Citation
Judicial decision-making in contested custody cases

Material Information

Title:
Judicial decision-making in contested custody cases the influence of sociological, psychological, and legal variables
Alternate title:
Influence of sociological, psychological, and legal variables
Creator:
Sorensen, Erik D., 1963-
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
v, 115 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Child psychology ( jstor )
Custody evaluations ( jstor )
Divorce ( jstor )
Fathers ( jstor )
Joint custody ( jstor )
Mathematical variables ( jstor )
Mothers ( jstor )
Parents ( jstor )
Psychological assessment ( jstor )
Sole custody ( jstor )
Child Abuse ( mesh )
Child Custody ( mesh )
Decision Making ( mesh )
Department of Clinical and Health Psychology thesis Ph.D ( mesh )
Dissertations, Academic -- College of Health Related Professions -- Department of Clinical and Health Psychology -- UF ( mesh )
Jurisprudence ( mesh )
Research ( mesh )
City of Orlando ( local )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Thesis:
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 1990.
Bibliography:
Bibliography: leaves 102-107.
General Note:
Typescript.
General Note:
Vita.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Erik D. Sorensen.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
Copyright [name of dissertation author]. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
Resource Identifier:
002357959 ( ALEPH )
50908084 ( OCLC )
ALW2449 ( NOTIS )

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Full Text










JUDICIAL DECISION-MAKING IN CONTESTED CUSTODY CASES:
THE INFLUENCE OF SOCIOLOGICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL,
AND LEGAL VARIABLES


















By

ERIK D. SORENSEN


A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY



UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


1990




JUDICIAL DECISION-MAKING IN CONTESTED CUSTODY CASES:
THE INFLUENCE OF SOCIOLOGICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL,
AND LEGAL VARIABLES
By
ERIK D. SORENSEN
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
1990


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to express my appreciation and affection
for my chairperson, Jacquelin Goldman, Ph.D., whose
knowledge and concern was essential both in this project and
in my broader development as a psychologist. I would also
like to express my appreciation to my committee members,
James Johnson, Ph.D., Sheila Eyberg, Ph.D., Steve Boggs,
Ph.D., and Steve Willis, J.D., each of whom has provided me
with essential knowledge and support. Additionally, I would
like to thank the Guardians for their dedicated efforts at
collecting the data for this project. In particular, I
would like to acknowledge the directors and coordinators of
the Guardian Ad Litem programs who were instrumental in
generating support and interest among their staff. Finally,
many thanks to my wonderful coworkers, liana Interrante,
M.S., Martin Ward, Linda Graves, and Cindy Sutton, whose
efforts were truly indispensable.
ii


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ii
ABSTRACT iv
INTRODUCTION 1
Overview 1
Types of Custody 2
Historical Background 4
Problems with the Use of Rules in
Determining Custody 7
Joint Custody 10
Legal Guidelines for Custody Determinations . 13
Judicial Decision-Making 19
Development of Children Following Divorce ... 29
Parental Characteristics 30
Parent-Child Relationships 34
Specific Aims 40
Hypotheses 42
METHODS 44
Subjects 44
Measures 47
Procedure 55
Analyses 56
Statistical Procedures 56
Variable Selection 60
RESULTS 62
Case Characteristics 62
Frequency of Custody Awards and Recommendations 67
Prediction of Custody Awards 69
Awards of Shared Versus Sole Custody ... 69
Awards of Maternal Versus Paternal
Primary Physical Residence 79
Guardians' Decisions to Report Ratings 85
DISCUSSION 87
REFERENCES 102
APPENDIX 108
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 115
iii


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
JUDICIAL DECISION-MAKING IN CONTESTED CUSTODY CASES:
THE INFLUENCE OF SOCIOLOGICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL,
AND LEGAL VARIABLES
By
Erik D. Sorensen
December 1990
Chairperson: Jacquelin Goldman, Ph.D.
Major Department: Clinical and Health Psychology
In contested custody cases judges are responsible for
determining the custody award that serves the best interests
of the children involved. While state statutes provide
judges with guidelines regarding these determinations, they
are not worded very specifically. The judge's role is to
interpret these guidelines and apply them to individual
cases. Previous literature concerning judicial decision
making has suggested that judges often rely on a general
preference for the mother as custodian rather than on
individual case characteristics. This study examined the
relationship between specific case factors and custody
awards in order to describe the decision-making process in
Florida. Information was collected on 60 contested initial
disposition or disposition modification cases and was used
to model judicial decision-making. Our results indicated
that judges were generally following the legal statutes and
iv


did not rely on a general preference for one parent.
Additionally, although several case factors were used
consistently by judges, some notably important information
did not appear to be given much weight in their decision
making. In some cases substantiated reports of child
abuse/neglect were overlooked. Additionally, the degree of
parental conflict did not appear to be considered by judges,
although this variable has been identified in the literature
as a strong predictor of post-divorce child adjustment.
v


INTRODUCTION
Overview
Before 1900, determinations of responsibility for
children after divorce were most often based on socially
defined parental roles. In other words, the parent socially
deemed responsible for raising children was given custody
unless declared unfit by the courts. Specific criteria that
influence child development were not considered in the
initial adjudication of custody. The needs of children were
expected to be met most effectively by the parent considered
socially responsible for child rearing. However, as
researchers in child development, divorce, and families
demonstrated the importance of specific variables in normal
child development, the legislature and courts have
responded. Guidelines used by judges in adjudicating
custody have become more detailed and the general doctrine
has shifted from following social definitions of parental
roles to a direct consideration of "the best interests of
the child." Although criteria used to determine custody
have become much more clearly delineated than ever before,
judges may employ any additional information that they deem
important to make a determination in a given case. The
purpose of this research is to identify the criteria
utilized by judges in contested custody cases. Previous
research on judicial decision-making in custody cases have
1


2
studied judges' reports of what they do, but have not used
other sources of data. The present paper will study the
decision-making process from court records and ratings made
by other court personnel (Guardian Ad Litem
representatives). This methodology will provide additional
estimations of the importance of specific criteria in
custody decision-making than previously have been available.
This approach also will make possible a comparison between
what judges report is happening, what the Florida statutes
dictate should be happening, what literature on post divorce
child adjustment suggest is most important for these
children, and what occurs in custody cases. A review of the
types of custody available to most judges and a summary of
how these custody arrangements have been applied
historically will provide useful background information to
the reader.
Types of Custody
Prior to 1957 legal statutes stipulated that only one
type of custody arrangement was available to families: one
parent held complete legal control in all areas of the
children's lives, except for the court's determination of
visitation rights and financial responsibilities. This
arrangement was termed sole parental responsibility. The
lack of other custody alternatives presumably followed from
an assumption that divorced parents could not work well
enough together to make joint decisions about their


3
children. However, since social-science research has
documented the importance of a child's contact with both
parents following divorce, the courts have developed
alternative custody arrangements (Barnard & Jenson, 1984;
Felner, 1987).
North Carolina was the first state to allow an
alternative arrangement for custody in 1957, which was
termed joint custody or shared parenting. Under joint
custody parents are given approximately equal legal
authority for making decisions about the children, though
the court may determine which parent is expressly
responsible for specific needs of the children such as
school issues (Felner, 1987). In fact, usually one parent
is given primary physical custody under a joint custody
arrangement to maintain stability and continuity in the
child's environment. However, some states have made another
option available to the courts where the parents not only
share the legal responsibility of the children, but also the
residential care of them. Since this custody arrangement
includes all of the characteristics of joint custody, states
that allow this option make a distinction between joint
legal and joint physical custody, with the latter referring
to the arrangement in which the child moves between homes
(Felner, 1987). A few states have also established
legislation for a fourth type of custody arrangement, termed
split custody. Under this arrangement, each parent is


4
awarded sole custody of one or more child following the
divorce. This arrangement is relatively uncommon.
Historical Background
Prior to the eighteenth century, sole custody was the
only option available, and it was awarded to the father
universally. In fact, the father held complete legal
control over the family. He owned all of the family goods,
as well as the children, and completely determined what
happened to children following a divorce. Furthermore,
women held no rights over their husbands; they could neither
question the father's ability as a parent nor exert any
influence over him. The father held an unquestionable right
to decide all facets of his child's life, as children were
considered the property of the father (Derdeyn, 1976).
By the early eighteen hundreds, fathers became
responsible for their children's welfare. Children were
awarded rights as individuals for the first time in history.
The English Parliament established this change in the social
status of children in 1817 by instituting the doctrine of
parens patriae which held that the Crown should defend the
rights of those who had no other protection (Derdeyn, 1976).
Children were considered part of this group, as they could
not defend themselves against their parents. Custody
decisions were said to be based on the "best interests for
the child" rather than on the right of a father to dictate
his children's lives.


5
In the early 1800s, the social status of women also
increased with regard to their role and rights in the
family. By the 1850s, a mother's role in the family,
separate from that of serving her husband, began to be seen
as important (Derdeyn, 1976). In fact, the mother's care
was seen as necessary for the development of children
through the early years of life (Folberg, 1984b). This
change in social roles and status was reflected in the
courts, as judges began to refer to the assumption that
young children needed a mother's care to facilitate their
growth and development (termed tender years presumption)
when making custody determinations (Derdeyn, 1976). Under
this presumption, custody awards were given to mothers more
often than before, though still less often than to fathers.
While, initially the period in a child's life believed
to require maternal care included only the first four years
of life, the period was soon extended. By the 1920s,
mothers were awarded custody almost as often as fathers, and
by the mid 1900s, the tender years presumption had gained
sufficient popularity that mothers received custody an
estimated 90% of the time (Derdeyn, 1976). A few
researchers have suggested that the courts' support of the
mother as primary custodian of children following divorce
reflected that her role was considered fundamental not only
to the care of the children but also to the maintenance of
stability and continuity in her children's interpersonal


6
relationships and their physical environment for children
(Folberg, 1984b). Awarding primary custody to mothers in
order to maintain continuity for the child is consistent
with the fact that mothers were the primary care-givers of
children within most families prior to their divorce. A
preference for the mother as custodian may be, at least
partially, a reflection of the importance of case specific
variables and not entirely a simple presumption for the
mother.
The common social view of each parent's role in the
family and the consistency with which actual family role
structures adhere to the social view, though shifting from
supporting as custodian first the father and more recently
the mother, continued almost universally to dictate custody
decisions through the mid 1900s. The only exception to this
policy occurred when the parent assumed to be most important
to the child was considered unfit as a guardian. If a
parent was guilty of adultery or desertion, for example,
then custody would be given to the other spouse regardless
of the strength of the social preference for that parent
(Chamas, 1981; Derdeyn, 1976) In addition to moral
infractions, mental illness also served as a reason for
declaring a parent unfit for shared or sole parental
responsibility (Horowitz & Davidson, 1984). The
adjudication of custody appeared to be based upon rules
which assumed the overriding importance of one parent for


7
the children's growth and development, often without even a
consideration of the other's abilities (Mnookin, 1975).
Problems with the Use of Rules in Determining Custody
Using a general rule that considers one parent a more
worthy custodian of children and allowing for only one
custody arrangement (sole custody) presents some problems
when a parent's desired post-divorce role structure does not
adhere to the traditional social role definitions. For
example, in traditional western post-divorce families, men
are expected to earn the money to support two households,
often leaving them with little time for their children; if
they choose to spend time with their children at the expense
of career advancement, they must respond to accusations of
avoiding child-support payments (Victor & Winkler, 1976).
Similarly, mothers are expected to fight for custody of
their children; if a mother wants to begin or pursue a
career that requires more than a few hours a day, she must
stand up to challenges against her love for her children
(Victor & Winkler, 1976). Consequently, the
socially-defined parental roles and the use of sole custody
as the only option can, at least partially, dictate parents'
involvement with their children.
The primary reliance of the courts on sole custody
alone and on a general rule to determine which parent
receives custody also implies limits of factors that are
considered important for custody determinations (Victor &


8
Winkler, 1976). Factors important in individual cases could
be overlooked, if they do not support the traditional
caretaker as sole custodian. It may be that each parent's
relationship with the children, which could be different
from traditional parental roles, could provide a unique
contribution to the child's development. Likewise, the
possibilities available to the family through the parents'
combined resourcefulness or special circumstances might make
a custody arrangement other than sole custody more
beneficial for the children. Recent research has, in fact,
consistently indicated the importance of many specific
variables that describe the influence of intrafamilial
relationships on the development and adjustment of children
following divorce (e.g., Santrock & Warshak, 1979).
Additionally, unique benefits have been shown to arise from
the individual relationships of children with each parent
following divorce, suggesting the importance of both
parents' continued involvement with the children over a sole
custody arrangement. These findings will be discussed in
detail later.
Another problem arising from the use of traditional
social role definitions to adjudicate custody and a reliance
on sole custody as the only option for custody follows from
the court process itself. Parents must engage in
adversarial relationships with each other if one or both of
them wishes to challenge the court's established view of the


9
family's post-divorce roles and the concomitant
specifications of visitation and custody rights (Fischer,
1983; Victor & Winkler, 1976). With custody determinations
being based primarily on a general rule, the only issues
that can result in a shift from awarding custody to the one
expected primary caretaker include moral and psychological
infractions that render that parent unfit. The interaction
between parents in the court room has become, in effect, a
battle over father's and mother's moral and psychological
fitness, rather than a direct defense of the best interests
of the child (Goldstein, Freud, & Solnit, 1973; Pringle,
1975).
Within this context, answers to the court's question of
what is the best interest of a child have been centered
around individual parental roles rather than the
consideration of each parent's unique contribution to the
child's development or the possibilities available to the
family through the parents' combined resourcefulness.
Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) described the effects of using
simple rules that follow role expectations in determining
the primary caretaker for children. For their study, 60
cases where the mothers were awarded sole custody were
followed for five years after divorce. One effect was that
three-fifths of the women had a substantial decline in their
standard of living. Additionally, their periodic income
also became increasingly more variable. Because mothers


10
were forced to either stay at home with the children or
resort to uninteresting jobs that demanded little time, they
were unable to develop resources to stabilize the family
economy.
These researchers also found that many older children
living with their mothers rejected their fathers, accusing
them of desertion when in fact the separation and
post-divorce relationship was decided upon either equally by
both parents or by the courts. Furthermore, fathers were
allowed little share in decisions concerning the development
of their children. These results suggest that limited
custody options and decision-making based on traditional
roles affect the parents' involvement with their children
after divorce. They may even force the family into
situations of conflict and frustration rather than helping
them to resolve problems. A preference for the mother or
father as a single custodian is not supported by the above
findings.
Joint Custody
Shared parental responsibility, where both parents
participate in their child's development, has been offered
in response to these problems. Under this arrangement,
there is greater flexibility with regards to individual
parent's responsibility for and his or her availability to
the children. Ideally, joint custody allows time for
mothers to pursue their careers and fathers to develop


11
relationships with their children (D'Andrea, A., 1983;
Derdeyn & Scott, 1984; Rothberg, 1983; Steinman, 1981;
Victor & Winkler, 1976). Rosen (1979) and Frankel (1985)
also found that when the child was allowed free access to
both parents, divorce was perceived by children as less
traumatic.
Third, shared parental responsibility offers the courts
an option that does not force parents to do battle over
their children, avoiding the usual problems of the legal
system's adversarial process. For example, Ilfeld, Ilfeld,
and Alexander (1982) and Frankel (1985) found that joint
custody with open visitation arrangements resulted in less
conflict within the family as assessed by the low percentage
of cases involved in relitigation relative to sole custody
cases. Frankel further found that when joint custody
families did require modifications in their arrangements,
they were effected with little conflict.
Fourth, as fathers have been taking on more of the
daily responsibilities of child care within intact families
than was previously common, concerns about the continuity
and stability of the child's environment and interpersonal
relationships no longer support simply an award for the
mother as primary caretaker. In fact, Kline, Tschann,
Johnston, & Wallerstein (1989) found that more joint custody
fathers continued to have frequent regular contact with
their children than noncustodial fathers. Fifth, Steinman


12
(1981) found that joint custody can affect the parent-child
relationships and interparent conflict. Joint custody
parents held much more respect for each other in terms of
their parenting skills and applied a lot of effort towards
working together in dealing with their parental concerns.
These issues suggest that joint custody may offer a solution
to many of the problems arising from using social role
definitions for determining custody. However, Ilfeld et al.
(1982) and Frankel (1985) stated that their results might
have been due to a sample bias in that joint custody may
have been awarded primarily to families with less overall
conflict. This limitation, in fact, probably is present for
a large number of the studies on post-divorce family
relationships as samples have consisted of primarily middle-
class families who are recruited through advertisements.
Despite its benefits, joint custody also reguires
several concessions on the part of the parents before it can
be used effectively (Derdeyn & Scott, 1984). Parents must
be willing to decide together what is best for their
children and to live close enough to one another so that
they can both maintain frequent contact with the children.
Joint custody, then, is not the total solution to the
problems of custody adjudication.
In many cases where joint custody has been awarded,
parents may find it difficult to work out visitation rights
and economic responsibilities together. Even more


13
critically, when parental conflict is high, each episode of
visitation or decision-making may subject a child to
repeated psychological trauma. In some cases, parents may
resort to relitigation: at this time the courts re-evaluate
whether joint custody is in the best interests of the child
as well as addressing other specific issues.
Consequently, even under joint custody and with the
establishment of the "best interests of the child" doctrine,
the child's welfare depends upon sensitive judicial
decision-making. Examination of the factors which may best
support the post-divorce adjustment of children could have
important implications for the courts' decision-making
processes. The remainder of this paper compares current
legal guidelines for custody determinations in terms of
their congruence with empirical studies of children's
post-divorce adjustment.
Legal Guidelines for Custody Determinations
States presently provide some general criteria in
adjudicating custody disputes, but there are very few
specifically defined legal guidelines to aid judges in
decision-making, and even fewer that are known to influence
directly the future development of these children. In
Florida, the courts follow the "best interest of the child"
doctrine, and shared parental responsibility is assumed
unless determined detrimental to the child because of a
parent's unfitness (Joint Legislative Management Committee,


14
1985). A parent can be considered unfit as a caretaker due
to a past major felony conviction, spousal or child abuse,
psychological instability, or a history of not caring for
his or her children. If joint custody is rejected as the
custody arrangement, then one parent is given full
responsibility for raising the children after a divorce
through an award of sole custody.
To date in Florida nine factors have been identified by
the state as important in adjudicating custody disputes to
determine both the type of custody, and who will be the
primary residential caretaker if joint custody is chosen.
In section three, chapter 61.13 of the Florida Statutes
(Joint Legislative Management Committee, 1985) the
guidelines are as follows: (a) the parent who is more
likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact
with the nonresidential parent; (b) the love, affection, and
other emotional ties existing between the parents and the
child; (c) the capacity and disposition of the parents to
provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other
remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of
this state in lieu of medical care, and other material
needs; (d) the length of time the child has lived in a
stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of
maintaining continuity; (e) the permanence, as a family
unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home; (f) the
moral fitness of the parents; (g) the mental and physical


15
health of the parents; (h) the home, school, and community
record of the child; and (i) the reasonable preference of
the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient
intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a
preference.
While these criteria offer some guidelines on what
issues to consider, the standards for determining when a
problem exists under one criterion are still quite vague.
There remains the question of assessing when one of these
criteria has been sufficiently satisfied to declare a parent
unfit. Keenan (1985), for example, argues that when proof
of abuse is not present, a parent alleging the abuse may be
refused custody because of appearing uncooperative or
emotionally unstable to the court. The criteria established
by the state legislatures then do not provide clear guidance
in determining parental fitness. Furthermore, it even may
be argued that no support is offered regarding how to
evaluate those issues.
Similarly, when both parents are considered equally
fit, there remains the issue of judging which of the above
criteria take precedence over others if primary physical
residence is to be awarded. If one parent has predominantly
cared for the children during the marriage while the other
has provided for its economic needs, then a judge must
determine if economic capacity to care for the child is more
or less important for the best interests of the child then


