Shared Custody Arrangements:
Pilot Interviews With Parents



This pilot study provided some information on shared custody in Canada. Due to constraints on sample identification and selection, the findings from this study cannot be generalized nationally. However, the findings can be used to construct hypotheses to be explored in further research. The results have been grouped into four areas: characteristics of the parents; characteristics of the arrangements; parental satisfaction; and child adjustment and outcome.

2.1 Characteristics of Families Engaged in Shared Custody

There are some common characteristics exhibited by parents who are able to make shared custody work on a longer-term basis. The majority of the parents in the pilot sample were highly educated, well-off and working full-time at the time of the interview.

First, it should be noted that parents were queried regarding children from the relationship with the former spouse only. Sixteen of the families in the sample had two children, 12 had one child and three families had three children. Of the 53 children, 28 were male. The age of the children at the time of the interview ranged from five to 26 years, however most (n=40) were between six and 14 years of age.

The sample of parents was evenly split between males and females. Forty-four participants were younger than 45 years of age, but their ages ranged from 25 to 50 years. The education level of the parents varied (see Table 2.1). However, most parents were highly educated, having at least some post-secondary education. Forty percent held at least one undergraduate degree. The majority of respondents (n=46) said they were currently working outside the home, mostly in full-time employment.

The income level reported by the respondents was also high (compared to national standards), ranging from $15,000 to $150,000 or higher (see Table 2.2). Sixty-two percent of the parents in this sample had personal incomes between $30,000 and $70,000. Notably, almost 30 percent had incomes over $70,000. In just over half of the cases (52 percent), the respondent was the only income earner in the household, so the household income was the same as the personal income. In 44 percent of the cases, the household income was greater than the personal income by at least one category. When we looked at the annual personal incomes of the parents, fathers’ incomes exceeded mothers’ incomes by an average of about $15,000. In just over half of the cases where matched parent data was available (10 of 19, or 52 percent), the fathers’ annual income was higher than the mothers’ by at least $30,000. Mothers’ income exceeded fathers in only two cases.

The interviews for this study were conducted within about three years of the parents’ divorces, but there was some variation in the duration of their marriages and in the amount of time they had been living separately (see Table 2.3). About half of the marriages were 10 years or longer in duration, with the remaining marriages ranging from two to nine years. None of the marriages had lasted fewer than two years. In about 60 percent of the families, the parents had been separated for less than five years.[6] In one case, the separation was between two and three years old, and in one case, the parents had been separated for 10 years or more.

* The cumulative education level figures assume that a respondent in a category further down the table will have an equivalent education to all the categories above—that the categories are ordinal. This is not true strictly speaking, because someone with a university degree may not have even attended a community college, for example.

Table 2.2 Respondents’ Annual Personal and Household Income (N=50 total sample)

Annual Personal Gross Income
Characteristic # of
% of
Under $30,000 6 12 100
$30,000-$49,999 16 33 89
$50,000-$69,999 14 29 56
$70,000 and over 13 26 27
Total 49* 100  

Annual Household Gross Income
Characteristic # of
% of
Under $30,000 6 12 100
$30,000-$49,999 8 16 87
$50,000-$69,999 11 23 71
$70,000 and over 24 49 49
Total 49* 100  

* One respondent declined to answer questions about income.

Table 2.3 Duration of Marriages, and How Long Separated at Time of Interview (N=31 parents)

Number of Years Duration of Marriages How Long Separated
# of Families % of Families # of Families % of Families
2-4 years 8 26 18 60
5-9 years 7 22 11 37
10 or more years 16 52 1 3
Total 31 100 30* 100

* No response for one case.

Former spouses who choose shared custody have few areas of contention in their divorce and get along relatively well.

To elaborate on the adjustments that parents made, they were asked whether they thought factors, such as the amount of child support required or disagreements about the division of marital assets, had affected their ability to make shared custody work. More than 80 percent of respondents said such factors had not had an appreciable effect. This may be because shared custody arrangements are more likely to be adopted in cases where there are no serious disagreements on issues related to the separation or divorce. It may also relate to the parents’ focus on the interests of the children, and recognition of the need to resolve issues so that shared parenting works. The experience and perceived benefits of successful shared parenting after separation may help to reduce the influence of these other factors. When there were difficulties with the shared arrangement, parents indicated that financial matters had had an impact.

