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Post-Divorce Placement Arrangements and Children’s Test Scores

A substantial body of work suggests that marital dissolution is associated with negative academic outcomes for children. Shared placement, a growing arrangement for children following parental divorce, could potentially affect children’s post-divorce school outcomes, either positively or negatively, through a variety of mechanisms. This report examines the relationship between shared placement and standardized test scores in Wisconsin, focusing on differences between children with equal-shared and mother-primary placement as compared to those with sole mother placement.

The report findings show that post-divorce placement arrangements are associated with modest differences in girls’ standardized reading scores; this difference is most robust when comparing equal-shared placement to sole-mother placement. Post-divorce reading scores are roughly 0.16 to 0.27 standard deviations lower among girls with equal-shared placement, relative to those with sole-mother placement, with the magnitude depending on the model structure and whether outliers are included or excluded. These associations do not appear to operate through differences among placement groups in post-divorce economic disadvantage or school characteristics. There are no significant differences in scores for boys in shared as compared to sole mother placement arrangements, although the coefficients for shared-placement boys are consistently positive. These results provide new information about the relationship between placement arrangements and academic outcomes, and highlight the importance of understanding the many and nuanced ways that divorce may influence children’s wellbeing, and of identifying the factors that ensure all children can thrive in the full range of placement arrangements.


Child Development & Well-Being, Child Support, Child Support Policy Research, Children, Custody & Placement, Education & Training, K-12 Education, WI Administrative Data Core


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