16
maintaining the consistency in the care giving environment
of the child (Trudrung-Taylor, 1986). Again, a judge is not
given guidelines upon which an evaluation of state statute
guidelines can be based. Additionally, it can appear to
families that the judge is biased against one parental role
no matter which criteria is given the deciding weight
(Trudrung-Taylor, 1986).
A third issue relevant to custody determinations for
which few guidelines are offered centers on how to evaluate
when a previously awarded custody arrangement needs to be
modified. A modification of child custody or visitation
orders are generally justified only if there has been some
"substantial change" of circumstances since the initial
award of custody and only if the modification is in the best
interests of the child (Price, 1983). Changes in custody or
primary physical residence, for example, might be based on
such issues as voluntary relinquishment of custody or on
some event that proves a parent is unfit (e.g.,
substantiated physical abuse of the child). Visitation, on
the other hand, might be modified if a previous arrangement
has become unworkable or if one parent has moved (Price,
1983).
While these general standards provide some guidelines
upon which to base a modification, what a judge considers
sufficient to award a modification varies greatly from judge
to judge. In fact, a judge may not even identify what


17
factor was considered important in his determination, but
rather list all issues he considered in a given case without
indicating how they were used. Thus, a fact considered
important in one case might not be important at all in
another case (Price, 1983). Consequently, the discretion of
the judge remains paramount over any statement by state
statutes or court precedence in the decision-making process.
In addition to the lack of specificity of these
guidelines, there are some issues common to custody cases
for which no guidelines are offered. Judges are left with
only court precedence, which is often equivocal, in
considering these issues. One such issue, defined as
kidnapping, occurs when one parent takes and holds the
children so that the other parent cannot gain access to
them. While many people have described the traumatic effect
of this event (e.g., Green, 1985), judges may not interpret
kidnapping as sufficient grounds to declare a parent unfit.
Even when it is illegal, a judge may not consider this issue
when determining which parent will be awarded primary
physical residence (Green, 1985).
A similar issue for which no guidelines have been
offered, though its relevance to custody decision-making is
unquestioned, is when a parent motions the court to allow
him or her to move out of the state and take the children
along (Quinn, 1986). Allowing a parent to move presents
some problems for divorce families, as it effectively limits


18
the other parent's contact with the children. In Florida,
it is generally accepted according to court precedence that
the moving spouse must show that the move a) will provide
"substantial changes" to the family issues upon which an
initial custody arrangement has been based, and b) be in the
best interest of the child before it will be allowed (Quinn,
1986). While the above standard provides some accepted
guidelines for judges, the issue of what constitutes
"substantial change" remains sufficiently vague. In fact,
in very similar cases judges may decide to allow a move in
one case but not in another. For these issues where no
state statutes are available, judges are offered only
general precedence that may not provide any guidelines upon
which to base their determinations.
This lack of information and guidance forces judges to
continue to depend upon their own views of the family's
roles and structure to evaluate where the best interests of
the child lies. Though some guidelines and court
precedences are available, they do not provide sufficient
support upon which to base decisions of how to use those
guidelines. Furthermore, no information is provided on how
to combine different components of custody arrangements,
such as visitation, financial responsibilities, and child
care to deal with the characteristics of families.
Empirical studies examining the factors associated with
children's post-divorce adjustment could be used to aid in


19
the determination of custody and primary physical residence.
Research could offer some more specific information on how
the variables discussed previously relate to post-divorce
child adjustment, and thus present some empirical support
for what constitutes the best interest of the children.
Research could also suggest when specific custody
arrangements are clearly contraindicated, such as joint
custody when the parents are extremely hostile towards one
another. It would then be the task of the court to
determine how these findings would apply to specific cases.
The recent advent of joint custody and other new types
of custody as options for judges and the inclusion of some
specific criteria in state statutes suggests that there
already has been some progression in judicial
decision-making away from a simple bias for one parent.
These changes present a question to those who are searching
for reform in custody decision-making of what judges
currently use. Research on judicial decision-making is
discussed in the next session. What criteria are used by
judges currently will then be compared to research on
post-divorce child adjustment as the next step in helping to
evaluate where the best interest of the child lies.
Judicial Decision-Making
The new custody arrangements established by state
legislatures have been argued as more supportive of the best
interests of the child doctrine than sole custody awarded on


20
the basis of social role expectations. If judges have begun
to use more case specific variables than was previously
common, it can be expected that judges will rely less on a
general preference for the mother as primary custodian.
Pearson and Ring (1981) examined recent custody
determinations in three Colorado counties and found that
mothers received sole custody in 51.5% to 76.3% of the time,
while fathers had only a 15.5% to 32.3% possibility in being
awarded sole custody; split custody, where children are
separated between parents, was awarded between 7.2% to 11.2%
of the time; and joint and third party custody were the
least popular awarded 1.0% to 6.1% of the time. Pearson and
Ring concluded that the father only gained sole custody if
the mother was proven to be unfit due to either mental
problems, remarriage to a husband with a history of abusing
children, or excessive drinking. Furthermore, custody
determinations made use of the new custody arrangements in
only a small number of cases. These results were also
supported by Lowery (1981) and Phear, Beck, Hauser, Clark,
and Whitney (1984).
Felner, Terre, Farber, Primavera, & Bishop (1985) also
suggested that a preference for the mother continues to
exist. Their study interviewed 43 judges; the results of
their study revealed that 42% of the judges endorsed sole
maternal custody as the arrangement of choice when both
parents are considered approximately egually competent as


21
parents. Only 26% of the judges reported that they would
consider joint custody as an option of choice in these
cases, while none endorsed sole paternal custody as an
option that they considered. These findings suggest that
judges have continued to rely highly on the use of social
views of the family, as represented by the tender years
doctrine, to determine sole custody rather than examining
specific case variables.
Felner et al. (1985) found that one reason judges
continued to prefer maternal custody regarded their
estimation of each parent's motivation for obtaining
custody. Two primary motivators described by judges for
fathers included revenge (endorsed by 26% of the judges) and
use of the child as a bargaining tool in financial
arrangements (endorsed by 23% of the judges). In addition,
more fathers than mothers were seen as desiring sole custody
because of spousal incompetence. These results indicate
that fathers still were assumed to be less concerned for
their children then are mothers, except when she is unfit as
a custodian.
While the above studies appear to support the
conclusion that judges continue to rely on a general
preference for the mother as custodian, this may not be the
whole truth. Pearson & Paul (1984) found that custody
awards to mothers often were based upon the issue of the
psychological parent. Goldstein et al. (1973) defined the


22
psychological parent as the one to whom the child has bonded
and with whom the child has been most involved. Since
mothers were the primary caretakers of the children for the
families studied while the parents were married, the award
of custody that best maintained consistency in the child's
emotional environment would be to the mother. A preference
for the mother as custodian may then be supported by
reliance on a specific case variable, the parent who
attended most to the needs of children prior to the divorce.
A more recent study (Racusin, R., Albertini, R.,
Wishik, H., Schnurr, P, & Mayberry, J., 1989) also found
support for the conclusion that judges respond to specific
case factors when determining custody of children. Joint
versus sole custody was awarded significantly more often
when fathers petitioned for it, when mothers and fathers had
greater than 12 years of education, when fathers were over
25 years of age, and when no one in the family received
welfare. Unfortunately, the influence of other factors such
as interparent conflict, parenting skills, or the identity
of the psychological parent was not assessed in this study.
However, at least some case specific variables were
considered by judges.
Another reason to question the finding of general
preferences for one parent is that the above studies did not
include in their samples families where both parents are
fighting for the custody or primary physical residence of


23
their children. Pearson, Munson, and Thoennes (1984) report
that as few as 10-15% of the custody cases brought before
judges may actually involve disputes between the parents.
The large number of maternal sole custody awards may then
include in part a preference for this arrangement by the
divorcing families themselves and not be solely a reflection
of the views of judges.
Clearly, a decision to award a particular custody
arrangement can be made for a variety of reasons.
Consequently, simple frequency counts of custody or primary
physical residence awards to each parent are insufficient to
conclude what issue or issues influenced the court's
decision-making. Furthermore, families often determine
their own custody arrangements. Thus, the frequency of
specific custody awards may evidence common family patterns
as much as judicial preferences or values.
Judicial attitudes towards joint and paternal custody
may also be misrepresented because judges have been
considered as one homogeneous sample. In fact, there may be
a group of judges who consider more case specific variables
than other groups, or different clusters of variables. This
difference would not be evident in judges' attitudes towards
specific criteria if groups of judges are not compared.
Pearson and Ring (1981) compared younger to older judges and
found that while older judges continue to support a
preference for maternal sole custody, younger judges


24
focussed more on parental motives and the relationships
between the parents and children. Consequently, the
preference for the mother described above may be an
overestimation of judges' views in general.
However, Sorensen and Goldman (1989) found that there
were no discriminable groups of judges based on importance
ratings of specific criteria. While there was a large range
of variation in the importance ratings of criteria, there
did not appear to be distinct groups of judges who placed
more weight on some criteria than other groups. While this
finding does not indicate if young judges differ from older
judges on the use of the tender years presumption, it does
suggest that there is equal variability among young and old
judges in their evaluation of specific criteria.
While the above studies show that some specific case
variables are being considered by judges, they do not
specifically identify the relative amount of weight placed
on these and other criteria by judges. In an effort to
accomplish this task, several researchers have surveyed
judges requesting that they rate importance level for
individual criteria. Though limited in number, these
studies have suggested a continued reliance on the mother as
primary care giver though some specific criteria have been
identified as important to judges in their decision-making.
In addition to the issue of the psychological parent,
Pearson and Paul (1984) also found that children's wishes,


25
Guardian Ad Litem personnel recommendations, court ordered
investigations, and statements made by the parents
concerning their reason for seeking sole custody were used
in determining custody arrangements. And, though some
judges considered the input of mental health professionals,
determination of sole custody was not necessarily based on
following their recommendations.
Felner et al. (1985), Settle and Lowery (1982),
Sorensen and Goldman (1989), and Lowery (1981) all found
that specific factors were used in determining physical
custody without a strong preference for the mother.
Specific criteria in these studies that were most important
to judges in their decision-making included the emotional
stability of the parents, their ability to and concern for
providing care for the children, the amount of time they had
available for the children, the stability of the child's
living arrangements, the moral character of the parents, and
the parents affection for the children. Several other
factors were also identified as important, though somewhat
less important than the above issues. These factors
included the financial resources of the family, interparent
conflict, biological relationship of the parents and
children, the length of time each parent has had custody,
the parents' ability to provide contact with other
relatives, school, and other children of about the same age,
the child's wishes, and placing the child with the same sex


26
parent. Thus, judges do not appear to rely on a general
rule such as the tender years presumption.
Another factor that may be considered important to
judges is the effect of mental health experts' evaluations
of parents on custody determinations. Lowery (1981) found
that the level of importance rated by judges for their
consideration of psychologists' and psychiatrists'
evaluations of parents was high, averaging 7.56 on a scale
of 1 to 11. However, this finding was not supported by
Felner et al. (1985), as only 7% of the 43 judges sampled
considered mental health recommendations as important in
decision-making. Ash & Guyer (1984) also found that while
judges may utilize psychological evaluations of parents and
children, they considered other criteria more important than
mental health experts' evaluations.
The studies listed above have consistently found that
judges as a whole rate some criteria as having more
importance in their determination of custody than other
items. Thus, there is some general agreement among judges
about the relative importance of different groups of
criteria. It is important to note, however, that no
criteria have been identified yet that either override all
other criteria or are completely disregarded (Felner et al.,
1985; Lowery, 1981; Settle and Lowery, 1982; Sorensen &
Goldman, 1989). In fact, many items are rated as having
similar degrees of importance, suggesting that judges


27
consider a large number of issues in their decision-making
and are influenced by many case specific issues.
Although there were identifiable differences between
items in the amount of importance given to them by judges as
a whole, ratings also evidenced marked variability between
judges in the weight given to individual variables. Judges
did not make use of the criteria in a highly consistent
fashion (Sorensen & Goldman, 1989). Thus, judges continue
to differ in their evaluation of the relative importance of
specific criteria and to rely on their own evaluations when
weighing the many custody issues. These results suggest
that though a number of specific criteria likely to be used
by judges can be identified, how each of these items will
impact the decision-making process can not be predetermined.
The large variability in the importance ratings made by
judges make it difficult to describe judicial
decision-making in general.
The difficulty in describing generally judicial
decision-making may follow from several reasons other than a
simple difference between judges. One large reason is
simply that decision-making differs from state to state and
the studies that examine this process assess only one state
at a time. How decision-making changes from state to state,
and even the specific characteristics of decision-making
within a state remain unclear. Racusin, Albertini, Wishik,
Schnurr, and Mayberry (1989) did find that custody awards


28
differed among two states in accordance with the predominant
legal presumption of each state. Additionally, since there
were no studies on judicial decision-making in custody cases
prior to the advent of joint custody, it is impossible to
describe what changes have occurred since that time.
Consequently, a ranking of their relative importance in
decision-making in general may be impossible.
It is possible, however, to say that the courts and
legislature have responded to issues raised by legal and
other professionals regarding the importance of specific
case factors. For example, joint custody has been offered
as a custody arrangement that allows both parents to be
involved in the growth and development of their children
following a divorce. Similarly, some specific criteria have
been defined in state statutes, and clearly judges are
making use of these guidelines in their evaluation of
custody, at least by their own report. These events support
the conclusion of a continued concern about children and a
willingness to respond to information regarding what
constitutes the best interests of the child.
After identifying some of the criteria that judges use
in determining what constitutes the best interest of the
children following a divorce, it is important to recognize
how consistent these criteria are with literature on
post-divorce child adjustment. A comparison between these


29
two bodies of literature may help further delineate where
the best interests of the child lie.
Development of Children Following Divorce
To date, research on the factors that influence the
development of children after divorce has followed several
paths, the most common of which is the comparison of
divorced to intact families (Glover, 1989; Pfeffer, 1981;
Pringle, 1975; Roman & Haddad, 1978; Rothberg, B., 1983;
Shybunko, 1989; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980; Warshak &
Santrock, 1983). The specific issues examined by these
studies have included the differences between parent-child
interactions, parent-to-parent interactions, school
achievement for the children, social adjustment, and
demographic differences between the two groups. Other
studies examining post-divorce child adjustment have also
assessed the influences of external support structures, life
events, relations between children and each of the parents,
parental style, parenting skills, working versus nonworking
parents, amount of conflict between the parents, and the
amount of time parents spend with their children (Hess &
Camara, 1979; Isaacs, 1988; Kline et al., 1989; Kurdek,
1988; Santrock & Warshak, 1979; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980;
Walsh & Stolberg, 1989). Research has also examined the
differences between families in which mothers as compared to
fathers are the post-divorce single parent (Adams, Milner, &
Schrepf, 1984; Lamb, Pleck, & Levine, 1985).


30
It must be noted, however, that for most of the issues
listed above the vast majority of families studied have
included only a maternal sole custody arrangement, and
interviews have been the primary method of data collection.
Additionally, families studied are often middle class, and
their custody arrangements have been constructed and agreed
upon by both parents. These limitations in the research
make the evaluation of paternal care and its effect on
children difficult, and a clear statement of how the
elements of family structure result in stable growth for
children after divorce remains impossible. However, some
more recent research has involved the use of standardized
measures in the evaluation of child adjustment (Glover,
1989; Kline et al., 1989; Shybunko, 1989; Walsh & Stolberg,
1989). These studies have examined the effect of many
family and situational variables on the emotional adjustment
of children. While the more recent studies provide further
support for the validity of the findings on post-divorce
child adjustment, the following literature must be
interpreted with some caution.
Parental Characteristics
Felner's review of the literature on children of
divorced families (1987) and more recent research has
supported the conclusion that parental variables are the
greatest predictor of child development and general
emotional adjustment following a divorce. In particular,


31
the most salient predictors of general child adjustment
identified have included interparent conflict, the quality
of the parent-child relationship, the degree of instability
in the child's daily life, the emotional well being of the
parents, the level of parenting skill, and the degree of
economic stress present.
Of these factors, parental conflict emerged as a very
strong predictor of child adjustment, even two years after
parental divorce (Felner, 1987; Kline et al., 1989; Kurdek,
1988). However, hostility tends to decrease over time, at
least for low conflict couples, and thus becomes a less
effective predictor of child adjustment by five years post
divorce (Walsh & Stolberg, 1989). Part of the impact of
interparental hostility on child adjustment may be effected
through its negative influence on caretakers' parenting
skills (Walsh & Stolberg, 1989). The relationship between
parental hostility and child adjustment has also been found
outside of divorced families. Stolberg, Camplair, Currier,
& Wells (1987) found that marital hostility was highly
related the number and severity of internalizing and
externalizing behavior problems, lower self-esteem and lower
prosocial behavior. Parental hostility appears to be a very
salient factor in predicting child adjustment generally,
further supporting the importance of examining this factor
when dealing with divorcing families.


32
Another important predictor of child development
includes the style of parenting within a family. Several
researchers found that authoritative (as opposed to
authoritarian) interaction which allows for verbal give and
take, warmth, and nonpunitive and consistent rule
enforcement were positively correlated with healthy peer
interactions, decreased aggression, improved relations with
parents, and improved attitudes towards school (Hess &
Camara, 1979; Santrock & Warshak, 1979; Wallerstein & Kelly,
1980; and Warshak and Santrock, 1983). Similarly, parenting
skills have also been found to be influential in post
divorce child adjustment (Walsh & Stolberg, 1989). These
findings remained consistent regardless of which parent held
sole custody.
Another consistent and important predictor of post
divorce child adjustment is maternal emotional adjustment.
(The effect of paternal emotional adjustment has not been
evaluated in part due to the infrequency of this
arrangement.) Kurdek (1988) and Kline et al. (1989) both
found a strong relationship between child behavior problems
and maternal mental health at one- and two-year follow-ups
respectively. Because parental mental health can impact
many aspects of the parent-child relationship, its influence
on child adjustment has probably been evident in a variety
of other studies that examine parent-child relationships.


33
In any case, the potential impact of this variable on child
adjustment is obvious and should thus be measured directly.
Social support or isolation has been studied
extensively in the literature regarding family problems. In
a review of the literature, Wood (1984) and Mitchell and
Trickett (1980) reported that symptomatology and self-esteem
are related to social support and social networks, and that
interpersonal conflict can mediate whether experiences are
supportive or stress inducing. These researchers suggest
that social support and social networks may be important
variables in mediating the impact of stressful experiences,
of which parental divorce is clearly one. The positive
effect of parental social support on children has been shown
in research on divorced families as well. Kurdek (1988)
found that at one year post-divorce follow-up, child
adjustment as evidenced by a limited number of behavior
problems, was predicted by a high degree of parental social
support. This study offers further support for the
importance of this variable to child adjustment. However,
it has been given little importance by judges in determining
custody arrangements (Lowery, 1981).
In contrast to the consistent similarities of effects
resulting from maternal and paternal sole custody, Warshak
and Santrock (1983) reported that the father's use of social
support networks increased and that the mother's standard of
living decreased after separation. This effect could result


34
from the different role expectations for mothers and fathers
and not be indicative of the parenting skills of mothers and
fathers (Warshak & Santrock, 1983). While the source of
this finding remains unknown, it clearly suggests that there
is a difference between maternal and paternal custody at
least in how the arrangements affects the families' lives.
Parent-Child Relationships
The most important variable found in predicting a
child's ability to interact warmly with peers and cope with
stress is the post-divorce parent-child relationship
(Felner, 1987; Hess & Camara, 1979; Santrock & Warshak,
1979; Shybunko, 1989). Some of studies evaluating this
issue have used structured observations of parent and child
behavior and independent raters. Santrock and Warshak
(1979) reported that boys having good relationships with
their fathers behaved more maturely and warmly, while those
having good relations with their mothers expressed better
self esteem. Girls showed a similar difference in their
behavior, demonstrating more self esteem and social
competence when relations with the mother were positive.
Relationships with each parent provided unique benefits to
child in social adjustment, with better adjustment being
related to free access to the noncustodial parent.
Hess and Camara (1979) also found that the best
predictor of positive social development and effective
coping behaviors in children following a divorce was the


35
quality of parent-child interactions, even over parental
disharmony. School work improved while aggressive behavior
and stress decreased when parent-child relationships were
largely devoid of conflict. Furthermore, children were more
likely to exhibit effective coping behaviors when both
parents maintained a positive relationship with them
following the divorce. In fact, the quality of a child's
relationship with each parent did not correlate
significantly. In other words, Hess and Camara (1979) found
that the child's involvement with each parent individually
after divorce is differentially related to a child's social
behavior.
More recent research using standardized measures have
also evidenced the relationship between child adjustment and
the relationship with the noncustodial parent. Shybunko
(1989) found that in mother physical custody positive
father-child relationships post-divorce predicted child
social competence. Furthermore, Isaacs (1988) concluded
that the regularity of visits between fathers and children
buffered the child from interparent hostility. These
findings were consistent for joint custody and sole custody,
suggesting the greater influence of the child's relationship
to the noncustodial parent over the legal custody
arrangement.
Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) followed 60 families after
divorce, in part to describe the differential importance of


36
mother-child versus father-child relationships. The
mother-child relationship affected the level of stress in
the family, while the father-child interaction was most
important for adolescent development in both boys and girls.
They also found that if the father remarried, his
relationship with his children suffered. However, if the
mother remarried, the only change in the family was a
reduced level of stress for her.
The above studies suggest that post-divorce child
adjustment is more dependent on the quality of each
parent-child relationship, interparent conflict, and the
stability of the child's environment regardless of the
custody arrangement than maintaining a consistent contact
with one particular parent. In fact, none of the above
researchers have been able to find any consistent
differences in children's behaviors not explained by these
variables (Adams et al., 1984; Hess & Camara, 1979; Kline et
al., 1989; Santrock & Warshak, 1979; Shybunko, 1989). More
specifically, children's behavior were not found to be
related to parental employment status (Santrock & Warshak,
1979), or the number of visits made by a noncustodial
parent, when controlling for the duration of those visits
(Hess & Camara, 1979).
A preference for the mother or father as a single
custodian or the preferred primary residential custodian is
thus not supported by the above findings. Instead, these


37
studies suggest that the specific case variables of parental
conflict, parent-child relationships, and the style of
parenting will be most predictive of the child's adjustment
and hence most indicative of the best interests of the child
following a divorce. Furthermore, each of these variables
needs to be considered when attempting to predict child
adjustment, as they are all interrelated and influential.
Because of the limitations in the research cited above,
further research must be conducted to clarify which
variables are most important in predicting children's
post-divorce adjustment and how best to measure these
variables. Unfortunately, most of the articles already
published in this area have examined only small groups of
low conflict families, have only sampled one socio-economic
level, and have not matched samples for age of children or
parents, length of separation, or number of siblings.
Therefore, the effect of the variables studied on child
behavior may be exaggerated due the lack of consideration
for the above problems. Similarly, the proliferation of
position papers, which only describe an individual's
personal beliefs, add little to the fund of information
(e.g., Mnookin, 1975). Without the consideration of each
variable and its influence on behavior across a reasonably
large sample, results from research cannot be generalized to
other families.


