March 12, 2014

Can complex child custody issues be solved by physics?

Child custody issues can be complex, as many divorced Michigan parents can attest. So naturally, it takes something just as complex — such as physics — to solve one of life’s most challenging dilemmas: How can a man with children from two ex-wives and his current girlfriend with one child find a weekend where all the children would be together while allowing the man to have no children every other weekend so he can spend time with his girlfriend?

Granted, most parents don’t have child custody issues that are this complex. But the man worked with colleagues to tackle this problem through the use of complex mathematical models — namely, spin-glass mathematics, which involves magnets and their interactions with one another. The model took into consideration parents who had multiple ex-spouses of their own and tried to find ways in which a parent could see all his or her children on one weekend and have no children the next weekend.

The result? Each parent was able to get all of his or her own kids on the same weekend, but not necessarily the kids of their new partner as well. Although it may seem odd to use math and physics to solve common problems in society, languages and crowd behavior have also been studied using physics.

It is important to note that physics has its limitations. Real-world child custody cases have many facets involved and are not so simplistic. This model, for example does not take into account the best interests of the child. Perhaps the child does not want to see the other parent every other weekend or is unable to do so for some other reason. The emotional tie between parent and child is also not mentioned and that is something that the courts would consider in a child custody case.

Source: Scientific American, “Physics Can Solve Child-Custody Arrangements” Clara Moskowitz, Mar. 07, 2014