Dividing the Child Social and Legal Dilemmas of Custody

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Questions about how children fare in divided families have become as perplexing and urgent as they are common. In this work on custody arrangements, the developmental psychologist Eleanor Maccoby and the legal scholar Robert Mnookin consider these questions and their ramifications for society.

This book examines the social and legal realities of how divorcing parents make arrangements for their children and is based on a large, representative study of families from a wide range of socioeconomic levels. The authors followed a group of more than one thousand families for three years after the parents filed for divorce. Their findings show how different divorce agreements are reached, from uncontested dealings to formal judicial rulings, and how various custody arrangements fare as time passes and family circumstances change. Numerous examples of joint custody and father custody are considered in this account, along with the mother custody families more commonly studied; and in most cases the point of view of both parents is presented. Among families in which children spend time in both parental households, the authors identify three different patterns of co-parenting: cooperative, conflicted, and disengaged. They find that although divorcing parents seldom engage in formal legal disputes, they are generally unable to cooperate effectively in raising their children.

The book is divided into four main parts. The first part gives an introduction to the study and provides an analytical framework for understanding the process of decision-making and divorce bargaining between spouses. It also describes the economic characteristics of the families studied, and the typical parenting roles prior to divorce. The second part of the book examines the initial arrangements that parents establish for children at the time of divorce, as well as the factors that establish the possibility and amount of child support. The third part of the book investigates the changes that occur with time in the de facto arrangements for children’s residence and visitation, as well as the nature of the parenting and co-parenting patterns developed by divorced parents. The final section of the book draws together the important themes of their work and explores the implications for all those concerned with making arrangements for the children of divorce: parents, lawyers, mediators, judges, and policymakers.

Dividing the Child Attributes

Author: Eleanor E. Maccoby and Robert H. Mnookin
Publisher: Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992