38
There also remain several specific variables that have
not been examined in the literature with regard to their
influence on the normal development of children after
divorce, though they have been identified by judges as
important in the decision-making. The effect of remarriage,
for example, has only been given casual attention in the
literature on post-divorce child adjustment, though it has
been assumed by some judges to increase the consistency of a
child's environment and to fill the needs left by the
noncustodial parent (Sager et al., 1980). Wallerstein and
Kelly (1980) did state that the only benefit of remarriage
was to reduce maternal stress and that several problems
commonly occur in the families they studied that
counteracted this benefit. For instance, they found that
children feared the step-father would try to take the place
of their biological father and that divorce occurred more
often in the second versus first marriages. While this
study suggests that remarriage has less impact on the
children than the other variables discussed, only interview
data and maternal sole custody families have been used to
draw this conclusion. Further research is necessary to
delimit the effect of remarriage on several different types
of custody arrangements.
Another general issue that has also been considered by
judges as somewhat important in their decision-making but
has not been examined relevant to post-divorce child


39
adjustment is the moral influence of a parent upon children.
The issue of a custodial parent's sexual preference (homo-
versus heterosexual) is one example (Pagelow, 1980). Judges
also have considered several other variables that relate to
the moral influence of parents as well (Felner, 1987; Felner
et al., 1985). Furthermore, variables such as criminal
convictions, religious involvement, and the influence of
mental health experts have not even been addressed in
literature studying the factors that might influence a
child's development. Consequently, these variables and
their importance in predicting the post-divorce adjustment
of children need further evaluation.
In summary, present research supports increasing the
specificity of current legal guidelines over the simple
reliance on one type of custody arrangement. Though some
specific guidelines have been established and joint custody
has become more common following the recognition of the
importance of both parents to the child's adjustment, state
statutes remain incomplete and globally stated. The
statutes do not specify how to evaluate when one or both
parents are unfit as custodians or when to adjudicate a
different custody arrangement than joint custody.
Consequently, judges are still left to depend upon their own
perceptions of what variables affect children and upon court
precedence in following the statutes. As legal precedents
are further delineated, there will probably be a decreased


40
reliance on the use of simple social role definitions in
determining who will care for children. As judges become
more aware of social factors and modify their decision
making regarding custody determinations, post-divorce child
adjustment can be further facilitated.
Further analysis of criteria defined by state statutes
and social science research will be important in
facilitating the shift to the use of specific criteria that
have been identified as important in promoting healthy
development for children after divorce. Further research
also is required to clarify these present findings.
Criteria based upon many specific variables that both
describe the family's characteristics and predict the future
development of the children could be developed that would
help delineate what custody arrangements best support the
child's interests. It is the authors' hope that a continued
relationship between social scientists, legislatures, and
court personnel will lead to improvements and further
specification of the decision process involved in supporting
the best interests of children.
Specific Aims
Previous research in the area of judicial
decision-making with regards to where a child will reside
following parental divorce has followed primarily one
methodology, asking judges to rate the importance of
specific criteria or asking lawyers what criteria they


41
believe judges use (e.g., Felner et al., 1985; Lowery, 1981;
Pearson & Ring, 1981; Sorensen & Goldman, 1989). While
these studies have offered some explanation of how the
physical residence of post-divorce children is determined,
they offer only general statements concerning the importance
of specific issues. These studies have only examined
ratings of the importance of criteria in general, rather
than in terms of specific types of cases. Additionally,
judges and lawyers may or may not be able to identify their
decision-making process clearly, and there is always the
potential for bias towards the socially desired response in
self report studies.
The purpose of the present study was to examine
judicial decision-making from the vantage point of
predicting individual case outcomes from the information
available to judges during court hearings. The importance
of each specific variable relative to all other information
collected was evaluated. The results of these analyses were
then compared with previous literature on judicial
decision-making regarding custody determinations, on child
adjustment following parental divorce, and with the Florida
legal statutes regarding custody determinations. Additional
comparisons were made of case outcomes from rural versus
urban and northern versus southern settings in order to
evaluate the dissimilarity in how custody is awarded within
different parts of the state. A secondary aim of this study


42
was to describe the characteristics of the families that get
referred to the Guardian Ad Litem.
Since this study is the first attempt at combining
research on judicial decision-making and post-divorce child
adjustment through an examination of case records, a
detailed analysis of the many specific issue relevant to
these cases could not be undertaken at the present time.
Rather, this project collected data covering a very large
range of psychological and sociological issues generally and
their interrelationships. The purpose of this project,
then, was to identify which of these sociological and
psychological issues are highly predictive of case outcomes.
Future research can make use of the findings from this
project to perform more detailed analyses on the specific
variables identified as important.
Hypotheses
The literature on judicial decision-making and state
statutes regarding custody determinations suggest that the
present study should result in several findings. One
hypothesis was that judges will continue to rely, at least
in part, on a general preference for the mother as
residential custodian over the father regardless of some
specific case variables. It also was expected that this
preference for the mother will be stronger for children
under 12 years of age.


43
A second hypothesis was that there would be a few
issues that have a strong influence on judges7
decision-making in that these variables can determine if a
parent will be considered unfit as a custodian of the child.
It was expected that these issues would include
substantiated drug use, child or spousal physical,
emotional, or sexual abuse and neglect, emotional stability
of the parents, having kidnapped the child previously, and
parental handicaps. Similarly, it was expected that several
variables would have little importance relative to the above
issues. These variables were expected to include parental
education, employment, income and age, willingness to allow
visitation by the noncustodial parent, allegations only of
child or spousal abuse or neglect, alcohol or drug abuse,
child's wishes, placing the child with the same sex parent,
and having more time available for the children.


METHODS
Subjects
The subjects for this study were 60 families referred
to Florida's Guardian Ad Litem program (GAL) due to
involvement in contested custody disputes. In each of these
cases court intervention was necessitated because the
parties were unable to reach an agreement concerning the
custody of their child(ren). Data was not collected on any
cases resolved through mediation only. Families were
referred to the GAL by lawyers, judges, and family members.
These cases were adjudicated between September, 1988 and
October, 1990. A description of the GAL program is
contained in the procedures section of this document.
Of the sixty cases, 44% involved marital dissolution
and initial custody determinations, while 56% involved a
modification of one or more components of a previous custody
arrangements. Within the group of cases seeking a
modification, 20% involved a visitation modification, 85% a
residence modification, and 9% some other type of
modification (e.g., child support payments). In 58% of the
cases filing for a modification of a previous custody
arrangement, one or both of the parents had remarried.
44


45
Approximately two-thirds of the cases were referred to
circuits serving large metropolitan areas including Miami,
Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, and Gainesville. The
remainder of the cases were referred to a other circuits
that serve a number of urban and rural counties, but only
three cases involved families living in rural counties. The
sample was distributed over the state approximately egually,
with 61% from counties parallel to or north of Orlando and
39% from counties south of Orlando.
The families involved in these cases were predominantly
Caucasian (85%), although five were Black, one was Hispanic,
and three were of mixed race. Almost all of the families
included a child under the age of 12 (92%). The average age
of the children was 7.4, with a range from less than one
year to 20 years. About half of the families had only one
child (48%). There were approximately equal numbers of male
and female children in the sample. Demographic information
on the parents (see Table 1) indicates that the parents were
generally in their 30s and had little more than a high
school education. Mothers and step-mothers were frequently
unemployed and seldom earned more than $10,000 a year, while
fathers and step-fathers often held skilled jobs earning in
excess of $20,000. Only 18% of the families had a parent
who earned more than $30,000 a year. Additionally, one or
both parents has recently lost a job in 37% of the families.


46
TABLE 1
Demographic Characteristics of the Parents
Parent
Step-
Step-
Variable
Mother
Father
Mother
Father
Percent
Single Parents
85
75


Average
Age
31.3
34.8
32.3
39.6
Average
Years of Education
12.3
13.3
13.3
13.7
Average
Yearly Income*
8.4
26.5
6.9
23.7
Percent Unemployed
29
3
29
0
Percent
Unskilled Labor
51
45
36
33
Percent
Skilled Labor
12
30
21
67
Percent
Professionals
8
22
14
0
* In units of $1000


47
Due to the large number of custody cases brought to the
courts each year and the scarcity of the GAL workers, it is
assumed that the cases referred to the GAL have a greater
than average level of family problems, most notably familial
conflict, when compared with the general population of
divorce cases.
Measures
A guestionnaire was developed which included a total of
61 items (see Appendix). These items were derived from
previous research on judicial decision-making in custody
cases, literature on post-divorce child adjustment, and the
Florida statutes regarding custody determinations. Of these
items, 8 reguired the GAL representative to rate one or more
family members on a specific issue and to report their
confidence in making those ratings. (All ratings were made
on graphic scales and measured to generate a value from 1-
99.) There were also 2 questions which required the
guardian to make a judgement about which caretaker provided
for the children's needs. In addition to the ratings, there
were 10 items requiring a simple endorsement of the presence
or absence of specific problems made in a given case. The
remaining 41 questions required a simple report of
demographic and case information. Additionally, a variable
reflecting fitness of each parent was created with reference
to legal criteria in the Florida Statutes (Joint Legislative
Management Committee, 1985). These state that substantiated


48
child abuse/neglect or spouse abuse defines a parent as
unfit.
Completion of this questionnaire required guardians to
evaluate many different characteristics of the family based
upon the data they collect during their interviews with
family members. This process of forming impressions about
families is also a central part of the Guardian Ad Litem's
court appointed role in custody cases. In order to evaluate
the stability both over time and across raters of the
ratings recorded on the questionnaire used in this study, a
pilot study was conducted.
Due to the large demand for the small number of
guardians working on custody cases and the sensitivity of
the material collected by the guardians, it was not possible
to generate reliability data using actual cases.
Consequently, a video tape of a mock interview between a
guardian and a family was developed. There are four
separate interviews included on this video tape, one with
the child alone, one with each parent individually, and one
with the all family members present. This video tape was
shown twice to a group of 19 experienced guardians who have
been assigned to at least one custody case previously, with
a two week interview between viewings. The video tape was
also shown to a group of 20 clinical psychologists licensed
in the state of Florida.


49
During each of these viewings, subjects completed the
section of the questionnaire that requires making
evaluations of family members. Of the 8 questions that
involve some rating on the family, 5 require separate
ratings for each parent's relationship with the child(ren).
All questions require separate ratings on the issue and the
person's confidence in the ratings. Consequently, 26 rating
variables were generated as part of this pilot study. The 2
questions which required the rater to make a judgement about
which caretaker provided for the children's needs were also
included in this pilot study.
Test-retest reliability was generated by calculating
the Pearson Product Moment correlation between each of the
guardian's ratings made after the first and second viewings.
Of the 26 correlations, 22 were significant at the .05
probability level or better, with 15 of those significant at
the .01 probability level or better. Of those 22, the mean
r (19) was .66, with a range from .46-.92. These results
suggest that there is moderate to good stability over time
for these 22 ratings.
Unfortunately, the relationship between the ratings
made during the first and second viewing on some of the
questions did not generate significant test-retest
correlations. These questions included the father's warm
feelings for the children, how hostile the mother was to the
interviewer, and the satisfaction with social support for


50
father. Ratings of the confidence guardians had in their
ratings of the mother's warm feelings for the children also
did not demonstrate significant test-retest correlations.
While a nonsignificant test-retest correlation suggests
that subjects' impressions of these issues change over time,
it does not provide any information either on the degree of
difference between the ratings or on any possible trend
within the ratings. In order to further examine how
dissimilar guardians' ratings on these variables were across
the two viewings, matched t-tests were calculated. None of
these variables exhibited a difference between the first and
second ratings, even at the .2 level of significance.
Consequently, there does not appear to be a large difference
between the ratings made across the two viewings.
Similarly, there was no evidence on any question of a
general trend for the rating made during the first viewing
to be consistently higher or lower than the one made during
the second viewing.
The test-retest stability for the two variables
requiring the guardian to determine which parent primarily
provided for the physical and emotional needs of the
children was calculated using a chi-square analysis and
percent agreement. Regarding physical needs, the same
parent was identified by 82% of the guardians across
viewings, indicating a significant reliability, X2 (1,17) =
5.24, p<.05. Identification of the parent providing for the


51
child's emotional needs was even more stable, (1,17) =
18.00, pc.001, as 100% of the guardians identified the same
parent after the two viewings.
There remain several possible reasons why ratings made
during each of the viewings on these questions did not
demonstrate significant relationships. One possible
explanation is that there was insufficient variability in
the distribution of ratings made on these questions to allow
the Pearson Product Moment Correlation to calculate a
relationship. This possibility was evaluated by examining
the variance of ratings on these questions. None of the
distributions of ratings on these questions appeared
excessively limited, suggesting that variance was not an
explanation of the poor test-retest correlations.
A second possible reason why a relationship between the
ratings was not demonstrated is that guardians had
insufficient information on these issues to generate a
specific impression of the family and thus responded more
randomly to these items. It was assumed that guardians
would report low confidence in their ratings on a question
when they had little information on that topic.
Consequently, if low reliability was due to a lack of
information, there would be a relationship between
confidence ratings and the value of the test-retest
reliability estimate. Due to the small sample size and to
the fact that the reliability estimates were not normally


52
distributed, a Spearman Rank correlation was used to assess
the relationship between these variables. Results indicate
a significant positive relationship between these variables,
rs (11) = .54, p<.01.
A third possible reason why stability over time was not
demonstrated for some ratings is that guardians' impressions
may be changing as they consider the information on the
family a second time. In fact, information salient to
guardians during the first viewing of the tape may not be
considered as important during the second viewing.
Unfortunately, information on how guardians form their
impressions of families is not available at this time. Thus
further statements about why these particular ratings do not
remain stable can not be made.
In general when the stability of a variable can not be
demonstrated, that variable is dropped from further
analyses. In this case, however, that course of action was
not taken because regardless of the stability of guardian's
impressions, these impressions are being reported to the
court in custody cases. Consequently, the ratings need to
be included in the analyses in order to evaluate their
relative influence in the judges' decision-making process.
Our findings of low test-retest reliability do indicate that
further study is necessary in order to evaluate why
guardians' ratings change over time.


53
In addition to evaluating the stability of guardians'
ratings over time, we also assessed the consistency in
ratings across raters. Viewers only rated one interview.
Conseguently, it was not possible to calculate interrater
reliability of these guestions using the standard procedure
of comparing a few raters across a series of ratings.
However, it was possible to examine the similarity of
ratings made across evaluators on individual guestions by
examining the degree of variation within the distribution of
ratings. The coefficient of variation (CV=Std/M*100) is a
unitless measure of this variation that compares the size of
the mean to the size of the standard deviation. Although
there is no statistical test for the significance of this
value, values less than one hundred are generally considered
to indicate low interrater variability and thus high
consistency in the ratings. Values much greater than one
hundred suggest high interrater variability or poor
reliability between raters.
The values of the coefficient of variation for each
question was calculated for each of the two groups of
subjects, guardians and licensed psychologists, separately.
Guardians' ratings generated following the first viewing
were used. Ratings made by each group were found to have CV
values considerably less than 100 for all questions,
including ratings of confidence. In fact, the average CV
value for the guardians' ratings across questions was 36.32,


54
with a range from 9.59-60.90. The average CV value for the
psychologists' ratings across questions was 31.77, with a
range from 9.97-69.98. These values indicate considerable
similarity in the ratings made by guardians and
psychologists on all questions. We interpreted this high
degree of consistency to indicate that guardians as a group
have similar definitions for the issues queried in the
measure. Psychologists appear to similarly agree with one
another upon the definition of these issues.
In addition to evaluating the level of variation
between ratings made within these groups of subjects, we
also compared the guardians' ratings to those made by
psychologists on each question using t-tests. Results of
these comparisons indicated significant differences between
guardians' ratings and psychologists' ratings on only four
questions. Guardians rated the parents as less conflicted
(M = 65.32) than psychologists (M = 77.95), t (37) = -2.20,
E<.05. However, guardians rated the father-child conflict
as greater (M = 82.89) than psychologists (M = 71.00), t
(37) = 3.46, pc.01. Guardians also rated each parent's
satisfaction with their social supports lower (M = 37.10 for
mothers and 35.21 for fathers) than psychologists (M = 49.90
for mothers and 49.70 for fathers), t (37) = -2.33, p<.01
and t (37) = -2.04, pc.05 respectively. Although the
differences between these ratings were significant, the mean
values do not indicate radical differences between


55
guardians' and psychologists' ratings. Consequently,
guardians and psychologists appear to agree, at least in
general, upon the definition of the issues rated during this
study.
Another question relevant to the use of the ratings is
what exactly are guardians using as concepts when evaluating
the families on the issues queried. For example, to what
are guardians referring when they report a high degree of
conflict within a family? Additionally, what degree of
conflict indicated on the rating form is consistent with a
normal versus clinical cutoff point? These questions are
beyond the scope of this research project. However, we did
attempt have some families complete some previously
validated measures so that we could compare guardians'
ratings to them, but we were unable to generate sufficient
data. Consequently, we will not be able to make statements
from these ratings about what information, other than
guardians' impressions, is being used by the court to form
custody determinations. Consequently, this project will
focus on the impact of guardians' impressions of families on
custody determinations.
Procedures
Data were collected by GAL workers, who are generally
referred to as guardians. The GAL program is a public
agency operated under the direction of the Chief Judge of
the circuit court. The role of the GAL is to serve as an


56
advocate for the child and to provide both information about
the family and a recommendation regarding custody or
dependency to the court. Seven judicial circuits have GAL
programs serving in custody disputes; each of these
participated in the data collection.
The questionnaire was completed by guardians assigned
to each case after the court made its final determination.
The assistance of a supervisor in this process was provided
on occasion. GAL workers had access to all information
available to the court on these cases, except parental
criminal history.
The researchers were not provided with names of family
members or other identifying information; cases were
identified by a research number to protect confidentiality.
Due to the archival nature of the data, the Institutional
Review Board determined that provisions for receiving
informed consent were unnecessary.
Analyses
Statistical Procedures
Much of the data collected for this study described
each individual parent and step-parent in the family
separately. For example, guardians' rated the amount of
conflict between each parent and the children.
Unfortunately, the sample size did not permit us to analyze
the influence of step-parents relative to natural parents on
judicial decision-making. However, we did not want to