Finally, respondents were asked to identify the conditions that they believed needed to be in place for shared custody to be a manageable arrangement. Three of the thirty-one parents indicated that shared custody was not workable. The other parents provided responses that could, for the most part, be placed into two categories, both of which seem to be essential:

  1. Parents put the children first; and/or
  2. Parents need to be committed, mature and/or willing to work together.

Other conditions included: the need for help in the relationship through counselling; parenting courses or mediation; the need to have similar rules in the two households; the need for communication between the parents; and close physical proximity of the two homes.

We also asked respondents about whether there were any specific areas of disagreement regarding raising and caring for the children (other than financial issues, which were discussed earlier in the report), and what those areas of disagreement were. In 61 percent of cases respondents reported that there were no current areas of disagreement. Where areas of disagreement were reported, they tended to reflect general parenting values or ideas about appropriate rules of conduct, such as the nature and extent of discipline applied or the degree of structure and consistency in bedtimes, household chores and homework. Other areas included the time parents spent with their children, religion and general complaints about the behaviour of the other parent (see Appendix B).

Parents who make shared custody work have frequent contact and rate the overall tone of their interactions as positive.

Ninety percent of the respondents in our sample said they are now in direct contact with their former partners at least every week, and 52 percent said they were in contact most days. The most common method of contact identified by parents was by phone (68 percent), followed by face-to-face encounters (39 percent).[7] Respondents were then asked to characterize the nature of the contact on a 5-point scale, with 1 being "very friendly" and 5 being "very hostile." Eighty percent of respondents described the contact as being friendly (one or two of five). However, four of the parents reported contact to be negative in tone.

Parents with shared custody generally have few financial disagreements.

How expenses are shared in a custody arrangement is an area that can be difficult for an agreement to cover adequately, because expenses vary over time and new expenses emerge that may not have been anticipated. We asked respondents to indicate whether there were any areas of disagreement between them and their former partners on financial matters. Twenty-four of thirty-one respondents said there were no current areas of disagreement. Of the remaining seven parents, disagreements centred on the amount of child support being paid, expenditures on sports and recreation, unanticipated expenditures on schooling and medical supplies, and everyday household expenses

Divorces can, and often do, contain clauses that assign responsibility for specific types of expenses to one or both parents. However, this by no means precludes financial issues emerging between divorced parents once the divorce terms are in place. In our sample, disagreements about expenses appear to be very limited. As well, we have found that most expense areas are reported as being shared more or less equally between the two parents, in keeping with what they report about the terms of their divorces. We see some differences in the estimates that fathers and mothers make about annual expenses in different expense categories, but these differences do not appear to be a source of disagreement. The fact that almost all of our respondents work full time, and that most are relatively high earners, may reduce financial pressures somewhat. For these former families, smaller discrepancies in expenditures may not put a strain on the post-divorce relationship.

In shared custody arrangements where the parents are well-off, either parent may be in the role of child support payor. In the case of other unexpected or unplanned expenses, parents with shared custody may just pay the expenses as they arise.

Directly related to the division of responsibility for child-related expenses in a shared custody arrangement is the issue of child support. Even when responsibility for the children is equally or almost equally divided, there can be provisions for child support to take into account differences in the expenses being incurred by one parent or the other. We asked respondents whether there was a provision for child support in their divorce arrangement, what the child support arrangement was, and how much support was expected each month.

In 14 of the 31 cases, a child support provision was in place. In eight of those cases, the father was paying child support, and in six, the mother was paying support to the father. In the 14 cases in our sample, the monthly child support requirement ranged widely, from $115 per month in one case, to $997 per month in another. Seven of the 14 cases had a support obligation in the $600 to $800 a month range. Most of the support amounts were set under the Federal Child Support Guidelines (Alberta has not tabled its own guidelines). In 4 of the 14 cases with child support, respondents said the amounts were not based on the Guidelines.

