Study Shows Public Favors Equal Custody

Researchers at Arizona State University conducted a study to test how the public would decide custody in some hypothetical situations compared to how they believed the court would decide the cases in order to measure public perception regarding custody decisions. The study showed that what people thought should happen in a given child custody situation did not align with what they believed would happen.

Most Favor Equal Custody

Researchers created three scenarios for those participating in the study, with the only difference among them being the amount of time each parent was the primary caregiver prior to divorce. In one case, the parents split the care-giving equally, in one the mother provided 75 percent of the care and in the other the father gave 75 percent of the care.

When researchers asked study participants how custody should be awarded in each case, participants overwhelmingly awarded equal custody in the situation where the couple split care-giving equally. About half of the participants also did so even in the cases where one parent was more active than the other. A majority of the respondents who did not award equal custody in the cases where one parent provided more care chose the option where the child would live with the parent who provided more care but spend "a lot of time" with the other parent.

Public Views of Court Decisions

When researchers asked the study participants what they believed the court would do in the three situations, the response was markedly different than the outcomes they preferred. Only 28 percent of the respondents believed that the court would award equal custody in the situation where the parents shared care-giving evenly. Similarly, only 24 percent of respondents believed a judge would award the father primary residential custody when he was the primary caregiver; 27 percent of respondents believed the court would award equal custody in that case. In the situation where the mother was the primary caregiver, the outcome that participants selected as the most likely was that the child would live with the mother and the father would get "some" parenting time, rather than "a lot of" time.

Implications of the Results

Researchers suggest that the way people believe the court system treats custody matters may have an impact on custody decisions. If people believe a court will rule in a certain way if the matter goes to a hearing, they may not bother to fight for a different outcome, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Having to work out a schedule to parent a child can be a difficult matter for a parent who is used to having the child around all of the time, which is one of the reasons custody battles can become so heated. If you are having child custody issues, consult with an experienced child custody attorney who can advocate for you to help you achieve the best possible outcome for your situation.