57
simply drop the information on step-parents from our
analyses. Consequently, data on the step-parent were
combined with data on the natural parent to whom they were
married. This was achieved in two ways. Ratings made by
guardians were averaged. Reports of abuse or of a parent
taking a child secretly from the other parent were
considered present if they were made on either member of a
natural parent/step-parent pair.
GAL workers provided us with a number of ratings on
family relationship characteristics. In addition to rating
family relationship information, guardians also rated their
confidence in making those ratings. We hypothesized that
guardians confidence would affect their ratings7 influence
on judicial decision-making. This hypothesis was tested by
including confidence ratings as main effects and as
interactions with the ratings in subsequent analyses.
Although we obtained confidence ratings for each
parent/step-parent pair, these ratings were highly related.
Correlations of confidence scores between parental dyads
averaged .80 and ranged from .67 to .93 (all p <.0001). In
order to avoid multicollinearity among these confidence
scores, they were pooled across parental dyads for each
rating.
Although we received information on family relationship
characteristics and confidence for all cases, guardians
often reported only a subset of this information to the


58
court. Because we were using these ratings to predict
judicial decision-making, we needed to identify which
information was provided to the judges in each case. This
was accomplished by using a binary variable that indicated
whether the item was reported as a weighting variable. In
other words, rating scores were multiplied by this weighting
variable before they were included in the analyses. We also
examined whether guardians' decision to report information
on a rating was related to the value of the rating or to
their confidence in making the rating.
In order to determine which variables were predictive
of disposition, multiple logistic regression models were
calculated using the method of maximum likelihood. This
statistical procedure is appropriate when a variety of
discrete and continuous variables are being used to predict
a dichotomous independent variable. The test statistic for
this comparison is called the goodness-of-fit chi-square
(G2). This statistic compares the outcome predicted from a
regression equation with the observed outcome to determine
whether the model fits the data. In contrast to more
conventional analyses, in this procedure small values of the
statistic (or large p-values) indicate significant findings.
This statistic requires no assumptions of multivariate
normality.
In addition to testing the significance of a logistic
regression model, it is also possible to test the


59
significance of individual independent variables. This test
is also based on a chi-square, however interpretation of
this statistic is more conventional. Large chi-square
values (or small p-values) indicate that a variable
significantly improves prediction after all other variables
have been included in the model. Furthermore, the direction
of influence each significant variable exerts on the outcome
variable can be interpreted by the sign of the parameter
estimate. Positive estimate values indicate an increased
likelihood while negative values indicate a decreased
likelihood.
Due to the large number of independent variables
relative to the sample size, it was necessary to calculate a
substantial number of regression equations with a subset of
the independent variables included in each. The procedure
used to select variables for each regression is described
below in the Variable Selection section. After all
variables were included in a model, a backwards stepwise
procedure with replacements was used in order to exclude
variables that failed to improve prediction. The variables
remaining in these models were then combined into larger
models. Subsequent to this, variables that did not improve
prediction were again eliminated from the model in a
backwards stepwise fashion.
One of the consequences of running a large number of
models is an increase in the experimentwise error rate. In


60
order to control for this problem, a conservative criteria
was set for determining whether a variable improved
prediction. Variables were considered significant
predictors only when the overall model goodness-of-fit test
was nonsignificant and the variable chi-square test was
significant.
Before discussing variable selection, one problem in
the analyses must be discussed. Within all of the
regression equations, many of the independent variables were
highly correlated. This problem of multicollinearity
complicated both the analyses and the subsequent
interpretation. Although multicollinearity does not greatly
affect the model goodness-of-fit tests, it does bias
variable chi-squares tests towards nonsignificance.
Consequently, caution was used when excluding nonsignificant
independent variables from a regression model. Variables
that appeared to improve the predictability of the overall
model but did not have significant chi-square values were
retained in the model until the effect of other potentially
related variables could be evaluated.
Variable Selection
The independent variables were grouped into the
following categories: psychological, sociological, and
legal. Psychological variables primarily included items
describing family relationships that have been identified in
the literature as related in particular to post-divorce


61
child adjustment or in general to psychological well-being.
They include items addressing family conflict, social
support, and child(ren)'s emotional and physical needs.
Additionally, information on whether psychological
evaluations or treatment were recommended for any family
member and the parent's response to the guardian were
included in this group.
Variables were labeled sociological if they described
the demographic characteristics of the families. These
included race, occupation, income, education, which parent
had remarried, whether extended family members lived with
the parents, and the number of children in the family.
The final category, termed legal variables, included
items identified either in the Florida Statutes or in legal
journals as relevant to custody determinations. The
following information was included in this group: where the
parents planned to live, the child's wishes, who held
custody following parental separation, the emotional bond
between the parents and children, each parent's capacity to
care for the child(ren), whether any child is of "tender
years", reports of abuse or kidnappings, and the guardian's
recommendations.


RESULTS
Case Characteristics
One of the aims of this project was to describe the
cases referred to the GAL custody program. A description of
these cases should provide some reference points for
interpreting the predictability of judicial decision-making
regarding these families. Table 2 presents information on
the parent/step-parent pairs. Almost all parents are
represented by counsel and plan to live in the state.
Consequently, these issues do not differentiate between
parental dyads, and thus this information can have little
impact on decision-making. In contrast to the above items,
information on who held custody after separation, who
provided for the children's physical and emotional needs
prior to separation, and to a lesser degree who has more
time available to care for the children all point towards
one parent as a preferred caretaker, the mother.
Florida Statutes list likelihood of allowing the child
frequent and continuing contact with the nonresidential
parent as one of the guidelines for custody determinations.
Literature on post divorce child adjustment also support the
importance of continued contact with the nonresidental
parent (Hess & Camara, 1979; Isaacs, 1988; Shybunko, 1989;
Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). In light of these points, the
62


63
TABLE 2
Characteristics of Parent/Step-Parent Pairs*
Mother/
Father/
Step-Father
Step
-Mother
Represented by Counsel
92
93
Plans to Live in Florida
92
95
Provided for the Physical Needs of
the Children Prior to Separation
70
27
Provided for the Emotional Needs of
the Children Prior to Separation
70
32
Held Custody After Separation
73
15
Has More Time for Caretaking than
the Other Parental Pair
54
17
Can Be Labeled Unfit
28
18
Physical Problems Limit Caretaking
12
3
Secretly Taken the Child
18
13
More Willing to Allow the Other
Parental Pair Visitation
33
35
Recently Moved
37
25
* Table values represent percentage
of pairs falling
into
each category.


64
item addressing willingness to allow parental visitation and
that which refers to a parent secretly taking a child from a
custodial parent are of interest. In our sample, concerns
about willingness to allow visitation arose in almost 70% of
the cases while kidnapping occurred in 31% of the cases.
Consequently, willingness to allow contact between the
children and the nonresidential caretaker appears to be an
issue of concern in many of these contested custody cases.
The information in the table also suggests that in a
few cases one or both parents may have limited caretaking
abilities. The difficulty caring for the children may arise
from some physical limitation due to illness, injury, or
handicap. This occurred in very few cases and only one
parent in a family was ever handicapped. Additionally, a
parent may be unfit as a caretaker due to a history of child
abuse/neglect or spousal abuse. Although at least one
parent was determined to be unfit in 40% of the cases, both
parents were unfit in only four cases (6%). Consequently,
these issues clearly discriminated between parental pairs.
Due to the impact abuse and neglect have on children,
further description of our sample with regard to these
issues is warranted. Figure 1 presents the relative
frequencies of the different types of abuse allegations and
substantiated reports. For all types of abuse and neglect,
allegations arose much more frequently than substantiated
reports, especially for sexual and emotional abuse. In


3 100%
Sexual Physical Emotional
Abuse Type
Neglect
Figure 1: Occurrence of Child Abuse and Neglect


66
fact, 83% of the cases included at least one allegation of
abuse or neglect. Surprisingly, in 47% of the cases, these
allegations involved only one parental pair, and thus could
be used to discriminate custodial options for some cases.
With regard to the type of problem, more cases involved
allegations or substantiated reports or emotional abuse than
any other abuse, while physical and sexual abuse were
alleged or substantiated least often. This pattern was not
replicated when substantiated reports are considered alone.
Neglect was substantiated in the largest number of cases,
while sexual abuse occurred least frequently. In addition
to reports of current abuse/neglect, substantiated reports
of previous child abuse/neglect were present in 13% of the
cases. An additional 10% of the cases involved allegations
of previous abuse/neglect.
Reports of spousal physical and emotional abuse were
also prevalent in our sample. Spousal physical abuse was
alleged in 29% of the cases, while spousal emotional abuse
was alleged in 35% of the cases. Substantiated physical and
emotional abuse occurred in 11% and 16% of the cases
respectively.
Reports of alcohol and drug abuse have also been given
attention in literature describing judicial decision-making
and post divorce child adjustment. In our sample,
allegations of substance abuse occurred in 60% of the cases,
while substantiated reports were made in an additional 25%


67
of the cases. Of the cases involving allegations or
substantiated reports of substance abuse, the reports were
made against one parent in 47% of them. Alcohol abuse was
listed as a problem in 52% of the cases, while drug abuse
was reported in 43%. Both were alleged in 37% of the cases.
Reports of alcohol and drug abuse were made approximately
equally against mothers and fathers. These figures indicate
that substance abuse reports are relatively common in these
contested cases.
The number of substantiated reports of abuse/neglect
and the number of parents involved with alcohol or drug
abuse indicate the incidence and degree of psychological
problems within these families. In fact, guardians
recommended treatment for a family member in 60% of the
cases. Additionally, guardians recommended that someone
undergo a mental health evaluation in 49% of the cases.
Evaluations, however, were only completed in 28% of the
cases. The difference in these frequencies are due in part
to the difficulty of getting a parent to consent to the
evaluation for either themselves or their children.
Frequency of Custody Awards and Recommendations
Before describing the result of the regressions, we
will discuss GAL recommendations for custody awards as well
as the actual custody determinations awarded by the court.
This information is reported in Table 3. Consistent with a
presumption for shared custody, this arrangement was awarded


68
TABLE 3
Custody Awards and Recommendations
Final Determinations
Shared Custody with Mother as Primary Custodian
Shared Custody with Father as Primary Custodian
Shared Custody with Split Primary Custody
Maternal Sole Custody
Paternal Sole Custody
Other Custody Arrangement
Guardian Ad Litem Recommendations
Mother as Primary Custodian
Father as Primary Custodian
Alternative Arrangement Recommended
Children's Wishes
Preference for the Mother as Primary Custodian
Preference for the Father as Primary Custodian
No Preference was Stated
Percent
43
33
5
8
7
4
51
39
10
39
21
40


69
much more frequently than sole custody or any other
arrangement. Additionally, primary residential custody was
almost universally awarded to one parent under shared
custody. An interesting item evident in the table is the
number of cases in which physical residence was awarded to
the father. These results suggest that, at least in our
sample, there is little apparent tendency for either
guardians to recommend physical residence to mothers or for
the court to award custody to mothers over fathers. In
fact, a preference for the mother to be the primary
caretaker was evident only in the children's wishes.
Prediction of Custody Awards
The primary aim of this study was to describe the
factors that are most influential in child custody
determinations. A series of logistic regression equations
were calculated in order to address this issue. In
particular, two aspects of custody determinations were
addressed: whether shared or sole custody was awarded and
which parent would serve as primary residential custodian.
Awards of Shared Versus Sole Custody
Prior to evaluating the importance of legal,
sociological, and psychological issues, we assessed whether
custody awards might be influenced by factors unrelated to
the information provided to the court. For instance, since
data was collected on both initial disposition and
disposition modification cases, we were concerned that


70
custody awards might differ between these groups of cases.
We were also interested in testing whether the location of a
judicial circuit affected custody awards. Thirdly, in a
subset of the case, guardians did not have the opportunity
to interview all family members; the influence of this
procedural variable was also of concern. When these
variables were included in a prediction equation, none of
them surfaced as significantly related to an award of shared
versus sole custody. Conseguently, custody appears to be
awarded similarly across the state, among disposition and
modification cases, and when guardians did not interview all
family members.
The legal variables were then entered into a series of
logistic regression equations. A few variables emerged as
significantly related to the determination of shared versus
sole custody within several of these regressions. As
presented in Table 4, both the model goodness-of-fit chi-
square and the variable chi-square were significant in each
case. In this table, positive parameter values indicate
that higher values of that variable resulted in a increased
likelihood of sole custody awards.
Relationships between fathers and their children,
specifically the degree of warm feelings held by the fathers
for the children, also affected custody awards. However, it
is difficulty to interpret the effect this variable has on
custody awards. The parameter estimate for this variable is


71
TABLE 4
Logistic Regressions Using Legal Variables
To Predict Shared Versus Sole Custody
G2
Df
Predictor Variables
Parameter
Estimate
Df
Chi-
Scruare
Initial Legal Models
11.66a
9
Physical Problems Limit
Mothers Caretaking
.85
1
3.7 6b
45.36a
52
GAL Rating of Father's
Warm Feelings for
the Children
-.03
1
3.75b
GAL's Confidence in Rating
Warm Feelings
.03
1
3.85b
23.66a
21
Mother Determined Unfit
.97
1
5.74b
Presence of a Young Child
2.34
1
9.87c
Interaction Between Child's
Age and Child's Wish to
Live with their Mother
-2.49
1
34.70d
13.95a
14
Substantiated Physical Abuse
by the Father
1.32
1
4.19b
Combined Legal Model
33.28a
51
Physical Problems Limit
Mothers Caretaking
1.43
1
4.37b
GAL Rating of Father's
Warm Feelings for
the Children
-.05
1
4.7 8b
GAL's Confidence in
Rating Warm Feelings
.05
1
4.65b
Mother Determined Unfit
1.14
1
5.8 lb
a
b
c
d
£>> 05
P<. 05
p<. 01
pc.001


72
negative, suggesting that shared custody was more likely to
be awarded when this variable was rated high. However, the
parameter estimate for GAL confidence in this rating is
positive, suggesting that confidence mediates the
relationship between ratings of father-child relationships
and an award of shared versus sole custody. Conseguently,
in cases where confidence in this rating is low, high
ratings of paternal warm feelings increase the likelihood of
an award of shared custody, while low ratings of paternal
warm feelings have little effect on custody determinations.
However, in cases where confidence is low, high ratings of
paternal warm feelings have little effect on custody
determinations, while low ratings of paternal warm feelings
increase the likelihood of an award of sole custody.
Children's wishes and their age both influenced the
likelihood of sole versus shared custody awards. Taken
together, the significant effect of age and the interaction
between children's wishes and age suggest a nonlinear
relationship between these variables and custody awards.
When children were young and wished to live with their
mothers, shared custody was the most likely award. In fact,
primary residence was usually awarded to the mother in these
cases. However, when children were young and they did not
wish to live with their mothers, the likelihood of sole
custody being awarded to the father was increased. The
wishes of older children had little impact on awards of sole


73
versus shared custody; as there were only four families
without young children, this effect could not be adequately
tested within this sample.
Sole custody was more likely to be awarded when mothers
were either physically handicapped or perpetrators of any
form of child abuse or neglect. Further examination of the
data indicated that in these cases, judges awarded sole
custody to the father. Similarly, cases involving
substantiated reports of physical child abuse perpetrated by
the father also resulted in increased awards of sole
custody. In these cases, sole custody was typically awarded
to the mother. It is striking in this context, however,
that substantiated reports of child sexual abuse, child
emotional abuse, neglect, or spousal abuse do not
significantly increase the likelihood of judges awarding
sole custody when the father was the perpetrator.
Legal variables identified as significantly predictive
of outcome in the aforementioned regressions were then
combined into another logistic regression model. This model
was significant (see Table 4), and the following variables
were shown to be related to the custody arrangement awarded:
presence of maternal physical problems limiting caretaking
ability; the guardian's rating of the father's warm feelings
for the child(ren); the guardian's confidence in that
rating; and a determination that the mother was unfit as a
caretaker. The presence of a young child in the family,


74
substantiated reports of paternal physical abuse, and the
interaction between children's wishes and their age were
dropped from the combined model. This does not indicate
that these variables were unrelated to outcome, but that
they did not add significantly to the prediction of custody
awards over the other variables.
The eleven sociological variables were entered into two
regression eguations. Although both of the two models were
significant, G2 (24, N=57) = 30.03, p>.05 and G2 (23, N=57)
= 21.47, p>.05, only mothers' occupational level was shown
to be predictive of outcome. For the purposes of this
study, occupation was classified into four categories:
unemployed, unskilled labor, skilled labor, and
professional. Within our sample, sole custody was more
likely to be awarded when mothers had skilled jobs than
otherwise (parameter value=1.30), X2 (1, N=57) = 3.95,
E<05. Upon further examination of the data, the awards of
sole custody in these cases usually went to the mothers.
Given the small number of cases (N=4) in which mothers held
professional jobs, our sample may not have adequately tested
the relationship between custody determinations and this
occupational level.
Psychological variables, entered into two regression
models, were highly predictive of whether shared or sole
custody was awarded. Model goodness-of-fit chi-squares and


75
at least one variable chi-square were significant (see Table
5) .
As can be seen in Table 5, sole custody is more likely
to be awarded in those cases in which guardians rate mothers
as being hostile towards them. Fathers' relationships with
people outside the immediate family are also important
predictors of shared versus sole custody. The significant
interaction and main effects for ratings of fathers' social
support and guardians' confidence in those ratings together
indicate a nonlinear relationship between these variables
and shared versus sole custody awards. A judge is more
likely to award sole custody when guardians are confident
that fathers are satisfied with their social supports than
when the guardians are uncertain of their ratings on this
issue. Conversely, shared custody is a more likely outcome
when guardians rate fathers as being only moderately
satisfied with their social supports as well as when the
guardians are less confident of their ratings. This
relationship suggests that in the absence of clear
information on fathers' social support, judges favor an
award of shared custody.
The above paragraphs describe how each of the three
groups of variables, sociological, psychological, and legal,
individually predict the award of shared versus sole
custody. After the variables most predictive of custody
awards within these groups were specified, a combined model


to teto
AAV
76
TABLE 5
Logistic Regressions Using Psychological Variables
To Predict Shared Versus Sole Custody
G2
Df
Predictor Variables
Parameter
Estimate
Df
Chi-
Sauare
Initial Psychological Models
30.76a
50
Hostility of Mothers
Towards GAL
.04
1
8.47c
GAL Rating of Father's
Satisfaction with
Social Support
-.06
1
3.05a
GAL's Confidence in Rating
Social Support
-.04
1
4.21b
Interaction Between
Father's Social Support
Rating and GAL Confidence
.001
1
5.79b
3.90a
21
Psychological Evaluation
was Recommended for
Some Family Member
1.21
1
4.82a
Combined Psychological
Model
30.76a
50
Hostility of Mothers
Towards GAL
.04
1
8.47c
GAL Rating of Father's
Satisfaction with
Social Support
-.06
1
3.05a
GAL's Confidence in Rating
Social Support
-.04
1
4.2 lb
Interaction Between
.001
1
5.79b
Father's Social Support
Rating and GAL Confidence
. 05
. 05
.01


77
was constructed to identify those variables most predictive
of custody awards. Nonsignificant variables were excluded
from the equation, resulting in the model presented in Table
6.
In particular, three variables out of the nine entered
into this final model were dropped. These variables
included mothers' occupational level, presence of maternal
physical problems that limited caretaking ability, and
determinations that mothers were unfit as caretakers.
These variable were dropped because they failed to increase
the predictability of the outcome over the remaining
variables. Thus the remaining variables are the strongest
predictors of judicial determinations of sole versus shared
custody.
As Table 6 shows, mothers' and fathers' responses to
and involvement with people outside of the immediate family
are strong predictors of custody determinations. In
particular, judges are more likely to award sole custody
given either the presence of maternal hostility towards
guardians or confident GAL ratings of paternal satisfaction
with available social supports.
Relationships within the family are also predictive of
custody awards. As discussed earlier, the relationship
between ratings of paternal warm feelings for their children
and custody awards is contingent on the guardians'
confidence in their ratings of this variable. The reader


(0 43 O
78
TABLE 6
Logistic Regressions Using Combined Psychological,
Sociological, and Legal Variables
To Predict Shared Versus Sole Custody
G2
Df
Predictor Variables
Parameter
Estimate
Df
Chi-
Sauare
24.10a
48
Hostility of Mothers
Towards GAL
.06
1
7.39c
GAL Rating of Father's
Satisfaction with
Social Support
-.07
1
2.34a
GAL's Confidence in Rating
Social Support
-.03
1
3.35a
Interaction Between
Father's Social Support
Rating and GAL Confidence
.001
1
4.42b
GAL Rating of Father's
Warm Feelings for
the Children
-.05
1
4.28b
GAL's Confidence in
.05
1
4.19b
Rating Warm Feelings
£>> 05
p<. 05
p<. 01


79
should note that as with the issue of paternal social
support, judges are more likely to award shared custody when
there is an absence of clear information on these issues.
Awards of Maternal Versus Paternal Primary Physical
Residence
As with prediction of shared versus sole custody, we
assessed whether the purpose of the case (initial
disposition or disposition modification), a change in GAL
procedures (i.e., a family member was not interviewed), or
the location of the circuit influenced the award of primary
physical residence (PPR). These variables were entered into
a regression model before psychological, legal, and
sociological data were considered. Both the model chi-
square and the variable chi-squares indicated no
relationship between these variables and primary physical
residence awards. Consequently, PPR appears to be awarded
similarly across the state as well as among disposition and
modification cases. Additionally, PPR is not influenced by
the unavailability of a subset of family members for
interview by guardians.
Next, legal variables were entered into a series of
regression equations. Variables emerging as significant
predictors of PPR and with significant goodness-of-fit model
chi-squares are listed in Table 7. In this table, positive
parameter values indicate an increased likelihood of awards
for maternal primary residence.