In some cases, parents incur unexpected expenses related to child rearing that are not anticipated when the parents’ agreement is made or when their divorce is granted. We asked respondents whether any such expenses had arisen, without offering any examples of types of expenses that may have arisen. The great majority (81 percent) did not identify any unanticipated expenses. When cited, these expenses were not so much new areas, as these were unexpected expenses within established expense categories that were not anticipated. For example, one respondent cited food expenses. Respondents in five of the six cases said they had reached a mutually satisfactory agreement about covering these unexpected expenses.

We also inquired about expenses that arise on a day-to-day basis, such as money for children’s allowance, purchases of clothing, incidental school fees or personal health needs. In 26 of the 31 cases, the respondent said the parents each paid as required.

Looking to possible future changes in expenses, we asked respondents whether they could anticipate that their agreement on expenses might have to be changed in the future to deal with new circumstances. In 13 cases, some changes were anticipated, such as alterations to the actual divorce arrangements or variations in child support orders. Other changes noted had more to do with changing circumstances (e.g. one parent moving farther away).

2.2 Characteristics of Shared Custody Cases

There is considerable stability over time in shared custody arrangements.

When we examined the families through the three time periods (at the time of separation, divorce, and at the time of the interview), we saw considerable stability, particularly in the period between the divorce and the time of the interviews, two or three years later. More than half of the cases (n=17) had maintained a shared custody arrangement throughout the period since their separation. In another eight cases, divorce resulted in movement to a shared arrangement from a previous sole custody arrangement. We cannot say with certainty why these cases changed to a shared custody arrangement at the time of the divorce, but it may be that the formal divorce process provided motivation for parents to reconsider their parenting arrangement. It may be also that the parent who was previously the non-custodial parent (usually the father) did not have a stable living situation at the time of separation, but by the time of the divorce was better equipped to share parenting more equally. The parents may also have been influenced by lawyers, parenting educators or the courts to consider shared custody from the point of view of the best interests of their children. In any case, 81 percent of cases (25 of 31) had maintained a shared custody arrangement at least from the time of the divorce (see Table 2.4).

Table 2.4 Stability of Living Arrangements

of Cases
Custody Arrangement
At Time of Divorce At Time of Interview
17 Shared Shared Shared
8 Sole Shared Shared
2 Shared Shared Sole
1 Shared Sole Sole
1 Sole Shared Split
1 Sole Sole Shared
1 Sole Sole Sole

Our sub-sample of 19 matched parents allowed us to look at any differences in perception about living arrangements reported. For 8 of the 19 matched cases (42 percent), there were differences between what the father and mother said about living arrangements. However, almost all of these differences relate to the description of the period after separation and before the divorce. It is interesting also to note that the differences did not predominantly reflect a tendency on the part of the parents to emphasize their role with the children relative to that of their former partner. They were just as likely to reflect the opposite.

Shared custody arrangements are flexible; successful cases will make adjustments over time, reflecting changing needs.

Aside from where the children lived, the interviews sought some additional information to describe the living arrangements for the families in our sample. Because shared custody can involve a lot of interaction between the parents to discuss parenting issues, make decisions, and identify and resolve issues relating to the raising and well-being of the children, it is often the result of parents reaching agreement between themselves about the best living arrangements after separation. However, shared custody can also result from an adversarial process through legal counsel, or as a result of a court-imposed settlement of a custody dispute. The way that shared custody was decided upon may be a factor in the long-term success of the arrangement.

As Table 2.5 shows, almost two-thirds of respondents said they and their former partners together had made adjustments to their arrangements over time. Only seven respondents said both parents had adhered strictly to the divorce conditions. Since we know that most of the arrangements in our sample remained as shared custody and that most have been described as working reasonably smoothly and without major problems, this finding suggests that parents in our sample have exercised some flexibility in adapting their arrangements to evolving circumstances. There is no reason to infer from our data that non-adherence to formal divorce conditions should be interpreted as a breakdown of the shared custody arrangement in any way. What the data does suggest is that concepts of shared custody need to recognize the dynamic nature of parenting arrangements.

