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Journal Issue: Children and Divorce Volume 4 Number 1 Spring/Summer 1994

The Role of the Father After Divorce
Ross A. Thompson

Endnotes

  1. Acrimony between spouses or ex-spouses undermines children's socioemotional well-being; see for example, Emery, R.E. Interparental conflict and the children of discord and divorce. Psychological Bulletin (1982) 92:310–30; see also the article by Johnston in this journal issue.
  2. For a related argument, consult Sugarman, S.D. Dividing financial interests on divorce. In Divorce reform at the crossroads. S.D. Sugarman and H.H. Kay, eds. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.
  3. See for example, Kelly, J.B. Parent interaction after divorce: Comparison of mediated and adversarial divorce processes. Behavioral Sciences and the Law (1991) 9:387–98; Emery, R.E., and Wyer, M.M. Divorce mediation. American Psychologist (1987) 42:472–80.
  4. See for example, Scott, E.S., and Emery, R. Child custody dispute resolution: The adversarial system and divorce mediation. In Psychology and child custody determinations. L.A. Weithorn, ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.
  5. Family Support Act of 1988 (Public Law 100-485), October 13, 1988.
  6. 6. Maccoby, E.E., and Mnookin, R.H. Dividing the child: Social and legal dilemmas of custody. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.
  7. Braver, S.L., Fitzpatrick, P.J., and Bay, R.C. Noncustodial parent's report of child support payments. Family Relations (1991) 40:180–85; Chambers, D.L. Making fathers pay: The enforcement of child support. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979; Haskins, R. Child support: A father's view. In Child support: From debt collection to social policy. A.J. Kahn and S.B. Kamerman, eds. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1988; Seltzer, J.A., Schaeffer, N.C., and Charng, H.W. Family ties after divorce: The relationship between visiting and paying child support. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1989) 51:1013–32; Teachman, J.D. Who pays? Receipt of child support in the United States. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1991) 53:759–72; Wallerstein, J.S., and Huntington, D.S. Bread and roses: Nonfinancial issues related to fathers' economic support of their children following divorce. In The parental child support obligation. J. Cassetty, ed. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1983.
  8. See Furstenberg, Jr., F.F., and Cherlin, A.J. Divided families: What happens to children when parents part. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.
  9. Lamb, M.E., Pleck, J.H., Charnov, E.L., and Levine, J.A. A biosocial perspective on paternal behavior and involvement. In Parenting across the lifespan. J.B. Lancaster, J. Altmann, A. Rossi, and L. Sherrod, eds. Chicago: Aldine, 1987; Parke, R.D., and Stearns, P.N. Fathers and child rearing. In Children in time and place. G.H. Elder, Jr., J. Modell, and R.D. Parke, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  10. Mnookin, R.H. Child-custody adjudication: Judicial functions in the face of indeterminacy. Law and Contemporary Problems (1975) 39:226–93.
  11. Similar results have been reported by Weitzman, L.J. The divorce revolution: The unexpected social and economic consequences for women and children in America. New York: Free Press, 1985.
  12. See note no. 6, Maccoby and Mnookin, pp. 113–14.
  13. There is some evidence for this kind of judicial preference. See Lowery, C.R. Child custody decisions in divorce proceedings: A survey of judges. Professional Psychology (1981) 12:492–98. Reliance on this portrayal of parental roles has more recently been called the "motherhood mystique." See Warshak, R.A. The custody revolution: The father factor and the motherhood mystique. New York: Poseidon Press, 1992.
  14. Mnookin, R.H., and Kornhauser, L. Bargaining in the shadow of the law: The case of divorce. Yale Law Journal (1979) 88:950–97.
  15. See for example, Elster, J. Solomonic judgments: Against the best interest of the child. The University of Chicago Law Review (1987) 54:1–45. For an opposing view, however, see Schneider, C.E. Discretion, rules, and law: Child custody and the UMDA's best-interest standard. Michigan Law Review (1991) 89:2215–98.