80
TABLE 7
Logistic Regressions Using Legal Variables
To Predict Primary Physical Residence Award
G2
Df
Predictor Variables
Parameter
Estimate
Df
Chi-
Scruare
Initial Legal Models
4 0.86a
30
Mother has More Time
to Care for Children
1.16
1
13.12d
64.58a
52
GAL Rating of Father's
Daily Involvement with
the Children
-.03
1
6.58c
8.90a
11
Mother Held Residence
Following Parental
Separation
.79
1
5.42b
60.91a
49
Confidence in Rating
Parental Warm Feelings
for the Children
-.13
1
4.37b
Interaction Between Ratings
of Mother's Warm Feelings
and Confidence
.004
1
3.78b
Interaction Between Ratings
of Father's Warm Feelings,
Mother's Warm Feelings, and
Confidence
.00002
1
3.84b
25.79a
22
Child Wishes to Live
with the Mother
1.66
1
12.75d
Mother Determined Unfit
-.97
1
4.93b
26.21
19
Substantiated Report
-5.40
1
12.74d
of Maternal Neglect


(0 43 on
81
TABLE 7continued
G2
Df
Predictor Variables
Parameter
Estimate
Df
Chi-
Souare
Combined Legal Model
35.55a
49
Child Wishes to Live
with the Mother
1.38
1
6.94c
Mother Determined Unfit
-1.34
1
7.30c
Mother Held Residence
Following Parental
Separation
1.51
1
4.77b
GAL Rating of Father'
-.03
1
4.81b
Daily Involvement with
the Children
E>. 05
p<. 05
p<. 01
P<.001


82
Maternal PPR was more likely in cases where the mother
had more time to care for the children than the father and
when the mother held residential custody of the child(ren)
following parental separation. Maternal PPR was also more
likely when children expressed a desire to live with their
mother.
Paternal PPR was more likely to be awarded in cases
where fathers had been involved in providing for the child's
daily living needs and when substantiated reports of
maternal child abuse/neglect or spouse abuse were present.
Within the set of variables regarding abuse, reports of
maternal neglect were most predictive of paternal PPR. In
fact, PPR was never awarded to mothers in cases where
reports of neglect had been substantiated.
The significant interaction effects which emerged
between ratings of parental warm feelings for the children
and guardians' confidence in these ratings describe an
interesting relationship between these variables and PPR
awards. When GAL confidence is high, ratings of maternal
warm feelings strongly influence the likelihood of PPR
awards. High ratings of maternal warm feelings predict an
award of maternal PPR, while low ratings on this variable
predict paternal PPR. However, when confidence is low,
ratings of maternal warm feelings have little influence on
PPR awards regardless of the value of this variable. In any


83
case, ratings of paternal warm feelings have only a moderate
impact on the likelihood of PPR awards.
The legal variables identified as significant
descriptors of judicial decision-making in one of the
several regression models were then entered into a combined
model. The purpose of this model was to identify the
strongest descriptors among all the legal variables. This
combined model (see Table 7) was significant, and the
following variables were shown to be related to the award of
PPR: children's wishes to live with their mother, the
determination that a mother was unfit, the child's residing
with the mother following parental separation, and GAL
rating of the father's involvement in providing for the
child's daily living needs. Variables including whether the
mother would have more time available for the child and
those involving ratings of parental warm feelings were
dropped because they did not add significantly to the
predictability of the model.
Sociological variables were entered into the next
series of regression equations. Out of the eleven variables
in this group, only one emerged as significantly predictive
of PPR awards. Paternal PPR was more likely to be awarded
when there was only one child in the family than otherwise,
G2 (11, N=55) = 9.59, p>.05 and X2 (1, N=55) = 5.07, p<.05.
Psychological variables were entered next. Of the four
regression equations calculated, only one was significant,


84
G2 (4, N=55) = 5.80, p>.05. Within this model, however, no
variable obtained significance. Consequently, these
variables, including family conflict, parents' relationships
with nonfamily members, and the presence of a recommendation
for either a mental health evaluation or psychotherapy do
not appear to be very influential in the decision-making
process.
The previous paragraphs in this section describe how
variables within each of the three groups influence
decision-making regarding awards of PPR. With the exception
of the item indicating the number of children in the family,
all variables identified as influential fell within the
legal domain. All of these variables were combined in
another regression in order to determine which were most
influential. The goodness-of-fit chi-square for this model
was significant, G2 (47, N=55) = 30.83, p>.05.
Additionally, the individual chi-squares for all of the
legal variables were also significant. The number of
children, however, did not add anything to the prediction
equation. Consequently, the model combining predictors from
all three groups of variables was identical to the combined
legal model presented in Table 7. Thus, four legal items,
child(ren)'s wishes for a residential parent, maternal
fitness, the child's residing with the mother following
parental separation, and the degree to which fathers were
involved in providing for the daily living needs of the


85
children, were the most influential in determinations of
parental PPR.
An additional area of interest was the relative impact
of GAL recommendations regarding PPR awards in comparison to
the other predictors discussed. This variable was not
entered into the model earlier because it is based on the
same information described above and would be largely
collinear with the other variables. Consequently, a model
was constructed that included this variable and the four
legal variables found to best predict PPR awards. The
resulting model was significant, G2 (43, N=55) = 22.63,
p>.05, but no variables other that GAL recommendation, X2
(1, N=55) = 5.73, p<.05, were significant. Further
examination of the data showed that judicial determinations
were consistent with GAL recommendations in 86% of the
cases.
Guardians/ Decisions Regarding When to Report Ratings
With regard to custody cases, the importance of
guardians' opinions about family members is evident in the
previous sections. Both their characterizations of family
relationships and their recommendations regarding custody
awards were shown to be influential. Consequently,
guardians' decisions regarding when to report information
significantly affected the decision-making process. One
reason for reporting a given characteristic could be that a
family exhibited it to an unusually high or low degree. A


86
second possible reason is that guardians' felt confident
about their evaluation of the family with regard to a given
issue.
The two hypotheses listed above were tested by using
the guardians' ratings of a family characteristic, their
confidence in making those ratings, and the interaction
between these to predict whether the issue were reported to
the court. Some issues required separate ratings for each
parent. For these issues, ratings on each parent separately
and on the interaction between them were included in the
analyses. As with the analyses on custody awards, the
outcome variable here was binary. Consequently, a logistic
regression procedure was used. Although some G2 values were
significant, no variable chi-squares were. Thus, in every
case, the results indicated no significant relationship
between either variable and the decision to report the
information.


DISCUSSION
The results of this study provide descriptive
information about the contested custody cases which are
served by the GAL program in Florida. These cases involve
predominantly Caucasian families with young children. The
parents tend to be in their 30s, have a high school
education, and have a joint family income of between $25,000
and $35,000 a year. As mothers were freguently unemployed,
fathers tended to be the principle wage earners. Almost all
of the cases were referred from urban settings.
Additionally, the vast majority of parents were represented
by counsel in these cases.
These families have experienced considerable stress.
In addition their involvement with the court, many parents
have recently lost their jobs and the custodial parent is
often single. In a few of these cases, the conflict between
the parents resulted in the kidnapping of the child by one
of the parents. It is interesting to note, however, that
very few parents had either moved out of the state or had
plans to do so.
Additionally, many of these families exhibited signs of
more serious psychological problems. Substantiated reports
of abuse by at least one of the parents were present in 40%
87


88
of the cases, and allegations of abuse had been made in 83%.
The extent to which these allegations reflect actual beliefs
that abuse has occurred versus an attempt by the parents to
gain leverage in the custody dispute is undetermined.
Reports of alcohol and drug abuse were also common in these
families. Furthermore, guardians were sufficiently
concerned about the psychological functioning of these
families to recommend a mental health evaluation in 49% of
the cases and treatment in 60% of them.
It appears, therefore, that divorce is probably only
one part of a larger picture of personal and familial
problems experienced by these individuals. It is clear from
this description that the judges seldom have an
unequivocally safe and supportive placement available for
the children.
Before discussing specific case variables, it is
important to note that, in general, judges favored shared
custody over sole custody. The degree to which this was the
case suggests that judges approached cases with the
presumption that they would award shared custody. Such a
presumption is consistent with the legal statutes (Joint
Legislative Management Committee, 1985). An interesting
finding in this regard, was that the strength of the
information presented weighed heavily in the decision
making. For example, ratings indicating that a father had
warm feelings for his children predicted sole custody awards


89
only when the guardian was confident in making this rating.
In the absence of confidence, this rating had only a
marginal impact on custody awards. Taken in conjunction
with the data indicating that judges ruled in accordance
with GAL recommendations in 86% of the cases, this suggests
that judges relied heavily on the judgement of the
guardians.
In determinations of primary physical residence, judges
did not demonstrate a bias toward either parent. This is
consistent with some recent literature on judicial decision
making suggesting a general decrease in the degree to which
judges favor maternal PPR even when there are young children
in the home (Felner et al., 1985; Sorensen & Goldman, 1989;
Racusin et al., 1989). Thus, the tender years presumption
no longer appears to hold in Florida. Although awards of
maternal PPR did occur somewhat more often, this appeared to
reflect characteristics of the case relevant to the legal
statutes. In particular, awards of maternal PPR were more
likely to occur in cases where mothers held custody
following parental separation, and paternal PPR was more
likely to occur in cases where the father has been more
involved in child care prior to marital dissolution.
Additionally, the slightly higher freguency of maternal PPR
awards is consistent with the greater caretaking role of the
mother in most of the families prior to separation. In


90
these cases, an award of maternal PPR maintained continuity
in the children's caretaking environment.
According to Goldstein et al. (1973), awarding PPR to
the mothers here supports the best interests of the children
by placing them with the parent to whom they are most
bonded. Literature on post divorce child adjustment also
suggests that consistency in a child's living environment is
important. In his review of recent literature, Felner
(1987) noted that consistency in the child's living
environment predicted adjustment. Consequently, maternal
PPR awards are consistent with the goal of protecting the
interests of children and do not indicate a general
preference for the mother as caretaker.
Issues relevant to parenting capacity were also
influential in the decision-making process. Substantiated
reports of maternal child abuse/neglect or spouse abuse
generally resulted in an award of sole paternal custody.
Additionally, sole paternal custody was awarded in cases
where a mother had physical problems that limited her
ability to care for her children. Similarly, in cases that
involved substantiated reports of paternal physical abuse
against the child, sole maternal custody was often awarded.
Consistent with our results, reports of abuse and neglect
have influenced custody awards for many years. This finding
dates back to the initiation of the best interests of the
child doctrine (Derdeyn, 1976), and has been supported


91
consistently in the literature examining judicial decision
making (e.g., Folberg, 1984; Hoorwitz & Burchardt, 1984;
Pearson & Ring, 1981) in spite of the changes that have
occurred in the legal presumptions and statutes.
However, although some abuse reports resulted in sole
custody awards to the nonabusing parent, many did not. With
regard to fathers, only child physical abuse appeared to
affect judicial custody awards. Child sexual abuse,
emotional abuse, neglect and spousal abuse did not appear to
influence case awards significantly. This occurred even
when abuse reports were substantiated. This is in contrast
to the situation for mothers, wherein all forms of
substantiated abuse impacted judicial decision-making,
although neglect was most influential. It is difficult to
understand the finding that substantiated abuse has
divergent functional outcomes contingent upon which parent
perpetrated the abuse. The judges' decision-making would
appear to suggest that abuse, other than physical, renders
mothers but not fathers unfit as parents.
It is noteworthy that in comparison to substantiated
abuse, allegations of abuse did not emerge as predictive of
custody awards. One possible explanation for these findings
is that judges may consider abuse allegations to be simply a
product of the divorce process and not an accurate gauge of
parental competence. Secondly, given the frequency of
allegations in this sample, it is possible that they no


92
longer communicate anything about a case. However, it is
important to note that the lack of a significant
relationship between abuse reports and custody awards does
not indicate that this information was never utilized by
judges, only that it was not done so consistently.
Another issue considered by judges in contested custody
cases is the parent-child relationship. When fathers are
rated as having strong warm feelings for their children,
shared custody is more likely. Conversely, sole custody is
more likely when fathers are not rated as concerned about
their children. Although ratings of this variable have
little impact on the determination of parental PPR, ratings
of maternal warm feelings lead to maternal PPR when high and
paternal PPR when low. Consequently, judges make awards
that facilitate involvement with the children for any parent
known to have affection for them. Modifying custody awards
based on the parent-child relationships is consistent with
child adjustment literature, as warm parent-child
relationships have consistently predicted increased social
adjustment (Hess & Camara, 1979; Santrock & Warshak, 1979;
Shybunko, 1989).
A relationship between parental affection for children
and custody awards has been demonstrated in past research
(Felner et al., 1985; Settle & Lowery, 1982; Sorensen &
Goldman, 1989) as well as in this study. However, this
study found that judges considered this issue differently


93
depending on the parent. Fathers demonstrating a lack of
warm feelings were removed from a position of responsibility
over the children; sole maternal custody was awarded.
Mothers demonstrating a lack of warm feelings were denied
PPR but continued to be involved in child care through
shared custody.
Parental relationships with people outside of their
immediate family was also influential. High ratings of
fathers' satisfaction with social supports and maternal
hostility towards a guardian both predict an award of sole
custody. One possible reason for this finding is that
maternal expressions of hostility may lead judges to
conclude that the parents would not be able to work together
in a shared custody situation. The rational behind awarding
sole custody in cases of high paternal social support is
unclear, especially in light of the fact that this issue is
not significantly related to an award of PPR. This issue
has been given little attention in previous literature on
judicial decision-making. It is possible that parental
social support is related to other case variables that do
predict PPR awards. Unfortunately, the size of our sample
did not permit the type of exploratory analyses that might
uncover this kind of relationship.
Children's wishes also predicted custody awards.
Primarily they predicted PPR awards, but for young children
they also predicted sole versus shared custody. Cases


94
involving young children who did not want to live with their
mothers generally resulted in awards of sole paternal
custody. Maternal shared custody was awarded when children
wanted to live with their mothers. This result is
consistent with Florida Statutes which list children's
wishes as one of the guidelines for determining custody.
The reason for the sole versus shared custody awards in
these cases is unclear. However, since more children wished
to live with their mothers than fathers, it is possible that
a desire to live with one's father often arose out of
circumstances that would warrant restriction of the mother's
involvement in child care. Again, our sample size
restricted us from testing this hypothesis.
Another interesting finding was that cases in which a
guardian recommended that a family member receive a
psychological evaluation resulted in awards of sole custody
more often than when this was not the case. Previous
research has also found that judges consider parental mental
health in these cases (Lowery, 1981; Sorensen & Goldman,
1989). It appears that in the context of custody cases,
recommendations for psychological evaluations augur problems
sufficient to warrant restricting a parent from child care
responsibility. However, as with earlier research (Ash &
Guyer, 1984), this variable did not appear to be as
important to judges as other issues. When this variable was
included in a model with other variables found to influence


Full Text

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JUDICIAL DECISION-MAKING IN CONTESTED CUSTODY CASES:
THE INFLUENCE OF SOCIOLOGICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL,
AND LEGAL VARIABLES
By
ERIK D. SORENSEN
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
1990

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to express my appreciation and affection
for my chairperson, Jacquelin Goldman, Ph.D., whose
knowledge and concern was essential both in this project and
in my broader development as a psychologist. I would also
like to express my appreciation to my committee members,
James Johnson, Ph.D., Sheila Eyberg, Ph.D., Steve Boggs,
Ph.D., and Steve Willis, J.D., each of whom has provided me
with essential knowledge and support. Additionally, I would
like to thank the Guardians for their dedicated efforts at
collecting the data for this project. In particular, I
would like to acknowledge the directors and coordinators of
the Guardian Ad Litem programs who were instrumental in
generating support and interest among their staff. Finally,
many thanks to my wonderful coworkers, liana Interrante,
M.S., Martin Ward, Linda Graves, and Cindy Sutton, whose
efforts were truly indispensable.
ii

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ii
ABSTRACT iv
INTRODUCTION 1
Overview 1
Types of Custody 2
Historical Background 4
Problems with the Use of Rules in
Determining Custody 7
Joint Custody 10
Legal Guidelines for Custody Determinations . . 13
Judicial Decision-Making 19
Development of Children Following Divorce ... 29
Parental Characteristics 30
Parent-Child Relationships 34
Specific Aims 40
Hypotheses 42
METHODS 44
Subjects 44
Measures 47
Procedure 55
Analyses 56
Statistical Procedures 56
Variable Selection 60
RESULTS 62
Case Characteristics 62
Frequency of Custody Awards and Recommendations 67
Prediction of Custody Awards 69
Awards of Shared Versus Sole Custody ... 69
Awards of Maternal Versus Paternal
Primary Physical Residence 79
Guardians' Decisions to Report Ratings 85
DISCUSSION 87
REFERENCES 102
APPENDIX 108
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 115
iii

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
JUDICIAL DECISION-MAKING IN CONTESTED CUSTODY CASES:
THE INFLUENCE OF SOCIOLOGICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL,
AND LEGAL VARIABLES
By
Erik D. Sorensen
December 1990
Chairperson: Jacquelin Goldman, Ph.D.
Major Department: Clinical and Health Psychology
In contested custody cases judges are responsible for
determining the custody award that serves the best interests
of the children involved. While state statutes provide
judges with guidelines regarding these determinations, they
are not worded very specifically. The judge's role is to
interpret these guidelines and apply them to individual
cases. Previous literature concerning judicial decision¬
making has suggested that judges often rely on a general
preference for the mother as custodian rather than on
individual case characteristics. This study examined the
relationship between specific case factors and custody
awards in order to describe the decision-making process in
Florida. Information was collected on 60 contested initial
disposition or disposition modification cases and was used
to model judicial decision-making. Our results indicated
that judges were generally following the legal statutes and
iv

did not rely on a general preference for one parent.
Additionally, although several case factors were used
consistently by judges, some notably important information
did not appear to be given much weight in their decision¬
making. In some cases substantiated reports of child
abuse/neglect were overlooked. Additionally, the degree of
parental conflict did not appear to be considered by judges,
although this variable has been identified in the literature
as a strong predictor of post-divorce child adjustment.
v

INTRODUCTION
Overview
Before 1900, determinations of responsibility for
children after divorce were most often based on socially
defined parental roles. In other words, the parent socially
deemed responsible for raising children was given custody
unless declared unfit by the courts. Specific criteria that
influence child development were not considered in the
initial adjudication of custody. The needs of children were
expected to be met most effectively by the parent considered
socially responsible for child rearing. However, as
researchers in child development, divorce, and families
demonstrated the importance of specific variables in normal
child development, the legislature and courts have
responded. Guidelines used by judges in adjudicating
custody have become more detailed and the general doctrine
has shifted from following social definitions of parental
roles to a direct consideration of "the best interests of
the child." Although criteria used to determine custody
have become much more clearly delineated than ever before,
judges may employ any additional information that they deem
important to make a determination in a given case. The
purpose of this research is to identify the criteria
utilized by judges in contested custody cases. Previous
research on judicial decision-making in custody cases have
1

