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Satisfaction with Placement Arrangements Among Divorced Wisconsin Families with Sole Mother and Shared Placement Orders

Mother sole-placement no longer accounts for the majority of post-divorce placement arrangements as shared placement continues to increase across all income levels. Using data from a survey of divorced mothers and fathers drawn from Wisconsin Court Record Data, we assess parents’ satisfaction with the legal and actual placement arrangement at the time of the divorce and the time of the survey, by placement type, and, for shared placement families, by respondent sex. We also examine respondent reports of the other parent’s and a ‘focal’ child’s (youngest child at the time of the divorce) satisfaction with the arrangement. We perform these analyses for the sample as a whole and by key characteristics of the family and the divorce proceedings. Data are drawn from the Wisconsin Parent’s Survey, which includes parents in Cohorts 30 and 33 of the Wisconsin Court Record Data and who had a child age 6 or under at the time of divorce. Surveys were administered in person and by phone approximately 7 to 11 years following divorce petition.

Compared to shared-placement parents, sole-placement mothers report greater satisfaction, for both themselves and the focal child, with the legal and actual placement arrangement at both the time of the divorce and the time of the survey. Despite sole-placement mothers reporting greater overall satisfaction with the legal arrangement at both the time of the divorce and the time of the survey, on average, sole-placement mothers report decreased satisfaction and shared-placement parents report increased satisfaction with the legal arrangement over time.

Shared-placement parents tend to perceive the other parent as being more satisfied with the placement compared to sole-placement mothers, who report associated fathers as particularly unsatisfied with the arrangement. There is little substantively meaningful variation in patterns of placement satisfaction by parent sex (in shared-placement families), family characteristics, divorce characteristics, or whether the family experienced a change in the legal order between the divorce and the time of subsequent survey.

Whereas mothers and fathers in shared-placement families report similar levels of satisfaction, fathers in sole-mother placement families appear to be less satisfied (as assessed via mothers’ reports of the fathers’ satisfaction), and mothers in sole-mother placement particularly satisfied with the arrangement. This implies that sole-mother placement decisions may inherently necessitate trade-offs between mother and father satisfaction.


Child Support, Child Support Policy Research, Custody & Placement, Family & Partnering, Family Structure, Parenting


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