Table 2.5 Adherence to Terms of Divorce Regarding Living Arrangements, From Time of Divorce to Date of Interview (N=31 parents)

Level of Adherence # of Respondents % of Respondents
Both parents adhered strictly 7 23.3
Parents made adjustments jointly 19 63.3
Former partner adhered, but respondent sometimes did not 1 3.3
Respondent adhered, but former partner did not 3 10
Total 30* 100

* One respondent did not answer this question.

Reported living arrangements in our sample were consistent with findings in previous research, in that shared custody was less likely to be in place in the period immediately after separation than it was at the time of the divorce, and that circumstances led some parents to adopt a different arrangement in the post-divorce period. In a few cases, one or the other parent became the primary custodial parent, and in one case a split custody arrangement was adopted. Overall, however, living arrangements were stable in the great majority of cases in our sample, particularly once the terms of the divorce were in place. Since only two or three years had passed between the time of the divorce and our interviews, this stability cannot be assumed to be necessarily long-term. However, the parents in the sample had also had a number of years apart prior to the divorce and in most cases had already had a shared custody arrangement during that period. This suggests a fair degree of stability. Factors such as the children growing older and becoming more independent, or one parent moving further away, were more often reported as the impetus for a change in the living arrangement than was a breakdown in the parenting relationship.

Often parents with shared custody have been able to reach an agreement by themselves. There was limited involvement by legal professionals in the separation and divorce arrangements.

Respondents were asked if they reached an agreement about where the children would reside themselves, if they had help reaching an agreement, or if issues of contention were decided in the courts after their separation. This question was repeated with reference to the time of the divorce, if a change in living arrangement was indicated. Table 2.6 indicates that few cases required the intervention of the courts, and that while separation agreements were frequently reached by the parents themselves, divorce arrangements were much more likely to have been reached with professional advice.

Table 2.6 Agreements Regarding Living Arrangements (N=31 parents)

How Arrangements Were Decided Upon Immediate
At Time of Divorce
By parents themselves 22 71% 13 42%
With lawyers/mediator 7 23% 17 55%
Through court 2 6% 1 3%
Total 31 100% 31 100%

The distinction between those who used lawyers or other professionals and those who reached agreements themselves is not absolute, however. In some cases, the lawyers were seen as having formalized an agreement that was already in place. It may also be that some parties who said they reached agreement themselves used a law firm to assist in getting the agreement approved as a consent order in the courts. As well, many of the cases for which a professional had provided advice indicated no areas had been contested, suggesting that the lawyers’ role may have been limited and more formal than substantial in terms of their reaching an agreement. Lawyers may also have convinced parents not to contest certain aspects.

The limited role of lawyers is borne out by the responses to a question about the role of lawyers or other professionals in arriving at the arrangement put into place by the divorce. At this second point of inquiry, 18 of 31 respondents said they had engaged lawyers, but that their role was just a legal formality. In three other cases, they said professionals played no role.

Many parents in shared custody arrangements do not have formalized arrangements regarding day-to-day responsibilities (e.g. pick-up and drop-off of children).

We inquired about arrangements for exchanging the children between the two parents, and about how far apart the parents lived. As Table 2.7 indicates, about half the cases in our sample had a formal agreement in place for the exchange of the children, and half did not. For those parents who made formal arrangements, there were many different ways to exchange children. Although we cannot make statements about the arrangements for the cases where no formal agreement was in place, it is likely that exchanges were accomplished in a relatively informal manner.

Table 2.7 Agreements Regarding Exchanging Children (N=31 parents)

Arrangements Agreed Upon for Exchanging Children Immediate
At Time of Divorce At Time of Interview
N % N % N %
Parents shared pick-up and drop-off to the family homes 5 16 5 16 5 16
One parent did all pick-up and drop-off 3 10 2 7 3 10
Pick-up and drop-off at day care, school, school bus 6 19 7 23 7 23
Third party pick-up and drop-off 1 3 1 3 1 3
Children relocated independently 0 0 1 3 1 3
No specific arrangement 16 52 15 48 14 45
Total 31 100 31 100 31 100

Many parents with shared custody live close together.