2
studied judges' reports of what they do, but have not used
other sources of data. The present paper will study the
decision-making process from court records and ratings made
by other court personnel (Guardian Ad Litem
representatives). This methodology will provide additional
estimations of the importance of specific criteria in
custody decision-making than previously have been available.
This approach also will make possible a comparison between
what judges report is happening, what the Florida statutes
dictate should be happening, what literature on post divorce
child adjustment suggest is most important for these
children, and what occurs in custody cases. A review of the
types of custody available to most judges and a summary of
how these custody arrangements have been applied
historically will provide useful background information to
the reader.
Types of Custody
Prior to 1957 legal statutes stipulated that only one
type of custody arrangement was available to families: one
parent held complete legal control in all areas of the
children's lives, except for the court's determination of
visitation rights and financial responsibilities. This
arrangement was termed sole parental responsibility. The
lack of other custody alternatives presumably followed from
an assumption that divorced parents could not work well
enough together to make joint decisions about their

3
children. However, since social-science research has
documented the importance of a child's contact with both
parents following divorce, the courts have developed
alternative custody arrangements (Barnard & Jenson, 1984;
Felner, 1987).
North Carolina was the first state to allow an
alternative arrangement for custody in 1957, which was
termed joint custody or shared parenting. Under joint
custody parents are given approximately equal legal
authority for making decisions about the children, though
the court may determine which parent is expressly
responsible for specific needs of the children such as
school issues (Felner, 1987). In fact, usually one parent
is given primary physical custody under a joint custody
arrangement to maintain stability and continuity in the
child's environment. However, some states have made another
option available to the courts where the parents not only
share the legal responsibility of the children, but also the
residential care of them. Since this custody arrangement
includes all of the characteristics of joint custody, states
that allow this option make a distinction between joint
legal and joint physical custody, with the latter referring
to the arrangement in which the child moves between homes
(Felner, 1987). A few states have also established
legislation for a fourth type of custody arrangement, termed
split custody. Under this arrangement, each parent is

4
awarded sole custody of one or more child following the
divorce. This arrangement is relatively uncommon.
Historical Background
Prior to the eighteenth century, sole custody was the
only option available, and it was awarded to the father
universally. In fact, the father held complete legal
control over the family. He owned all of the family goods,
as well as the children, and completely determined what
happened to children following a divorce. Furthermore,
women held no rights over their husbands; they could neither
question the father's ability as a parent nor exert any
influence over him. The father held an unquestionable right
to decide all facets of his child's life, as children were
considered the property of the father (Derdeyn, 1976).
By the early eighteen hundreds, fathers became
responsible for their children's welfare. Children were
awarded rights as individuals for the first time in history.
The English Parliament established this change in the social
status of children in 1817 by instituting the doctrine of
parens patriae which held that the Crown should defend the
rights of those who had no other protection (Derdeyn, 1976).
Children were considered part of this group, as they could
not defend themselves against their parents. Custody
decisions were said to be based on the "best interests for
the child" rather than on the right of a father to dictate
his children's lives.

5
In the early 1800s, the social status of women also
increased with regard to their role and rights in the
family. By the 1850s, a mother's role in the family,
separate from that of serving her husband, began to be seen
as important (Derdeyn, 1976). In fact, the mother's care
was seen as necessary for the development of children
through the early years of life (Folberg, 1984b). This
change in social roles and status was reflected in the
courts, as judges began to refer to the assumption that
young children needed a mother's care to facilitate their
growth and development (termed tender years presumption)
when making custody determinations (Derdeyn, 1976). Under
this presumption, custody awards were given to mothers more
often than before, though still less often than to fathers.
While, initially the period in a child's life believed
to require maternal care included only the first four years
of life, the period was soon extended. By the 1920s,
mothers were awarded custody almost as often as fathers, and
by the mid 1900s, the tender years presumption had gained
sufficient popularity that mothers received custody an
estimated 90% of the time (Derdeyn, 1976). A few
researchers have suggested that the courts' support of the
mother as primary custodian of children following divorce
reflected that her role was considered fundamental not only
to the care of the children but also to the maintenance of
stability and continuity in her children's interpersonal

6
relationships and their physical environment for children
(Folberg, 1984b). Awarding primary custody to mothers in
order to maintain continuity for the child is consistent
with the fact that mothers were the primary care-givers of
children within most families prior to their divorce. A
preference for the mother as custodian may be, at least
partially, a reflection of the importance of case specific
variables and not entirely a simple presumption for the
mother.
The common social view of each parent's role in the
family and the consistency with which actual family role
structures adhere to the social view, though shifting from
supporting as custodian first the father and more recently
the mother, continued almost universally to dictate custody
decisions through the mid 1900s. The only exception to this
policy occurred when the parent assumed to be most important
to the child was considered unfit as a guardian. If a
parent was guilty of adultery or desertion, for example,
then custody would be given to the other spouse regardless
of the strength of the social preference for that parent
(Chamas, 1981; Derdeyn, 1976) . In addition to moral
infractions, mental illness also served as a reason for
declaring a parent unfit for shared or sole parental
responsibility (Horowitz & Davidson, 1984). The
adjudication of custody appeared to be based upon rules
which assumed the overriding importance of one parent for

7
the children's growth and development, often without even a
consideration of the other's abilities (Mnookin, 1975).
Problems with the Use of Rules in Determining Custody
Using a general rule that considers one parent a more
worthy custodian of children and allowing for only one
custody arrangement (sole custody) presents some problems
when a parent's desired post-divorce role structure does not
adhere to the traditional social role definitions. For
example, in traditional western post-divorce families, men
are expected to earn the money to support two households,
often leaving them with little time for their children; if
they choose to spend time with their children at the expense
of career advancement, they must respond to accusations of
avoiding child-support payments (Victor & Winkler, 1976).
Similarly, mothers are expected to fight for custody of
their children; if a mother wants to begin or pursue a
career that requires more than a few hours a day, she must
stand up to challenges against her love for her children
(Victor & Winkler, 1976). Consequently, the
socially-defined parental roles and the use of sole custody
as the only option can, at least partially, dictate parents'
involvement with their children.
The primary reliance of the courts on sole custody
alone and on a general rule to determine which parent
receives custody also implies limits of factors that are
considered important for custody determinations (Victor &

8
Winkler, 1976). Factors important in individual cases could
be overlooked, if they do not support the traditional
caretaker as sole custodian. It may be that each parent's
relationship with the children, which could be different
from traditional parental roles, could provide a unique
contribution to the child's development. Likewise, the
possibilities available to the family through the parents'
combined resourcefulness or special circumstances might make
a custody arrangement other than sole custody more
beneficial for the children. Recent research has, in fact,
consistently indicated the importance of many specific
variables that describe the influence of intrafamilial
relationships on the development and adjustment of children
following divorce (e.g., Santrock & Warshak, 1979).
Additionally, unique benefits have been shown to arise from
the individual relationships of children with each parent
following divorce, suggesting the importance of both
parents' continued involvement with the children over a sole
custody arrangement. These findings will be discussed in
detail later.
Another problem arising from the use of traditional
social role definitions to adjudicate custody and a reliance
on sole custody as the only option for custody follows from
the court process itself. Parents must engage in
adversarial relationships with each other if one or both of
them wishes to challenge the court's established view of the

9
family's post-divorce roles and the concomitant
specifications of visitation and custody rights (Fischer,
1983; Victor & Winkler, 1976). With custody determinations
being based primarily on a general rule, the only issues
that can result in a shift from awarding custody to the one
expected primary caretaker include moral and psychological
infractions that render that parent unfit. The interaction
between parents in the court room has become, in effect, a
battle over father's and mother's moral and psychological
fitness, rather than a direct defense of the best interests
of the child (Goldstein, Freud, & Solnit, 1973; Pringle,
1975).
Within this context, answers to the court's question of
what is the best interest of a child have been centered
around individual parental roles rather than the
consideration of each parent's unique contribution to the
child's development or the possibilities available to the
family through the parents' combined resourcefulness.
Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) described the effects of using
simple rules that follow role expectations in determining
the primary caretaker for children. For their study, 60
cases where the mothers were awarded sole custody were
followed for five years after divorce. One effect was that
three-fifths of the women had a substantial decline in their
standard of living. Additionally, their periodic income
also became increasingly more variable. Because mothers

10
were forced to either stay at home with the children or
resort to uninteresting jobs that demanded little time, they
were unable to develop resources to stabilize the family
economy.
These researchers also found that many older children
living with their mothers rejected their fathers, accusing
them of desertion when in fact the separation and
post-divorce relationship was decided upon either equally by
both parents or by the courts. Furthermore, fathers were
allowed little share in decisions concerning the development
of their children. These results suggest that limited
custody options and decision-making based on traditional
roles affect the parents' involvement with their children
after divorce. They may even force the family into
situations of conflict and frustration rather than helping
them to resolve problems. A preference for the mother or
father as a single custodian is not supported by the above
findings.
Joint Custody
Shared parental responsibility, where both parents
participate in their child's development, has been offered
in response to these problems. Under this arrangement,
there is greater flexibility with regards to individual
parent's responsibility for and his or her availability to
the children. Ideally, joint custody allows time for
mothers to pursue their careers and fathers to develop

11
relationships with their children (D'Andrea, A., 1983;
Derdeyn & Scott, 1984; Rothberg, 1983; Steinman, 1981;
Victor & Winkler, 1976). Rosen (1979) and Frankel (1985)
also found that when the child was allowed free access to
both parents, divorce was perceived by children as less
traumatic.
Third, shared parental responsibility offers the courts
an option that does not force parents to do battle over
their children, avoiding the usual problems of the legal
system's adversarial process. For example, Ilfeld, Ilfeld,
and Alexander (1982) and Frankel (1985) found that joint
custody with open visitation arrangements resulted in less
conflict within the family as assessed by the low percentage
of cases involved in relitigation relative to sole custody
cases. Frankel further found that when joint custody
families did require modifications in their arrangements,
they were effected with little conflict.
Fourth, as fathers have been taking on more of the
daily responsibilities of child care within intact families
than was previously common, concerns about the continuity
and stability of the child's environment and interpersonal
relationships no longer support simply an award for the
mother as primary caretaker. In fact, Kline, Tschann,
Johnston, & Wallerstein (1989) found that more joint custody
fathers continued to have frequent regular contact with
their children than noncustodial fathers. Fifth, Steinman

12
(1981) found that joint custody can affect the parent-child
relationships and interparent conflict. Joint custody
parents held much more respect for each other in terms of
their parenting skills and applied a lot of effort towards
working together in dealing with their parental concerns.
These issues suggest that joint custody may offer a solution
to many of the problems arising from using social role
definitions for determining custody. However, Ilfeld et al.
(1982) and Frankel (1985) stated that their results might
have been due to a sample bias in that joint custody may
have been awarded primarily to families with less overall
conflict. This limitation, in fact, probably is present for
a large number of the studies on post-divorce family
relationships as samples have consisted of primarily middle-
class families who are recruited through advertisements.
Despite its benefits, joint custody also reguires
several concessions on the part of the parents before it can
be used effectively (Derdeyn & Scott, 1984). Parents must
be willing to decide together what is best for their
children and to live close enough to one another so that
they can both maintain frequent contact with the children.
Joint custody, then, is not the total solution to the
problems of custody adjudication.
In many cases where joint custody has been awarded,
parents may find it difficult to work out visitation rights
and economic responsibilities together. Even more

13
critically, when parental conflict is high, each episode of
visitation or decision-making may subject a child to
repeated psychological trauma. In some cases, parents may
resort to relitigation: at this time the courts re-evaluate
whether joint custody is in the best interests of the child
as well as addressing other specific issues.
Consequently, even under joint custody and with the
establishment of the "best interests of the child" doctrine,
the child's welfare depends upon sensitive judicial
decision-making. Examination of the factors which may best
support the post-divorce adjustment of children could have
important implications for the courts' decision-making
processes. The remainder of this paper compares current
legal guidelines for custody determinations in terms of
their congruence with empirical studies of children's
post-divorce adjustment.
Legal Guidelines for Custody Determinations
States presently provide some general criteria in
adjudicating custody disputes, but there are very few
specifically defined legal guidelines to aid judges in
decision-making, and even fewer that are known to influence
directly the future development of these children. In
Florida, the courts follow the "best interest of the child"
doctrine, and shared parental responsibility is assumed
unless determined detrimental to the child because of a
parent's unfitness (Joint Legislative Management Committee,

14
1985). A parent can be considered unfit as a caretaker due
to a past major felony conviction, spousal or child abuse,
psychological instability, or a history of not caring for
his or her children. If joint custody is rejected as the
custody arrangement, then one parent is given full
responsibility for raising the children after a divorce
through an award of sole custody.
To date in Florida nine factors have been identified by
the state as important in adjudicating custody disputes to
determine both the type of custody, and who will be the
primary residential caretaker if joint custody is chosen.
In section three, chapter 61.13 of the Florida Statutes
(Joint Legislative Management Committee, 1985) the
guidelines are as follows: (a) the parent who is more
likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact
with the nonresidential parent; (b) the love, affection, and
other emotional ties existing between the parents and the
child; (c) the capacity and disposition of the parents to
provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other
remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of
this state in lieu of medical care, and other material
needs; (d) the length of time the child has lived in a
stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of
maintaining continuity; (e) the permanence, as a family
unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home; (f) the
moral fitness of the parents; (g) the mental and physical

15
health of the parents; (h) the home, school, and community
record of the child; and (i) the reasonable preference of
the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient
intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a
preference.
While these criteria offer some guidelines on what
issues to consider, the standards for determining when a
problem exists under one criterion are still quite vague.
There remains the question of assessing when one of these
criteria has been sufficiently satisfied to declare a parent
unfit. Keenan (1985), for example, argues that when proof
of abuse is not present, a parent alleging the abuse may be
refused custody because of appearing uncooperative or
emotionally unstable to the court. The criteria established
by the state legislatures then do not provide clear guidance
in determining parental fitness. Furthermore, it even may
be argued that no support is offered regarding how to
evaluate those issues.
Similarly, when both parents are considered equally
fit, there remains the issue of judging which of the above
criteria take precedence over others if primary physical
residence is to be awarded. If one parent has predominantly
cared for the children during the marriage while the other
has provided for its economic needs, then a judge must
determine if economic capacity to care for the child is more
or less important for the best interests of the child then

16
maintaining the consistency in the care giving environment
of the child (Trudrung-Taylor, 1986). Again, a judge is not
given guidelines upon which an evaluation of state statute
guidelines can be based. Additionally, it can appear to
families that the judge is biased against one parental role
no matter which criteria is given the deciding weight
(Trudrung-Taylor, 1986).
A third issue relevant to custody determinations for
which few guidelines are offered centers on how to evaluate
when a previously awarded custody arrangement needs to be
modified. A modification of child custody or visitation
orders are generally justified only if there has been some
"substantial change" of circumstances since the initial
award of custody and only if the modification is in the best
interests of the child (Price, 1983). Changes in custody or
primary physical residence, for example, might be based on
such issues as voluntary relinquishment of custody or on
some event that proves a parent is unfit (e.g.,
substantiated physical abuse of the child). Visitation, on
the other hand, might be modified if a previous arrangement
has become unworkable or if one parent has moved (Price,
1983).
While these general standards provide some guidelines
upon which to base a modification, what a judge considers
sufficient to award a modification varies greatly from judge
to judge. In fact, a judge may not even identify what

17
factor was considered important in his determination, but
rather list all issues he considered in a given case without
indicating how they were used. Thus, a fact considered
important in one case might not be important at all in
another case (Price, 1983). Consequently, the discretion of
the judge remains paramount over any statement by state
statutes or court precedence in the decision-making process.
In addition to the lack of specificity of these
guidelines, there are some issues common to custody cases
for which no guidelines are offered. Judges are left with
only court precedence, which is often equivocal, in
considering these issues. One such issue, defined as
kidnapping, occurs when one parent takes and holds the
children so that the other parent cannot gain access to
them. While many people have described the traumatic effect
of this event (e.g., Green, 1985), judges may not interpret
kidnapping as sufficient grounds to declare a parent unfit.
Even when it is illegal, a judge may not consider this issue
when determining which parent will be awarded primary
physical residence (Green, 1985).
A similar issue for which no guidelines have been
offered, though its relevance to custody decision-making is
unquestioned, is when a parent motions the court to allow
him or her to move out of the state and take the children
along (Quinn, 1986). Allowing a parent to move presents
some problems for divorce families, as it effectively limits

18
the other parent's contact with the children. In Florida,
it is generally accepted according to court precedence that
the moving spouse must show that the move a) will provide
"substantial changes" to the family issues upon which an
initial custody arrangement has been based, and b) be in the
best interest of the child before it will be allowed (Quinn,
1986). While the above standard provides some accepted
guidelines for judges, the issue of what constitutes
"substantial change" remains sufficiently vague. In fact,
in very similar cases judges may decide to allow a move in
one case but not in another. For these issues where no
state statutes are available, judges are offered only
general precedence that may not provide any guidelines upon
which to base their determinations.
This lack of information and guidance forces judges to
continue to depend upon their own views of the family's
roles and structure to evaluate where the best interests of
the child lies. Though some guidelines and court
precedences are available, they do not provide sufficient
support upon which to base decisions of how to use those
guidelines. Furthermore, no information is provided on how
to combine different components of custody arrangements,
such as visitation, financial responsibilities, and child
care to deal with the characteristics of families.
Empirical studies examining the factors associated with
children's post-divorce adjustment could be used to aid in

19
the determination of custody and primary physical residence.
Research could offer some more specific information on how
the variables discussed previously relate to post-divorce
child adjustment, and thus present some empirical support
for what constitutes the best interest of the children.
Research could also suggest when specific custody
arrangements are clearly contraindicated, such as joint
custody when the parents are extremely hostile towards one
another. It would then be the task of the court to
determine how these findings would apply to specific cases.
The recent advent of joint custody and other new types
of custody as options for judges and the inclusion of some
specific criteria in state statutes suggests that there
already has been some progression in judicial
decision-making away from a simple bias for one parent.
These changes present a question to those who are searching
for reform in custody decision-making of what judges
currently use. Research on judicial decision-making is
discussed in the next session. What criteria are used by
judges currently will then be compared to research on
post-divorce child adjustment as the next step in helping to
evaluate where the best interest of the child lies.
Judicial Decision-Making
The new custody arrangements established by state
legislatures have been argued as more supportive of the best
interests of the child doctrine than sole custody awarded on

20
the basis of social role expectations. If judges have begun
to use more case specific variables than was previously
common, it can be expected that judges will rely less on a
general preference for the mother as primary custodian.
Pearson and Ring (1981) examined recent custody
determinations in three Colorado counties and found that
mothers received sole custody in 51.5% to 76.3% of the time,
while fathers had only a 15.5% to 32.3% possibility in being
awarded sole custody; split custody, where children are
separated between parents, was awarded between 7.2% to 11.2%
of the time; and joint and third party custody were the
least popular awarded 1.0% to 6.1% of the time. Pearson and
Ring concluded that the father only gained sole custody if
the mother was proven to be unfit due to either mental
problems, remarriage to a husband with a history of abusing
children, or excessive drinking. Furthermore, custody
determinations made use of the new custody arrangements in
only a small number of cases. These results were also
supported by Lowery (1981) and Phear, Beck, Hauser, Clark,
and Whitney (1984).
Felner, Terre, Farber, Primavera, & Bishop (1985) also
suggested that a preference for the mother continues to
exist. Their study interviewed 43 judges; the results of
their study revealed that 42% of the judges endorsed sole
maternal custody as the arrangement of choice when both
parents are considered approximately egually competent as

21
parents. Only 26% of the judges reported that they would
consider joint custody as an option of choice in these
cases, while none endorsed sole paternal custody as an
option that they considered. These findings suggest that
judges have continued to rely highly on the use of social
views of the family, as represented by the tender years
doctrine, to determine sole custody rather than examining
specific case variables.
Felner et al. (1985) found that one reason judges
continued to prefer maternal custody regarded their
estimation of each parent's motivation for obtaining
custody. Two primary motivators described by judges for
fathers included revenge (endorsed by 26% of the judges) and
use of the child as a bargaining tool in financial
arrangements (endorsed by 23% of the judges). In addition,
more fathers than mothers were seen as desiring sole custody
because of spousal incompetence. These results indicate
that fathers still were assumed to be less concerned for
their children then are mothers, except when she is unfit as
a custodian.
While the above studies appear to support the
conclusion that judges continue to rely on a general
preference for the mother as custodian, this may not be the
whole truth. Pearson & Paul (1984) found that custody
awards to mothers often were based upon the issue of the
psychological parent. Goldstein et al. (1973) defined the

