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

Shared placement orders are relatively stable, in an absolute sense and similarly to sole placement. Over the 7 to 11-year post-divorce period, only 10 to 11 percent of either placement type report a change in placement type. While legal order types remained stable, de facto living arrangements reported by shared-placement mothers reflect modest movements away from shared placement and towards de facto sole-mother placement. Shared-placement and sole placement mothers describe similar increases in time spent with mothers, relative to legal order. While shared placement mothers and fathers generally agree on whether legal orders have changed, they provide very different assessments of how closely de facto arrangements align with orders. Shared-placement fathers describe considerably more adherence to orders than shared-placement mothers, and considerably less change in adherence over time.

Several notable differences exist in stability patterns over time. These include a higher likelihood of order changes for younger vs older children; lower adherence with orders for teenage children in shared placement arrangements compared to younger children; lower adherence to legal placement arrangements for children from lower-income compared to higher-income parents in shared-placement arrangements; a high rate of order revisions among higher income parents with sole-mother placement; and a high rate of change in court-issued shared placement orders.

Results confirm that, 7 to 11 years after divorce, children with shared placement spend dramatically more time in the care of their fathers than do children with sole placement. We do not find differential shifts away from father care in shared versus sole placement; however, we do find that 14 to 24 percent of shared placement parents report de facto sole placement arrangements. This suggests that simple mechanisms to readjust orders as real-life practices change may be appropriate. Findings regarding high rates of change in court-issued shared-placement orders also suggest these orders might be challenging to maintain when the decision to implement them is not mutual.


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


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