We might expect that families with shared custody arrangements would live in reasonably close proximity to each other to facilitate the regular exchange of the children. For the most part, this is indicated in our sample (see Table 2.8). All but six families lived within 10 kilometres of each other from separation through to the time of the divorce, and one of the families had moved closer together at the time of the divorce. One family had moved further apart by the time of the interview.

Table 2.8 Proximity Between Homes (N=31 parents)

Distance Between Two Homes Immediate
At Time of Divorce At Time of Interview
N % N % N %
Walking distance 13 42 11 36 11 35
Within 10 kilometres 12 39 15 48 14 45
About 50 kilometres 5 16 5 16 5 16
400 kilometres or more 1 3 0 0 1 3
Total 31 100 31 100 (99) 31 100

It is expensive to maintain a shared custody arrangement. Both parents must maintain a space for their children and many expenses are duplicated (e.g. bikes, clothes).

In order to gain a sense of the magnitude of child-related expenses that parents in shared custody arrangements need to cover, we asked respondents to estimate what they spent in an average month for a range of different areas/items. With our parent sample of 31 cases and our matched sample of 19 cases, we were able to examine these expenses in two ways. First, we looked at what individual parents, both fathers and mothers, told us about their expenses. Second, we analyzed the responses of our matched parents to calculate total "family" expenses and compare how different types of expenses break down between mothers and fathers in shared custody cases.

Tables 2.9 and 2.10 show the median and mean reported annual expenditures in different expense categories, and the average total monthly expenses for child-related expense items reported by individual respondents. They show that housing and utilities are the two largest expense items by a fair margin. The cost of maintaining two households where once a single household was shared inevitably adds significantly to the overall cost of raising the children. Aside from these two major expense items, travel and clothing expenses are the next largest.

Table 2.9 Median and Mean Annual Reported Expenditures (N=31 parents)

Expense Item Median Annual Expenditure ($) Mean Annual Expenditure ($)
Housing 9,180 9,700
Utilities 3,550 3,540
Travel 1,200 1,660
Clothing 930 1,110
Sports & Recreation 600 1,180
Household Maintenance/Repairs 550 950
Toys 240 440
Furniture 225 340
School Supply 200 990
Hobby 50 320

Table 2.10 Average Total Monthly Child-Related Expenses (N= 31 parents)

Expense Range # of Respondents % of Respondents
Up to $999 1 3
$1,000-$1,499 9 30
$1,500-$1,999 14 47
$2,000-$2,999 6 20
Total 30* 100

* In one case the respondent declined to answer questions about expenses.

We also looked at expenses reported by the fathers and mothers in our sample of 19 matched parents. In Table 2.11 we show the median and average annual expenditures in key expense areas, for the mothers and fathers separately and as a total for the family. This table shows that fathers report expenses equal to or somewhat higher than those reported by their former partners in all but the "hobbies" category, but that looked at in total, the expenses reported by matched parents are generally remarkably close in amount.

In shared custody arrangements, the majority of expenses will be shared between parents. However, parents may perceive that they pay more of the expenses than the other.

Table 2.12 presents what respondents told us about how their divorce agreement guided the division of responsibilities for expenses. For most expense areas, there was no provision in the divorce agreements, or the agreement dictated the equal sharing of expenses between the two parents. Medical and dental expenses, and to a lesser extent costs associated with sports and recreation and school-related expenses, were assigned to one parent in some cases. But even they were most often shared or not specified in the agreements. In the case of medical and dental expenses, we were often told that one parent had a plan at their place of employment that covered those expenses.

When we compared those figures with the respondents’ descriptions of how expenses are currently divided between the parents (Table 2.13), we still found 70 percent of expenses being shared between the two parents. There were more expenses that respondents said they were primarily responsible for than were indicated in the divorce agreements, but it is reasonable to assume that many of those were not referenced specifically in the agreement. We still saw that respondents, both mothers and fathers, were much more likely to attribute responsibility for expenses to themselves than to their former partners (53 as compared to eight responses), but the numbers of cases were such that no strong patterns emerged as far as which expense areas mothers, or fathers, were most likely to be solely responsible for.