22
psychological parent as the one to whom the child has bonded
and with whom the child has been most involved. Since
mothers were the primary caretakers of the children for the
families studied while the parents were married, the award
of custody that best maintained consistency in the child's
emotional environment would be to the mother. A preference
for the mother as custodian may then be supported by
reliance on a specific case variable, the parent who
attended most to the needs of children prior to the divorce.
A more recent study (Racusin, R., Albertini, R.,
Wishik, H., Schnurr, P, & Mayberry, J., 1989) also found
support for the conclusion that judges respond to specific
case factors when determining custody of children. Joint
versus sole custody was awarded significantly more often
when fathers petitioned for it, when mothers and fathers had
greater than 12 years of education, when fathers were over
25 years of age, and when no one in the family received
welfare. Unfortunately, the influence of other factors such
as interparent conflict, parenting skills, or the identity
of the psychological parent was not assessed in this study.
However, at least some case specific variables were
considered by judges.
Another reason to question the finding of general
preferences for one parent is that the above studies did not
include in their samples families where both parents are
fighting for the custody or primary physical residence of

23
their children. Pearson, Munson, and Thoennes (1984) report
that as few as 10-15% of the custody cases brought before
judges may actually involve disputes between the parents.
The large number of maternal sole custody awards may then
include in part a preference for this arrangement by the
divorcing families themselves and not be solely a reflection
of the views of judges.
Clearly, a decision to award a particular custody
arrangement can be made for a variety of reasons.
Consequently, simple frequency counts of custody or primary
physical residence awards to each parent are insufficient to
conclude what issue or issues influenced the court's
decision-making. Furthermore, families often determine
their own custody arrangements. Thus, the frequency of
specific custody awards may evidence common family patterns
as much as judicial preferences or values.
Judicial attitudes towards joint and paternal custody
may also be misrepresented because judges have been
considered as one homogeneous sample. In fact, there may be
a group of judges who consider more case specific variables
than other groups, or different clusters of variables. This
difference would not be evident in judges' attitudes towards
specific criteria if groups of judges are not compared.
Pearson and Ring (1981) compared younger to older judges and
found that while older judges continue to support a
preference for maternal sole custody, younger judges

24
focussed more on parental motives and the relationships
between the parents and children. Consequently, the
preference for the mother described above may be an
overestimation of judges' views in general.
However, Sorensen and Goldman (1989) found that there
were no discriminable groups of judges based on importance
ratings of specific criteria. While there was a large range
of variation in the importance ratings of criteria, there
did not appear to be distinct groups of judges who placed
more weight on some criteria than other groups. While this
finding does not indicate if young judges differ from older
judges on the use of the tender years presumption, it does
suggest that there is equal variability among young and old
judges in their evaluation of specific criteria.
While the above studies show that some specific case
variables are being considered by judges, they do not
specifically identify the relative amount of weight placed
on these and other criteria by judges. In an effort to
accomplish this task, several researchers have surveyed
judges requesting that they rate importance level for
individual criteria. Though limited in number, these
studies have suggested a continued reliance on the mother as
primary care giver though some specific criteria have been
identified as important to judges in their decision-making.
In addition to the issue of the psychological parent,
Pearson and Paul (1984) also found that children's wishes,

25
Guardian Ad Litem personnel recommendations, court ordered
investigations, and statements made by the parents
concerning their reason for seeking sole custody were used
in determining custody arrangements. And, though some
judges considered the input of mental health professionals,
determination of sole custody was not necessarily based on
following their recommendations.
Felner et al. (1985), Settle and Lowery (1982),
Sorensen and Goldman (1989), and Lowery (1981) all found
that specific factors were used in determining physical
custody without a strong preference for the mother.
Specific criteria in these studies that were most important
to judges in their decision-making included the emotional
stability of the parents, their ability to and concern for
providing care for the children, the amount of time they had
available for the children, the stability of the child's
living arrangements, the moral character of the parents, and
the parents affection for the children. Several other
factors were also identified as important, though somewhat
less important than the above issues. These factors
included the financial resources of the family, interparent
conflict, biological relationship of the parents and
children, the length of time each parent has had custody,
the parents' ability to provide contact with other
relatives, school, and other children of about the same age,
the child's wishes, and placing the child with the same sex

26
parent. Thus, judges do not appear to rely on a general
rule such as the tender years presumption.
Another factor that may be considered important to
judges is the effect of mental health experts' evaluations
of parents on custody determinations. Lowery (1981) found
that the level of importance rated by judges for their
consideration of psychologists' and psychiatrists'
evaluations of parents was high, averaging 7.56 on a scale
of 1 to 11. However, this finding was not supported by
Felner et al. (1985), as only 7% of the 43 judges sampled
considered mental health recommendations as important in
decision-making. Ash & Guyer (1984) also found that while
judges may utilize psychological evaluations of parents and
children, they considered other criteria more important than
mental health experts' evaluations.
The studies listed above have consistently found that
judges as a whole rate some criteria as having more
importance in their determination of custody than other
items. Thus, there is some general agreement among judges
about the relative importance of different groups of
criteria. It is important to note, however, that no
criteria have been identified yet that either override all
other criteria or are completely disregarded (Felner et al.,
1985; Lowery, 1981; Settle and Lowery, 1982; Sorensen &
Goldman, 1989). In fact, many items are rated as having
similar degrees of importance, suggesting that judges

27
consider a large number of issues in their decision-making
and are influenced by many case specific issues.
Although there were identifiable differences between
items in the amount of importance given to them by judges as
a whole, ratings also evidenced marked variability between
judges in the weight given to individual variables. Judges
did not make use of the criteria in a highly consistent
fashion (Sorensen & Goldman, 1989). Thus, judges continue
to differ in their evaluation of the relative importance of
specific criteria and to rely on their own evaluations when
weighing the many custody issues. These results suggest
that though a number of specific criteria likely to be used
by judges can be identified, how each of these items will
impact the decision-making process can not be predetermined.
The large variability in the importance ratings made by
judges make it difficult to describe judicial
decision-making in general.
The difficulty in describing generally judicial
decision-making may follow from several reasons other than a
simple difference between judges. One large reason is
simply that decision-making differs from state to state and
the studies that examine this process assess only one state
at a time. How decision-making changes from state to state,
and even the specific characteristics of decision-making
within a state remain unclear. Racusin, Albertini, Wishik,
Schnurr, and Mayberry (1989) did find that custody awards

28
differed among two states in accordance with the predominant
legal presumption of each state. Additionally, since there
were no studies on judicial decision-making in custody cases
prior to the advent of joint custody, it is impossible to
describe what changes have occurred since that time.
Consequently, a ranking of their relative importance in
decision-making in general may be impossible.
It is possible, however, to say that the courts and
legislature have responded to issues raised by legal and
other professionals regarding the importance of specific
case factors. For example, joint custody has been offered
as a custody arrangement that allows both parents to be
involved in the growth and development of their children
following a divorce. Similarly, some specific criteria have
been defined in state statutes, and clearly judges are
making use of these guidelines in their evaluation of
custody, at least by their own report. These events support
the conclusion of a continued concern about children and a
willingness to respond to information regarding what
constitutes the best interests of the child.
After identifying some of the criteria that judges use
in determining what constitutes the best interest of the
children following a divorce, it is important to recognize
how consistent these criteria are with literature on
post-divorce child adjustment. A comparison between these

29
two bodies of literature may help further delineate where
the best interests of the child lie.
Development of Children Following Divorce
To date, research on the factors that influence the
development of children after divorce has followed several
paths, the most common of which is the comparison of
divorced to intact families (Glover, 1989; Pfeffer, 1981;
Pringle, 1975; Roman & Haddad, 1978; Rothberg, B., 1983;
Shybunko, 1989; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980; Warshak &
Santrock, 1983). The specific issues examined by these
studies have included the differences between parent-child
interactions, parent-to-parent interactions, school
achievement for the children, social adjustment, and
demographic differences between the two groups. Other
studies examining post-divorce child adjustment have also
assessed the influences of external support structures, life
events, relations between children and each of the parents,
parental style, parenting skills, working versus nonworking
parents, amount of conflict between the parents, and the
amount of time parents spend with their children (Hess &
Camara, 1979; Isaacs, 1988; Kline et al., 1989; Kurdek,
1988; Santrock & Warshak, 1979; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980;
Walsh & Stolberg, 1989). Research has also examined the
differences between families in which mothers as compared to
fathers are the post-divorce single parent (Adams, Milner, &
Schrepf, 1984; Lamb, Pleck, & Levine, 1985).

30
It must be noted, however, that for most of the issues
listed above the vast majority of families studied have
included only a maternal sole custody arrangement, and
interviews have been the primary method of data collection.
Additionally, families studied are often middle class, and
their custody arrangements have been constructed and agreed
upon by both parents. These limitations in the research
make the evaluation of paternal care and its effect on
children difficult, and a clear statement of how the
elements of family structure result in stable growth for
children after divorce remains impossible. However, some
more recent research has involved the use of standardized
measures in the evaluation of child adjustment (Glover,
1989; Kline et al., 1989; Shybunko, 1989; Walsh & Stolberg,
1989). These studies have examined the effect of many
family and situational variables on the emotional adjustment
of children. While the more recent studies provide further
support for the validity of the findings on post-divorce
child adjustment, the following literature must be
interpreted with some caution.
Parental Characteristics
Felner's review of the literature on children of
divorced families (1987) and more recent research has
supported the conclusion that parental variables are the
greatest predictor of child development and general
emotional adjustment following a divorce. In particular,

31
the most salient predictors of general child adjustment
identified have included interparent conflict, the quality
of the parent-child relationship, the degree of instability
in the child's daily life, the emotional well being of the
parents, the level of parenting skill, and the degree of
economic stress present.
Of these factors, parental conflict emerged as a very
strong predictor of child adjustment, even two years after
parental divorce (Felner, 1987; Kline et al., 1989; Kurdek,
1988). However, hostility tends to decrease over time, at
least for low conflict couples, and thus becomes a less
effective predictor of child adjustment by five years post¬
divorce (Walsh & Stolberg, 1989). Part of the impact of
interparental hostility on child adjustment may be effected
through its negative influence on caretakers' parenting
skills (Walsh & Stolberg, 1989). The relationship between
parental hostility and child adjustment has also been found
outside of divorced families. Stolberg, Camplair, Currier,
& Wells (1987) found that marital hostility was highly
related the number and severity of internalizing and
externalizing behavior problems, lower self-esteem and lower
prosocial behavior. Parental hostility appears to be a very
salient factor in predicting child adjustment generally,
further supporting the importance of examining this factor
when dealing with divorcing families.

32
Another important predictor of child development
includes the style of parenting within a family. Several
researchers found that authoritative (as opposed to
authoritarian) interaction which allows for verbal give and
take, warmth, and nonpunitive and consistent rule
enforcement were positively correlated with healthy peer
interactions, decreased aggression, improved relations with
parents, and improved attitudes towards school (Hess &
Camara, 1979; Santrock & Warshak, 1979; Wallerstein & Kelly,
1980; and Warshak and Santrock, 1983). Similarly, parenting
skills have also been found to be influential in post¬
divorce child adjustment (Walsh & Stolberg, 1989). These
findings remained consistent regardless of which parent held
sole custody.
Another consistent and important predictor of post¬
divorce child adjustment is maternal emotional adjustment.
(The effect of paternal emotional adjustment has not been
evaluated in part due to the infrequency of this
arrangement.) Kurdek (1988) and Kline et al. (1989) both
found a strong relationship between child behavior problems
and maternal mental health at one- and two-year follow-ups
respectively. Because parental mental health can impact
many aspects of the parent-child relationship, its influence
on child adjustment has probably been evident in a variety
of other studies that examine parent-child relationships.

33
In any case, the potential impact of this variable on child
adjustment is obvious and should thus be measured directly.
Social support or isolation has been studied
extensively in the literature regarding family problems. In
a review of the literature, Wood (1984) and Mitchell and
Trickett (1980) reported that symptomatology and self-esteem
are related to social support and social networks, and that
interpersonal conflict can mediate whether experiences are
supportive or stress inducing. These researchers suggest
that social support and social networks may be important
variables in mediating the impact of stressful experiences,
of which parental divorce is clearly one. The positive
effect of parental social support on children has been shown
in research on divorced families as well. Kurdek (1988)
found that at one year post-divorce follow-up, child
adjustment as evidenced by a limited number of behavior
problems, was predicted by a high degree of parental social
support. This study offers further support for the
importance of this variable to child adjustment. However,
it has been given little importance by judges in determining
custody arrangements (Lowery, 1981).
In contrast to the consistent similarities of effects
resulting from maternal and paternal sole custody, Warshak
and Santrock (1983) reported that the father's use of social
support networks increased and that the mother's standard of
living decreased after separation. This effect could result

34
from the different role expectations for mothers and fathers
and not be indicative of the parenting skills of mothers and
fathers (Warshak & Santrock, 1983). While the source of
this finding remains unknown, it clearly suggests that there
is a difference between maternal and paternal custody at
least in how the arrangements affects the families' lives.
Parent-Child Relationships
The most important variable found in predicting a
child's ability to interact warmly with peers and cope with
stress is the post-divorce parent-child relationship
(Felner, 1987; Hess & Camara, 1979; Santrock & Warshak,
1979; Shybunko, 1989). Some of studies evaluating this
issue have used structured observations of parent and child
behavior and independent raters. Santrock and Warshak
(1979) reported that boys having good relationships with
their fathers behaved more maturely and warmly, while those
having good relations with their mothers expressed better
self esteem. Girls showed a similar difference in their
behavior, demonstrating more self esteem and social
competence when relations with the mother were positive.
Relationships with each parent provided unique benefits to
child in social adjustment, with better adjustment being
related to free access to the noncustodial parent.
Hess and Camara (1979) also found that the best
predictor of positive social development and effective
coping behaviors in children following a divorce was the

35
quality of parent-child interactions, even over parental
disharmony. School work improved while aggressive behavior
and stress decreased when parent-child relationships were
largely devoid of conflict. Furthermore, children were more
likely to exhibit effective coping behaviors when both
parents maintained a positive relationship with them
following the divorce. In fact, the quality of a child's
relationship with each parent did not correlate
significantly. In other words, Hess and Camara (1979) found
that the child's involvement with each parent individually
after divorce is differentially related to a child's social
behavior.
More recent research using standardized measures have
also evidenced the relationship between child adjustment and
the relationship with the noncustodial parent. Shybunko
(1989) found that in mother physical custody positive
father-child relationships post-divorce predicted child
social competence. Furthermore, Isaacs (1988) concluded
that the regularity of visits between fathers and children
buffered the child from interparent hostility. These
findings were consistent for joint custody and sole custody,
suggesting the greater influence of the child's relationship
to the noncustodial parent over the legal custody
arrangement.
Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) followed 60 families after
divorce, in part to describe the differential importance of

36
mother-child versus father-child relationships. The
mother-child relationship affected the level of stress in
the family, while the father-child interaction was most
important for adolescent development in both boys and girls.
They also found that if the father remarried, his
relationship with his children suffered. However, if the
mother remarried, the only change in the family was a
reduced level of stress for her.
The above studies suggest that post-divorce child
adjustment is more dependent on the quality of each
parent-child relationship, interparent conflict, and the
stability of the child's environment regardless of the
custody arrangement than maintaining a consistent contact
with one particular parent. In fact, none of the above
researchers have been able to find any consistent
differences in children's behaviors not explained by these
variables (Adams et al., 1984; Hess & Camara, 1979; Kline et
al., 1989; Santrock & Warshak, 1979; Shybunko, 1989). More
specifically, children's behavior were not found to be
related to parental employment status (Santrock & Warshak,
1979), or the number of visits made by a noncustodial
parent, when controlling for the duration of those visits
(Hess & Camara, 1979).
A preference for the mother or father as a single
custodian or the preferred primary residential custodian is
thus not supported by the above findings. Instead, these

37
studies suggest that the specific case variables of parental
conflict, parent-child relationships, and the style of
parenting will be most predictive of the child's adjustment
and hence most indicative of the best interests of the child
following a divorce. Furthermore, each of these variables
needs to be considered when attempting to predict child
adjustment, as they are all interrelated and influential.
Because of the limitations in the research cited above,
further research must be conducted to clarify which
variables are most important in predicting children's
post-divorce adjustment and how best to measure these
variables. Unfortunately, most of the articles already
published in this area have examined only small groups of
low conflict families, have only sampled one socio-economic
level, and have not matched samples for age of children or
parents, length of separation, or number of siblings.
Therefore, the effect of the variables studied on child
behavior may be exaggerated due the lack of consideration
for the above problems. Similarly, the proliferation of
position papers, which only describe an individual's
personal beliefs, add little to the fund of information
(e.g., Mnookin, 1975). Without the consideration of each
variable and its influence on behavior across a reasonably
large sample, results from research cannot be generalized to
other families.

38
There also remain several specific variables that have
not been examined in the literature with regard to their
influence on the normal development of children after
divorce, though they have been identified by judges as
important in the decision-making. The effect of remarriage,
for example, has only been given casual attention in the
literature on post-divorce child adjustment, though it has
been assumed by some judges to increase the consistency of a
child's environment and to fill the needs left by the
noncustodial parent (Sager et al., 1980). Wallerstein and
Kelly (1980) did state that the only benefit of remarriage
was to reduce maternal stress and that several problems
commonly occur in the families they studied that
counteracted this benefit. For instance, they found that
children feared the step-father would try to take the place
of their biological father and that divorce occurred more
often in the second versus first marriages. While this
study suggests that remarriage has less impact on the
children than the other variables discussed, only interview
data and maternal sole custody families have been used to
draw this conclusion. Further research is necessary to
delimit the effect of remarriage on several different types
of custody arrangements.
Another general issue that has also been considered by
judges as somewhat important in their decision-making but
has not been examined relevant to post-divorce child

39
adjustment is the moral influence of a parent upon children.
The issue of a custodial parent's sexual preference (homo-
versus heterosexual) is one example (Pagelow, 1980). Judges
also have considered several other variables that relate to
the moral influence of parents as well (Felner, 1987; Felner
et al., 1985). Furthermore, variables such as criminal
convictions, religious involvement, and the influence of
mental health experts have not even been addressed in
literature studying the factors that might influence a
child's development. Consequently, these variables and
their importance in predicting the post-divorce adjustment
of children need further evaluation.
In summary, present research supports increasing the
specificity of current legal guidelines over the simple
reliance on one type of custody arrangement. Though some
specific guidelines have been established and joint custody
has become more common following the recognition of the
importance of both parents to the child's adjustment, state
statutes remain incomplete and globally stated. The
statutes do not specify how to evaluate when one or both
parents are unfit as custodians or when to adjudicate a
different custody arrangement than joint custody.
Consequently, judges are still left to depend upon their own
perceptions of what variables affect children and upon court
precedence in following the statutes. As legal precedents
are further delineated, there will probably be a decreased

40
reliance on the use of simple social role definitions in
determining who will care for children. As judges become
more aware of social factors and modify their decision¬
making regarding custody determinations, post-divorce child
adjustment can be further facilitated.
Further analysis of criteria defined by state statutes
and social science research will be important in
facilitating the shift to the use of specific criteria that
have been identified as important in promoting healthy
development for children after divorce. Further research
also is required to clarify these present findings.
Criteria based upon many specific variables that both
describe the family's characteristics and predict the future
development of the children could be developed that would
help delineate what custody arrangements best support the
child's interests. It is the authors' hope that a continued
relationship between social scientists, legislatures, and
court personnel will lead to improvements and further
specification of the decision process involved in supporting
the best interests of children.
Specific Aims
Previous research in the area of judicial
decision-making with regards to where a child will reside
following parental divorce has followed primarily one
methodology, asking judges to rate the importance of
specific criteria or asking lawyers what criteria they

41
believe judges use (e.g., Felner et al., 1985; Lowery, 1981;
Pearson & Ring, 1981; Sorensen & Goldman, 1989). While
these studies have offered some explanation of how the
physical residence of post-divorce children is determined,
they offer only general statements concerning the importance
of specific issues. These studies have only examined
ratings of the importance of criteria in general, rather
than in terms of specific types of cases. Additionally,
judges and lawyers may or may not be able to identify their
decision-making process clearly, and there is always the
potential for bias towards the socially desired response in
self report studies.
The purpose of the present study was to examine
judicial decision-making from the vantage point of
predicting individual case outcomes from the information
available to judges during court hearings. The importance
of each specific variable relative to all other information
collected was evaluated. The results of these analyses were
then compared with previous literature on judicial
decision-making regarding custody determinations, on child
adjustment following parental divorce, and with the Florida
legal statutes regarding custody determinations. Additional
comparisons were made of case outcomes from rural versus
urban and northern versus southern settings in order to
evaluate the dissimilarity in how custody is awarded within
different parts of the state. A secondary aim of this study

42
was to describe the characteristics of the families that get
referred to the Guardian Ad Litem.
Since this study is the first attempt at combining
research on judicial decision-making and post-divorce child
adjustment through an examination of case records, a
detailed analysis of the many specific issue relevant to
these cases could not be undertaken at the present time.
Rather, this project collected data covering a very large
range of psychological and sociological issues generally and
their interrelationships. The purpose of this project,
then, was to identify which of these sociological and
psychological issues are highly predictive of case outcomes.
Future research can make use of the findings from this
project to perform more detailed analyses on the specific
variables identified as important.
Hypotheses
The literature on judicial decision-making and state
statutes regarding custody determinations suggest that the
present study should result in several findings. One
hypothesis was that judges will continue to rely, at least
in part, on a general preference for the mother as
residential custodian over the father regardless of some
specific case variables. It also was expected that this
preference for the mother will be stronger for children
under 12 years of age.

