Volume 46 - Article 38 | Pages 1137–1162  

Increases in shared custody after divorce in the United States

By Daniel R. Meyer, Marcia Carlson, Md Moshi Ul Alam


Background: While a striking rise in shared physical custody after divorce has been observed in Wisconsin and some European countries, the same trend in shared custody has not been documented in US national data.

Objective: We provide new evidence on the time trend in shared physical custody after divorce in the United States.

Methods: We use eight waves of data from the Current Population Survey – Child Support Supplement to estimate logit models and conduct a formal decomposition.

Results: The likelihood of shared physical custody after divorce more than doubled in the United States from before 1985 until 2010–2014, from 13% to 34%. Non-linear probability (logit) models show that non-Hispanic Whites and more advantaged individuals are more likely to report shared physical custody. Both sequential multivariate models and a more formal decomposition show that the increase cannot be explained by changes in the characteristics of those divorcing; rather we find that several characteristics become more strongly associated with shared physical custody over time.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that shared physical custody is increasing in the United States as a whole, and this increase appears to reflect changing norms and policies that favor shared custody. These changing patterns have important implications for children’s living arrangements and for the parental investments that children receive after their parents’ divorce – and more broadly for the rise in inequality across families over recent decades.

Contribution: This paper complements previous analyses using court record data from a single US state (Wisconsin) and shows that a large increase in shared physical custody after divorce has occurred in the United States as a whole over the past three decades.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Joint physical custody of children in Europe: A growing phenomenon
Volume 49 - Article 18

Educational differences in early childbearing: A cross-national comparative study
Volume 33 - Article 3

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