When we examined who was actually taking responsibility for expenses in our set of 19 matched parents, we found that there were substantial differences in perspective for some expense items (Table 2.14). These differences included cases where one parent said the responsibility was shared and the other said one of the parents took primary responsibility, and cases where the parents differed as to which parent took primary responsibility. For food and furniture, agreement was almost complete. Both of these areas were described by almost all respondents as shared in our sample of 31 parents. The areas where the greatest differences exist among matched parents (medical/dental, sports and recreation and clothing) are the areas in our sample of 31 families where respondents were most likely to say they took primary responsibility themselves. The differences reported by matched parents reinforce the fact that (aside from child support) these areas of expenditure are likely to be the most contentious where there are disagreements related to expenditures, perhaps because of the nature of the expenses.

It is interesting to note that the first two of those three expense areas were the ones most likely to be specified in divorce agreements. It may be that these are types of expenses that often arise and can be the subject of disagreement if they are not considered in advance. On the other hand, it may be that even where they are specified in divorce agreements, these types of expenses vary in nature and amount sufficiently that the agreements may not cover all the possible circumstances. Even the fact that responsibility is identified in the divorce order/judgement may encourage disagreement if the terms are not interpreted in the same way, or are seen as not taking actual circumstances into account adequately.

Table 2.14 Agreement in Matched Responses on Expense Responsibilities (N=19 matched parents)

Expense Item Parents Agreed Parents Disagreed Total matched cases
Food 18 1 19
Clothing 11 8 19
Furniture 17 1 18*
Medical/dental 9 9 18*
Sports & Recreation 7 11 18*
Hobbies 12 6 18*
Travel 12 6 18*
School-related 14 4 18*
Total 100 46 146

* In one case, one of the parents did not provide information for this question, so the case was not included.

There is considerable inter-parental variation in perceptions of what arrangements are made and who takes responsibility for particular decisions.

We asked respondents to consider the division of responsibilities in their arrangement for medical issues, schooling, sports and recreation, shopping, religious upbringing and day care, and to tell us whether the responsibilities for each area were shared more or less equally, or were primarily the responsibility of one parent or the other.[8] We might have expected, given the apparent stability of the shared custody arrangements in our sample, that the division of responsibilities between parents would be shared quite equally, or at least that there would be agreement about areas of responsibility. Some interesting patterns emerged from the parents’ responses (Tables 2.15 and 2.16).

For schooling, sports and recreational activities, the majority of respondents said responsibilities were shared equally (67 percent and 61 percent respectively). In the other four areas, respondents were most likely to say that they took primary responsibility themselves. Religious upbringing, and to a lesser extent day care, were areas where the attributions were most evenly divided. In those two areas as well, a substantial number of respondents said that responsibility was not an issue.

We examined responses by the gender of the respondents to see if any patterns emerged as to the types of responsibilities reported to be typically carried out by one or the other parent. Looking at all areas of responsibility together (the right hand column in Table 2.16), we see that fathers often reported that responsibilities were shared, while mothers often reported that they took primary responsibility. Neither fathers nor mothers were inclined to attribute responsibility to their former partners. The most noticeable difference was in the responsibility for medical matters, where two-thirds of fathers said responsibility was shared, while three-quarters of mothers said they took primary responsibility. Sports and recreational activities and shopping were the two areas where fathers were most likely to say they took primary responsibility. Finally, for most of the families in our sample, the divorce and the period after the divorce did not bring about changes in the division of responsibilities. Where change was reported, it reflected a general change in the behaviour of one parent or the other (typically the former partner of the respondent), as opposed to a change in the agreed upon responsibilities in specific areas.

Differences in the perspectives of fathers and mothers were reinforced, to some degree, when we examined our sub-sample of 19 matched sets of parents. Across all six categories, exactly half of parents’ responses were in agreement and half indicated disagreement about who took primary responsibility. This included many cases in which one parent said responsibilities were shared and one attributed the responsibility to one parent (overwhelmingly the respondent him or herself). It also included cases in which one parent said the issue was not applicable to them, while the other parent made an attribution of responsibility. Agreement was most likely with regard to schooling and sports and recreation, and least likely in relation to medical matters.