  16. See for example, Chambers, D.L. Rethinking the substantive rules for custody disputes in divorce. Michigan Law Review (1984) 83:477–569; Neely, R. The primary caretaker parent rule: Child custody and the dynamics of greed. Yale Law and Policy Review (1984) 3:168-86; see also Goldstein, J., Freud, A., and Solnit, A.J. Beyond the best interests of the child. New York: Free Press, 1973 (the latter proposing a related presumption favoring the child's "psychological parent").
  17. See note no. 16, Neely, p. 180.
  18. See for example, Kennedy v. Kennedy, 376 N.W.2d 702 (1985); Garska v. McCoy, 278 S.E.2d 357 (1981).
  19. See Lamb, M.E. Fathers and child development: An integrative overview. In The role of the father in child development. Rev. ed. New York: Wiley, 1981.
  20. Thompson, R.A. The father's case in child custody disputes. In Fatherhood and family policy. M.E. Lamb and A. Sagi, eds. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1983. In his own analysis, David Chambers reaches a similar conclusion; see note no. 16, Chambers.
  21. See note no. 15, Elster.
  22. Fineman, M.A. The illusion of equality: Rhetoric and reality of divorce reform. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.
  23. See note no. 22, Fineman, p. 183.
  24. Such a view is sometimes advanced by "difference feminists" who, drawing on the seminal work of Carol Gilligan, emphasize the deeply rooted divergence between men and women in values and outlook (particularly with respect to nurturance and emotional connectedness) over the commonalities shared by men and women. See Gilligan, C. In a different voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.
  25. See Thompson, R.A. Fathers and the child's "best interests": Judicial decision-making in custody disputes. In The father's role: Applied perspectives. M.E. Lamb, ed. New York: Wiley, 1986.
  26. Pedersen, F.A. Father influences viewed in a family context. In The father's role: Applied perspectives. M.E. Lamb, ed. New York: Wiley, 1986; Pleck, J.H. Working wives and family well-being. New York: Plenum, 1984. This preference has been attributed to gender socialization, the maintenance of feminine power in domestic affairs, and other factors.
  27. Although infants respond somewhat differently to mothers and fathers owing to parental differences in caregiving roles and play behavior (for example, they become more exuberant when playing with fathers but turn to their mothers when distressed), they develop emotional attachments to each parent which provide a comparable basis for the security they experience; see Lamb, M.E., Thompson, R.A., Gardner, W., and Charnov, E.L. Infant-mother attachment. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1985; see also note no. 20, Thompson, and note no. 9, Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, and Levine.
  28. Depner, C.E. Parental role reversal: Mothers as nonresidential parents. In Nonresidential parenting: New vistas in family living. C. Depner and J. Bray, eds. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1993, pp. 37–57; Warshak, R.A. Father-custody and child development: A review and analysis of psychological research. Behavioral Sciences and the Law (1986) 4:185–202; see also note no. 13, Warshak. For an interesting first-person account by a single father, consult Andrews, B. A singular experience. Newsweek, May 10, 1993, p. 8.
  29. Peterson, J.L., and Zill, N. Marital disruption, parent-child relationships, and behavior problems in children. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1986) 48:295–307; see also note no. 13, Warshak. This remains a controversial conclusion, however; for a different view, consult Downey, D.B., and Powell, B. Do children in single-parent households fare better living with same-sex parents? Journal of Marriage and the Family (1993) 55:55-71.
  30. Furstenberg, Jr., F.F., and Nord, C.W. Parenting apart: Patterns of childrearing after marital disruption. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1985) 47:893–904; Furstenberg, Jr., F.F., Nord, C.W., Peterson, J.L., and Zill, N. The life course of children of divorce: Marital disruption and parental contact. American Sociological Review (1983) 48:656–68; see note no. 29, Peterson and Zill. The more frequent visitation of many noncustodial mothers probably has diverse origins, including support from the former spouse and a strong commitment to a continuing parental role.
  31. See note no. 9, Parke and Stearns.
  32. I am grateful to Frank Furstenberg for this provocative characterization; see Furstenberg, Jr., F.F. Good dads—bad dads: Two faces of fatherhood. In The changing American family and public policy. A.J. Cherlin, ed. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, 1988.
  33. I focus on joint physical custody over joint legal custody because the former ensures fathers the more significant postdivorce role in the lives of children. Although I shall argue later that a presumption in favor of joint legal custody to both parents may help to guarantee fathers a role in the care and guidance of offspring after divorce, the perfunctory award of joint legal custody may do little to accomplish this goal. By contrast, joint physical custody helps to advance the goal of continued shared parenting in a way that has meaningful benefits to fathers and children.
  34. As Amato's article in this issue indicates, children's postdivorce well-being depends on many things, including continued contact with both parents, the extent to which parents remain conflictual (and enlist the child into their conflicts), and other factors relevant to children's experience of joint custody.
  35. See for example, Scott, E., and Derdeyn, A. Rethinking joint custody. Ohio State Law Journal (1984) 45:455–98.
  36. See note no. 30, Furstenberg and Nord.
  37. Kay, H.H. Beyond no-fault: New directions in divorce reform. In Divorce reform at the crossroads. S.D. Sugarman and H.H. Kay, eds. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990, p. 35.
  38. Scott, E.S. Pluralism, parental preference, and child custody. California Law Review (1992) 80:615–72.
  39. See for example, Kelly, J.B. Developing and implementing postdivorce parenting plans. In Nonresidential parenting: New vistas in family living. C. Depner and J. Bray, eds. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1993, pp. 136–55. For a somewhat different but complementary view, see Bruch, C.S. Making visitation work: Dual parenting orders. Family Advocate (Summer 1978) :22–26, 41–42.
  40. Wallerstein, J.S., and Corbin, S.B. Father-child relationships after divorce: Child support and educational opportunity. Family Law Quarterly (1986) 20:109–28. For another insightful portrayal of the experience of noncustodial fathers after divorce, consult Hetherington, E.M., and Hagan, M.S. Divorced fathers: Stress, coping, and adjustment. In The father's role: Applied perspectives. M.E. Lamb, ed. New York: Wiley, 1986.
  41. See note no. 40, Wallerstein and Corbin, p. 114.
  42. Hetherington, E.M., Cox, M., and Cox, R. The aftermath of divorce. In Mother-child, father-child relations. J.H. Stevens, Jr., and M. Matthews, eds. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1978; see also note no. 40, Hetherington and Hagan. See note no. 30, Furstenberg and Nord; and Furstenberg, Nord, Peterson, and Zill. See also Seltzer, J.A. Relationships between fathers and children who live apart: The father's role after separation. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1991) 53:79–101; Seltzer, J.A., and Bianchi, S.M. Children's contact with absent parents. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1988) 50:663–77; Wallerstein, J.S., and Kelly, J.B. Effects of divorce on the visiting father-child relationship. American Journal of Psychiatry (1980) 137:1534-–39. It is important to note that most reports of fathers' postdivorce visitation are obtained from mothers, who have been found to underestimate—compared to fathers' own reports—the frequency and reliability of the father's visits with children; see Braver, S.H., Wolchik, S.A., Sandler, I.N., et al. Frequency of visitation by divorced fathers: Differences in reports by fathers and mothers. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (1991) 61:448–54. Nevertheless, although the absolute levels of postdivorce contact with noncustodial fathers may therefore be questioned, the consistent report that visitation typically declines during the years following divorce is probably valid.
  43. See note no. 30, Furstenberg and Nord.
  44. See note no. 30, Furstenberg and Nord, p. 902.
  45. Furstenberg, Jr., F.F., Morgan, S.P., and Allison, P.D. Paternal participation and children's well-being after marital dissolution. American Sociological Review (1987) 52:695–701.
  46. Hetherington, E.M., Stanley-Hagan, M., and Anderson, E.R. Marital transitions: A child's perspective. American Psychologist (1989) 44:303–12; Wallerstein, J.S., and Kelly, J.B. Surviving the breakup: How children and parents cope with divorce. New York: Basic Books, 1980; see also the article by Kelly in this journal issue.
  47. Warshak, R.A., and Santrock, J.W. The impact of divorce in father-custody and mother-custody homes: The child's perspective. In Children and divorce. L.A. Kurdek, ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1983.
  48. Another important problem of the widely cited study by Furstenberg, Morgan, and Allison (see note no. 45) is that it does not examine any of the factors (such as degree of marital conflict) that might determine the ways in which postdivorce paternal involvement affects children's well-being, including those discussed extensively by Amato in this issue (see also Amato, P.R., and Rezac, S.J. Contact with nonresident parents, interparental conflict, and children's behavior. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Sociological Society. Chicago, 1993). The study by Furstenberg and colleagues is noteworthy also for the fairly low levels of postdivorce paternal contact characterizing the sample they studied, such that the effects of genuinely high levels of paternal postdivorce involvement could not be carefully examined. This is important if, as some have suggested (see note no. 9), levels of paternal postdivorce involvement are generally increasing.
  49. See note no. 30, Furstenberg and Nord; and Furstenberg, Nord, Peterson, and Zill. See note no. 40, Hetherington and Hagan. See note no. 42, Seltzer; and Seltzer and Bianchi. See note no. 46, Wallerstein and Kelly.
  50. See note no. 42, Braver, Wolchik, Sandler, et al.; Furstenberg, Jr., F.F. Marital disruptions, child custody, and visitation. In Child support: From debt collection to social policy. A.J. Kahn and S.B. Kamerman, eds. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1988; see note no. 30, Furstenberg, Nord, Peterson, and Zill; see note no. 7, Haskins. Pearson, J., and Thoennes, N. The denial of visitation rights: A preliminary look at its incidence, correlates, antecedents and consequences. Law and Policy (1988) 10:363–80.
  51. See note no. 50, Furstenberg.
  52. See note no. 30, Furstenberg, Nord, Peterson, and Zill; see note no. 42, Seltzer; and Seltzer and Bianchi.
  53. Such a view has also been formalized in the "social exchange" model of nonresidential parent involvement proposed by Sanford Braver and his colleagues. In their formulation, many noncustodial fathers implicitly balance the emotional and interpersonal costs against the rewards of regular involvement with offspring, such that the regularity of visitation, fidelity of child support, and other contributions to the child's life depend, in part, on the ease of visitation, relations with the ex-spouse, perceived benefits (and costs) to the child, reactions of significant new partners, and the father's personal commitment to this parenting role in a complex calculus. It is important to note that this implicit cost-benefit analysis may change over time, with significant implications for the father's long-term involvement with offspring. See Braver, S.I., Wolchik, S.A., Sandler, I.N., and Sheets, V.I. A social exchange model of nonresidential parent involvement. In Nonresidential parenting: New vistas in family living. C. Depner and J. Bray, eds. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1993, pp. 87–108.
  54. See note no. 39, Bruch.
  55. For research on the association between postdivorce visitation and child support, see note no. 7, Chambers; Seltzer, Schaeffer, and Charng; Teachman; and Wallerstein and Huntington. Czapanskiy, K. Child support and visitation: Rethinking the connections. Rutgers Law Journal (1989) 20:619–65. See note no. 50, Furstenberg; and Pearson and Thoennes. See note no. 30, Furstenberg, Nord, Peterson, and Zill. See note no. 42, Seltzer.
  56. This problem is not limited to noncustodial fathers. Despite the fact that mothers are more likely to maintain visitation with offspring in the care of custodial fathers, a high proportion (nearly 50%) of custodial fathers with child support awards from their former spouses fail to receive child support. See Meyer, D.R., and Garasky, S. Custodial fathers: Myths, realities, and child support policy. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1993) 55:73–89.
  57. U.S. Bureau of the Census. Child support and alimony: 1989. Current Population Reports, Series P-60, No. 173. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991. U.S. General Accounting Office. Interstate child support: Mothers report receiving less support from out-of-state fathers. HRD-92-39FS. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992. It is important to note that accounts of child support payments, as with visitation, rely primarily on reports from the mothers themselves. Several studies have noted that custodial and noncustodial parents differ significantly in their reports of child support payments—with the latter reporting higher payments and greater regularity in child support obligations than the former—that probably derives from bias in each source. See note no. 7, Braver, Fitzpatrick, and Bay. See also Wright, D.W., and Price, S.L. Court-ordered child support payment: The effect of the former-spouse relationship on compliance. Journal of Marriage and the Family (1986) 48:869–74.
  58. National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), Columbia University, New York. Five million children: A statistical profile of our poorest young citizens. New York: NCCP, 1990; see note no. 57, U.S. Bureau of the Census. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the poverty rate in 1989 for never-married women was 53.9%, compared with a poverty rate of 23.1% for ever-married women. What is even more pertinent, in 1989 never-married women received only an average of $1,888 in child support payments, compared with an average of $3,322 for divorced women.
  59. Many observers are concerned that, as a result of unfair bargaining, mothers may agree to reduced child support or no support at all in exchange for ensuring the custody of children. However, the only study in which this problem was systematically explored found no evidence that mothers achieved custody of offspring at a price of reduced child support. (For this study, see note no. 6, Maccoby and Mnookin.)
  60. Teachman, J.D. Contributions to children by divorced fathers. Social Problems (1991) 38:358–71.
  61. See note no. 42, Seltzer; note no. 7, Seltzer, Schaeffer, and Charng. See also Arditti, J.A. Child support noncompliance and divorced fathers: Rethinking the role of paternal involvement. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage (1991) 14:107–19.
  62. See note no. 7, Teachman.
  63. Pearson, J., and Thoennes, N. Child custody, child support arrangements and child support payment patterns. Juvenile and Family Court Journal (1985) 36:49–56; Seltzer, J.A. Legal custody arrangements and children's economic welfare. American Journal of Sociology (1991) 96:895–929; see note no. 57, U.S. Bureau of the Census.
  64. See note no. 7, Haskins, p. 325.
  65. Giampetro, A. Mathematical approaches to calculating child support payments: Stated objectives, practical results, and hidden policies. Family Law Quarterly (1986) 20:373–91. Takas, M. Improving child support guidelines: Can simple formulas address complex families? Family Law Quarterly (1992) 26:171–94.
  66. Krause, H.D. Child support reassessed: Limits of private responsibility and the public interest. In Divorce reform at the crossroads. S.D. Sugarman and H.H. Kay, eds. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.
  67. See note no. 7, Chambers.
  68. Chambers, D.L. The coming curtailment of compulsory child support. Michigan Law Review (1982) 80:1614–34. See note no. 7, Chambers. Rhode, D.L., and Minow, M. Reforming the questions, questioning the reforms: Feminist perspectives on divorce law. In Divorce reform at the crossroads. S.D. Sugarman and H.H. Kay, eds. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.
  69. Similar considerations apply to marital property distributions, especially under proposals to expand significantly conventional definitions of marital property (for example, including "career assets" and other nontangible assets). However, because most divorcing couples have relatively little property to allocate between them, most of the focus of divorce reform in this area has been on spousal support, and this is the area on which I will focus as well.
  70. Ellman, I.M. The theory of alimony. California Law Review (1989) 77:1–81; Schneider, C.E. Rethinking alimony: Marital decisions and moral discourse. Brigham Young University Law Review (1991) 197–257.
  71. Current demographics indicate, however, that these circumstances are likely to characterize a markedly declining proportion of divorcing couples as many more couples begin, or resume, dual-earner status shortly after the birth of children. Thus, most couples will approach divorce negotiations in the future with each having career assets resulting from the marriage.
  72. See note no. 68, Rhode and Minow, p. 204.
  73. See note no. 68, Chambers; see note no. 32, Furstenberg.