Is joint physical custody in the best interest of the child? Parent-child relationships and custodial arrangements.


In legislation, there has been a shift from sole custody, mainly for mothers, to joint physical custody. This is believed to be in the best interest of the child, as children can maintain a good relationship with both their mother and their father after a parental divorce. Although this assumption is the basis of many legislative systems, especially in Belgium with its legal preference for joint physical custody after divorce since 2006, few studies have investigated whether children in joint physical custody do have better relationships with both their mother and their father than children in sole custody.
This study relies on Belgian data to investigate the parent-child relationships in different custodial arrangements in order to discover if legislative assumptions are based on actual grounds. Using a dyadic subsample of parents and children from the “Divorce in Flanders – DiF” dataset (N = 503), we compare parent-child communication, the parent-child bond and parenting for children in sole mother custody, joint physical custody and sole father custody. This study adds to the literature by not only comparing joint physical custody to sole mother custody but also to sole father custody. Moreover, we include both the mother-child relationship and the father-child relationship. Preliminary results indicate that children in joint physical custody do indeed have a better bond and communicate better with both their mother and their father than children in other custodial arrangements. Furthermore, maternal but especially paternal parenting was more effective if the parent was residential or in joint physical custody.


Dr. Kim Bastaits & Ms. Inge Pasteels
Social Work Research, PXL University College, Belgium

Kim Bastaits is a lecturer and senior researcher at the Hogeschool PXL in the Department of Social Work. Dr. Bastaits received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Antwerp. Her research expertise encompasses upbringing, parent-child relationships, paternity and children’s well-being viewed in the light of divorce and family transitions. She has published widely on children’s development in joint physical custody arrangements and the impact of fathers’ involvement on children’s well-being.

Inge Pasteels is the Coordinator of Social Work Research and Senior Researcher at Hogeschool PXL, Centre for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies (CELLO). She holds a Masters Degree in Sociology and Master in the Advanced Studies of Statistics from the University of Antwerp, Belgium.  Her research concentrates on survey methodology and social demography. She was involved in de GGS-data collection for Belgium. She coordinated the linkage between the Belgian National Health Interview survey data and register data from sickness funds. Currently, she coordinates the ‘Divorce in Flanders’ project in which a multi-actor dataset has been created.

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