Our findings on the division of responsibilities offer more insight into the varying perspectives of parents in shared custody arrangements, than into who actually takes responsibility in different areas. However, the findings do suggest, as we might expect in shared custody arrangements, that there is a complex blending of shared and divided responsibilities that can be perceived differently at times by the two parents.[9] In our sample at least, there appears to be stability in the parenting arrangements and little in the way of reported serious disagreements about parenting, despite the differing perspectives on who takes on parenting responsibilities.

2.3 Parental Satisfaction With Shared Custody Arrangements

Parents with a shared custody arrangement are generally satisfied with their arrangements, providing there are few outstanding areas of contention.

Respondents were asked how satisfied they had been with their parenting arrangements in the post-separation period, and then again at the time of the interview, on a 5-point scale with 1 being "very satisfied" and 5 being "very dissatisfied." Most respondents reported at least some degree of satisfaction with their living arrangements in both periods.

Respondents were asked to describe what, if anything, they found satisfactory about the current arrangements, and what, if anything, they found unsatisfactory. Many parents had responses on both sides. By far the most frequent "satisfied" responses related to the fact that the children were able to have quality time with both parents, and that the parents had a regular break from the children (or regular support/backup with parenting). Sources of dissatisfaction were fewer and varied more greatly, but most related to the logistics of having the children moving between two homes, or the fact that one parent was not spending as much time with the children as had been agreed to.[10]

2.4 Children’s Adjustment and Outcome as reported by parents)

When parents get along and children are able to have considerable contact with both parents, parents perceive that their children are happier. However, some children may have difficulty with the constant transitions required by shared custody arrangements.

Two-thirds of respondents reported that they thought their children were relatively happy with the living arrangement. Only five parents reported thinking that their children were unhappy with the current situation. Children’s dissatisfaction with the set up may be due less to the shared custody arrangement than to other variables, such as parental conflict or the separation itself. However, these findings need to be regarded with caution, as the children were not involved in this pilot research.

Parents were asked which factors they thought would affect their children’s happiness with the current arrangements. By far, the main reported contributors to children’s happiness were:

  • That the parents got along well together; and,
  • That, those children were able to spend substantial amounts of time with both parents.

The main reported sources of unhappiness for the children were:

  • Having to move and back and forth between homes (sometimes contrary to the children’s own preference at the time);
  • Differences in parenting approaches between the two homes; and,
  • Parents’ new relationships.[11]

Respondents were asked if they had noticed any changes in their children’s behaviour under the current living arrangements (and were reminded that the changes could be positive or negative). As well, they were asked to what they attributed these changes. Half of the respondents noted changes since the divorce, and half said they had not. There was a wide variation in the changes reported. Some reported more aggressive, angry or moody behaviour, and some noted more positive changes or developments that reflected the maturing of the children.

A similar question was asked with regard to changes in children’s behaviour when they returned to the respondents’ homes after they had been with the other parent. The changeover period is recognized as being a point at which children’s difficulties with a separation, or with a particular parent, can be especially evident. Eighteen of the 31 respondents (58 percent) said they noticed changes in behaviour when the children returned to their home. These responses tended to reflect a more negative view of the behaviours, focusing more often on increases in belligerence, moodiness or clinginess, as opposed to the few cases in which the children were reported to be simply happy to be back in the respondent’s home.[12] When asked how often the children were caught in the middle of disagreements between the parents, all but two respondents said that it never or almost never happened. One respondent said it happened very frequently, and one other said it happened frequently.

The final question in this part of the interview was about changes in the living arrangements that the respondents thought might have worked better for the children. Nineteen parents reported that the arrangements were satisfactory for their children. The 12 remaining parents noted changes in two areas that could improve things for their children:

  • Changes in day-today arrangements within the shared custody framework (including length of time with each parent, proximity and temporary changes in arrangements, having two homes); and
  • A few parents felt that alternative custody arrangements may have been better for the children (i.e. shared to sole custody arrangements).
Date modified: