter the process governing fathers' contributions to child support. Parents' incomes have a larger effect, and child support awards have a smaller effect, on payments among families with joint legal custody. This suggests that joint legal custody may allow fathers greater discretion about how much to contribute to child support. By strengthening ties between fathers and children, joint legal custody may increase the correspondence between parents' and children's socioeconomic status and result in greater inequality among children of divorce.

Seltzer, J. A., 1988

Demographic studies of family relationships frequently equate household composition with family membership. High rates of divorce and parent-child separation challenge this assumption. Parental rights and responsibilities may continue even when parents and children live apart. This paper describes the legal and physical custody arrangements adopted by a representative sample of recent divorce cases. These data show that legal and physical custody do not coincide in a substantial minority of cases. The most common arrangement, however, is still to assign both legal and physical custody to mother. The paper also examines the social and demographic factors that predict legal and physical custody arrangements. The analysis shows that parents' income is a more important determinant of legal custody, whereas children's ages predict physical custody.

Seltzer, J. A., Garfinkel, I., and Orbuch, T., 1987

This study examines the division of property and child support awards negotiated by parents who obtain divorces. Data from official court records in the state of Wisconsin are used to investigate the number and size of property settlements and the factors that determine how family property is distributed at divorce. The study investigates the degree to which divorce negotiations reflect a trade-off between property settlements and child support awards. It also explores the effects of settlements upon women’s and men’s post-divorce economic well-being. The authors find that although most divorce cases include some property settlement, such settlements tend to have small monetary value. Nevertheless, property settlements can have an important effect on the economic welfare of women and children after divorce. Hypothetical examples show that property settlements provide investment income of between one-third and two-thirds of yearly child and family support awards. Parents, however, do not appear t o exchange support awards for a larger share of joint property. In general the value of property awarded to mothers who have sole custody of the children does not depend upon whether or not they receive support awards. Property settlements do not appreciably diminish the difference between women’s and men’s incomes after divorce.

Del Boca, D., 1986

This paper presents several theoretical models of the noncustodial parent's child support payment decision. An empirical analysis examines the determinants of the custody decision and, conditional on custody, the amount of court-ordered support and the actual amounts paid.