43
A second hypothesis was that there would be a few
issues that have a strong influence on judges7
decision-making in that these variables can determine if a
parent will be considered unfit as a custodian of the child.
It was expected that these issues would include
substantiated drug use, child or spousal physical,
emotional, or sexual abuse and neglect, emotional stability
of the parents, having kidnapped the child previously, and
parental handicaps. Similarly, it was expected that several
variables would have little importance relative to the above
issues. These variables were expected to include parental
education, employment, income and age, willingness to allow
visitation by the noncustodial parent, allegations only of
child or spousal abuse or neglect, alcohol or drug abuse,
child's wishes, placing the child with the same sex parent,
and having more time available for the children.

METHODS
Subjects
The subjects for this study were 60 families referred
to Florida's Guardian Ad Litem program (GAL) due to
involvement in contested custody disputes. In each of these
cases court intervention was necessitated because the
parties were unable to reach an agreement concerning the
custody of their child(ren). Data was not collected on any
cases resolved through mediation only. Families were
referred to the GAL by lawyers, judges, and family members.
These cases were adjudicated between September, 1988 and
October, 1990. A description of the GAL program is
contained in the procedures section of this document.
Of the sixty cases, 44% involved marital dissolution
and initial custody determinations, while 56% involved a
modification of one or more components of a previous custody
arrangements. Within the group of cases seeking a
modification, 20% involved a visitation modification, 85% a
residence modification, and 9% some other type of
modification (e.g., child support payments). In 58% of the
cases filing for a modification of a previous custody
arrangement, one or both of the parents had remarried.
44

45
Approximately two-thirds of the cases were referred to
circuits serving large metropolitan areas including Miami,
Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, and Gainesville. The
remainder of the cases were referred to a other circuits
that serve a number of urban and rural counties, but only
three cases involved families living in rural counties. The
sample was distributed over the state approximately egually,
with 61% from counties parallel to or north of Orlando and
39% from counties south of Orlando.
The families involved in these cases were predominantly
Caucasian (85%), although five were Black, one was Hispanic,
and three were of mixed race. Almost all of the families
included a child under the age of 12 (92%). The average age
of the children was 7.4, with a range from less than one
year to 20 years. About half of the families had only one
child (48%). There were approximately egual numbers of male
and female children in the sample. Demographic information
on the parents (see Table 1) indicates that the parents were
generally in their 30s and had little more than a high
school education. Mothers and step-mothers were frequently
unemployed and seldom earned more than $10,000 a year, while
fathers and step-fathers often held skilled jobs earning in
excess of $20,000. Only 18% of the families had a parent
who earned more than $30,000 a year. Additionally, one or
both parents has recently lost a job in 37% of the families.

46
TABLE 1
Demographic Characteristics of the Parents
Parent
Step-
Step-
Variable
Mother
Father
Mother
Father
Percent
Single Parents
85
75
—
—
Average
Age
31.3
34.8
32.3
39.6
Average
Years of Education
12.3
13.3
13.3
13.7
Average
Yearly Income*
8.4
26.5
6.9
23.7
Percent Unemployed
29
3
29
0
Percent
Unskilled Labor
51
45
36
33
Percent
Skilled Labor
12
30
21
67
Percent
Professionals
8
22
14
0
* In units of $1000

47
Due to the large number of custody cases brought to the
courts each year and the scarcity of the GAL workers, it is
assumed that the cases referred to the GAL have a greater
than average level of family problems, most notably familial
conflict, when compared with the general population of
divorce cases.
Measures
A guestionnaire was developed which included a total of
61 items (see Appendix). These items were derived from
previous research on judicial decision-making in custody
cases, literature on post-divorce child adjustment, and the
Florida statutes regarding custody determinations. Of these
items, 8 required the GAL representative to rate one or more
family members on a specific issue and to report their
confidence in making those ratings. (All ratings were made
on graphic scales and measured to generate a value from 1-
99.) There were also 2 questions which required the
guardian to make a judgement about which caretaker provided
for the children's needs. In addition to the ratings, there
were 10 items requiring a simple endorsement of the presence
or absence of specific problems made in a given case. The
remaining 41 questions required a simple report of
demographic and case information. Additionally, a variable
reflecting fitness of each parent was created with reference
to legal criteria in the Florida Statutes (Joint Legislative
Management Committee, 1985). These state that substantiated

48
child abuse/neglect or spouse abuse defines a parent as
unfit.
Completion of this questionnaire required guardians to
evaluate many different characteristics of the family based
upon the data they collect during their interviews with
family members. This process of forming impressions about
families is also a central part of the Guardian Ad Litem's
court appointed role in custody cases. In order to evaluate
the stability both over time and across raters of the
ratings recorded on the questionnaire used in this study, a
pilot study was conducted.
Due to the large demand for the small number of
guardians working on custody cases and the sensitivity of
the material collected by the guardians, it was not possible
to generate reliability data using actual cases.
Consequently, a video tape of a mock interview between a
guardian and a family was developed. There are four
separate interviews included on this video tape, one with
the child alone, one with each parent individually, and one
with the all family members present. This video tape was
shown twice to a group of 19 experienced guardians who have
been assigned to at least one custody case previously, with
a two week interview between viewings. The video tape was
also shown to a group of 20 clinical psychologists licensed
in the state of Florida.

49
During each of these viewings, subjects completed the
section of the questionnaire that requires making
evaluations of family members. Of the 8 questions that
involve some rating on the family, 5 require separate
ratings for each parent's relationship with the child(ren).
All questions require separate ratings on the issue and the
person's confidence in the ratings. Consequently, 26 rating
variables were generated as part of this pilot study. The 2
questions which required the rater to make a judgement about
which caretaker provided for the children's needs were also
included in this pilot study.
Test-retest reliability was generated by calculating
the Pearson Product Moment correlation between each of the
guardian's ratings made after the first and second viewings.
Of the 26 correlations, 22 were significant at the .05
probability level or better, with 15 of those significant at
the .01 probability level or better. Of those 22, the mean
r (19) was .66, with a range from .46-.92. These results
suggest that there is moderate to good stability over time
for these 22 ratings.
Unfortunately, the relationship between the ratings
made during the first and second viewing on some of the
questions did not generate significant test-retest
correlations. These questions included the father's warm
feelings for the children, how hostile the mother was to the
interviewer, and the satisfaction with social support for

50
father. Ratings of the confidence guardians had in their
ratings of the mother's warm feelings for the children also
did not demonstrate significant test-retest correlations.
While a nonsignificant test-retest correlation suggests
that subjects' impressions of these issues change over time,
it does not provide any information either on the degree of
difference between the ratings or on any possible trend
within the ratings. In order to further examine how
dissimilar guardians' ratings on these variables were across
the two viewings, matched t-tests were calculated. None of
these variables exhibited a difference between the first and
second ratings, even at the .2 level of significance.
Consequently, there does not appear to be a large difference
between the ratings made across the two viewings.
Similarly, there was no evidence on any question of a
general trend for the rating made during the first viewing
to be consistently higher or lower than the one made during
the second viewing.
The test-retest stability for the two variables
requiring the guardian to determine which parent primarily
provided for the physical and emotional needs of the
children was calculated using a chi-square analysis and
percent agreement. Regarding physical needs, the same
parent was identified by 82% of the guardians across
viewings, indicating a significant reliability, X2 (1,17) =
5.24, p<.05. Identification of the parent providing for the

51
child's emotional needs was even more stable, (1,17) =
18.00, pc.001, as 100% of the guardians identified the same
parent after the two viewings.
There remain several possible reasons why ratings made
during each of the viewings on these questions did not
demonstrate significant relationships. One possible
explanation is that there was insufficient variability in
the distribution of ratings made on these questions to allow
the Pearson Product Moment Correlation to calculate a
relationship. This possibility was evaluated by examining
the variance of ratings on these questions. None of the
distributions of ratings on these questions appeared
excessively limited, suggesting that variance was not an
explanation of the poor test-retest correlations.
A second possible reason why a relationship between the
ratings was not demonstrated is that guardians had
insufficient information on these issues to generate a
specific impression of the family and thus responded more
randomly to these items. It was assumed that guardians
would report low confidence in their ratings on a question
when they had little information on that topic.
Consequently, if low reliability was due to a lack of
information, there would be a relationship between
confidence ratings and the value of the test-retest
reliability estimate. Due to the small sample size and to
the fact that the reliability estimates were not normally

52
distributed, a Spearman Rank correlation was used to assess
the relationship between these variables. Results indicate
a significant positive relationship between these variables,
rs (11) = .54, pc.01.
A third possible reason why stability over time was not
demonstrated for some ratings is that guardians' impressions
may be changing as they consider the information on the
family a second time. In fact, information salient to
guardians during the first viewing of the tape may not be
considered as important during the second viewing.
Unfortunately, information on how guardians form their
impressions of families is not available at this time. Thus
further statements about why these particular ratings do not
remain stable can not be made.
In general when the stability of a variable can not be
demonstrated, that variable is dropped from further
analyses. In this case, however, that course of action was
not taken because regardless of the stability of guardian's
impressions, these impressions are being reported to the
court in custody cases. Consequently, the ratings need to
be included in the analyses in order to evaluate their
relative influence in the judges' decision-making process.
Our findings of low test-retest reliability do indicate that
further study is necessary in order to evaluate why
guardians' ratings change over time.

53
In addition to evaluating the stability of guardians'
ratings over time, we also assessed the consistency in
ratings across raters. Viewers only rated one interview.
Conseguently, it was not possible to calculate interrater
reliability of these guestions using the standard procedure
of comparing a few raters across a series of ratings.
However, it was possible to examine the similarity of
ratings made across evaluators on individual guestions by
examining the degree of variation within the distribution of
ratings. The coefficient of variation (CV=Std/M*100) is a
unitless measure of this variation that compares the size of
the mean to the size of the standard deviation. Although
there is no statistical test for the significance of this
value, values less than one hundred are generally considered
to indicate low interrater variability and thus high
consistency in the ratings. Values much greater than one
hundred suggest high interrater variability or poor
reliability between raters.
The values of the coefficient of variation for each
question was calculated for each of the two groups of
subjects, guardians and licensed psychologists, separately.
Guardians' ratings generated following the first viewing
were used. Ratings made by each group were found to have CV
values considerably less than 100 for all questions,
including ratings of confidence. In fact, the average CV
value for the guardians' ratings across questions was 36.32,

54
with a range from 9.59-60.90. The average CV value for the
psychologists' ratings across questions was 31.77, with a
range from 9.97-69.98. These values indicate considerable
similarity in the ratings made by guardians and
psychologists on all questions. We interpreted this high
degree of consistency to indicate that guardians as a group
have similar definitions for the issues queried in the
measure. Psychologists appear to similarly agree with one
another upon the definition of these issues.
In addition to evaluating the level of variation
between ratings made within these groups of subjects, we
also compared the guardians' ratings to those made by
psychologists on each guestion using t-tests. Results of
these comparisons indicated significant differences between
guardians' ratings and psychologists' ratings on only four
questions. Guardians rated the parents as less conflicted
(M = 65.32) than psychologists (M = 77.95), t (37) = -2.20,
E<.05. However, guardians rated the father-child conflict
as greater (M = 82.89) than psychologists (M = 71.00), t
(37) = 3.46, pc.01. Guardians also rated each parent's
satisfaction with their social supports lower (M = 37.10 for
mothers and 35.21 for fathers) than psychologists (M = 49.90
for mothers and 49.70 for fathers), t (37) = -2.33, p<.01
and t (37) = -2.04, pc.05 respectively. Although the
differences between these ratings were significant, the mean
values do not indicate radical differences between

55
guardians' and psychologists' ratings. Consequently,
guardians and psychologists appear to agree, at least in
general, upon the definition of the issues rated during this
study.
Another question relevant to the use of the ratings is
what exactly are guardians using as concepts when evaluating
the families on the issues queried. For example, to what
are guardians referring when they report a high degree of
conflict within a family? Additionally, what degree of
conflict indicated on the rating form is consistent with a
normal versus clinical cutoff point? These questions are
beyond the scope of this research project. However, we did
attempt have some families complete some previously
validated measures so that we could compare guardians'
ratings to them, but we were unable to generate sufficient
data. Consequently, we will not be able to make statements
from these ratings about what information, other than
guardians' impressions, is being used by the court to form
custody determinations. Consequently, this project will
focus on the impact of guardians' impressions of families on
custody determinations.
Procedures
Data were collected by GAL workers, who are generally
referred to as guardians. The GAL program is a public
agency operated under the direction of the Chief Judge of
the circuit court. The role of the GAL is to serve as an

56
advocate for the child and to provide both information about
the family and a recommendation regarding custody or
dependency to the court. Seven judicial circuits have GAL
programs serving in custody disputes; each of these
participated in the data collection.
The questionnaire was completed by guardians assigned
to each case after the court made its final determination.
The assistance of a supervisor in this process was provided
on occasion. GAL workers had access to all information
available to the court on these cases, except parental
criminal history.
The researchers were not provided with names of family
members or other identifying information; cases were
identified by a research number to protect confidentiality.
Due to the archival nature of the data, the Institutional
Review Board determined that provisions for receiving
informed consent were unnecessary.
Analyses
Statistical Procedures
Much of the data collected for this study described
each individual parent and step-parent in the family
separately. For example, guardians' rated the amount of
conflict between each parent and the children.
Unfortunately, the sample size did not permit us to analyze
the influence of step-parents relative to natural parents on
judicial decision-making. However, we did not want to

57
simply drop the information on step-parents from our
analyses. Consequently, data on the step-parent were
combined with data on the natural parent to whom they were
married. This was achieved in two ways. Ratings made by
guardians were averaged. Reports of abuse or of a parent
taking a child secretly from the other parent were
considered present if they were made on either member of a
natural parent/step-parent pair.
GAL workers provided us with a number of ratings on
family relationship characteristics. In addition to rating
family relationship information, guardians also rated their
confidence in making those ratings. We hypothesized that
guardians confidence would affect their ratings7 influence
on judicial decision-making. This hypothesis was tested by
including confidence ratings as main effects and as
interactions with the ratings in subsequent analyses.
Although we obtained confidence ratings for each
parent/step-parent pair, these ratings were highly related.
Correlations of confidence scores between parental dyads
averaged .80 and ranged from .67 to .93 (all p <.0001). In
order to avoid multicollinearity among these confidence
scores, they were pooled across parental dyads for each
rating.
Although we received information on family relationship
characteristics and confidence for all cases, guardians
often reported only a subset of this information to the

58
court. Because we were using these ratings to predict
judicial decision-making, we needed to identify which
information was provided to the judges in each case. This
was accomplished by using a binary variable that indicated
whether the item was reported as a weighting variable. In
other words, rating scores were multiplied by this weighting
variable before they were included in the analyses. We also
examined whether guardians' decision to report information
on a rating was related to the value of the rating or to
their confidence in making the rating.
In order to determine which variables were predictive
of disposition, multiple logistic regression models were
calculated using the method of maximum likelihood. This
statistical procedure is appropriate when a variety of
discrete and continuous variables are being used to predict
a dichotomous independent variable. The test statistic for
this comparison is called the goodness-of-fit chi-square
(G2). This statistic compares the outcome predicted from a
regression equation with the observed outcome to determine
whether the model fits the data. In contrast to more
conventional analyses, in this procedure small values of the
statistic (or large p-values) indicate significant findings.
This statistic requires no assumptions of multivariate
normality.
In addition to testing the significance of a logistic
regression model, it is also possible to test the

59
significance of individual independent variables. This test
is also based on a chi-square, however interpretation of
this statistic is more conventional. Large chi-square
values (or small p-values) indicate that a variable
significantly improves prediction after all other variables
have been included in the model. Furthermore, the direction
of influence each significant variable exerts on the outcome
variable can be interpreted by the sign of the parameter
estimate. Positive estimate values indicate an increased
likelihood while negative values indicate a decreased
likelihood.
Due to the large number of independent variables
relative to the sample size, it was necessary to calculate a
substantial number of regression equations with a subset of
the independent variables included in each. The procedure
used to select variables for each regression is described
below in the Variable Selection section. After all
variables were included in a model, a backwards stepwise
procedure with replacements was used in order to exclude
variables that failed to improve prediction. The variables
remaining in these models were then combined into larger
models. Subsequent to this, variables that did not improve
prediction were again eliminated from the model in a
backwards stepwise fashion.
One of the consequences of running a large number of
models is an increase in the experimentwise error rate. In

60
order to control for this problem, a conservative criteria
was set for determining whether a variable improved
prediction. Variables were considered significant
predictors only when the overall model goodness-of-fit test
was nonsignificant and the variable chi-square test was
significant.
Before discussing variable selection, one problem in
the analyses must be discussed. Within all of the
regression equations, many of the independent variables were
highly correlated. This problem of multicollinearity
complicated both the analyses and the subsequent
interpretation. Although multicollinearity does not greatly
affect the model goodness-of-fit tests, it does bias
variable chi-squares tests towards nonsignificance.
Consequently, caution was used when excluding nonsignificant
independent variables from a regression model. Variables
that appeared to improve the predictability of the overall
model but did not have significant chi-square values were
retained in the model until the effect of other potentially
related variables could be evaluated.
Variable Selection
The independent variables were grouped into the
following categories: psychological, sociological, and
legal. Psychological variables primarily included items
describing family relationships that have been identified in
the literature as related in particular to post-divorce

61
child adjustment or in general to psychological well-being.
They include items addressing family conflict, social
support, and child(ren)'s emotional and physical needs.
Additionally, information on whether psychological
evaluations or treatment were recommended for any family
member and the parent's response to the guardian were
included in this group.
Variables were labeled sociological if they described
the demographic characteristics of the families. These
included race, occupation, income, education, which parent
had remarried, whether extended family members lived with
the parents, and the number of children in the family.
The final category, termed legal variables, included
items identified either in the Florida Statutes or in legal
journals as relevant to custody determinations. The
following information was included in this group: where the
parents planned to live, the child's wishes, who held
custody following parental separation, the emotional bond
between the parents and children, each parent's capacity to
care for the child(ren), whether any child is of "tender
years", reports of abuse or kidnappings, and the guardian's
recommendations.

RESULTS
Case Characteristics
One of the aims of this project was to describe the
cases referred to the GAL custody program. A description of
these cases should provide some reference points for
interpreting the predictability of judicial decision-making
regarding these families. Table 2 presents information on
the parent/step-parent pairs. Almost all parents are
represented by counsel and plan to live in the state.
Consequently, these issues do not differentiate between
parental dyads, and thus this information can have little
impact on decision-making. In contrast to the above items,
information on who held custody after separation, who
provided for the children's physical and emotional needs
prior to separation, and to a lesser degree who has more
time available to care for the children all point towards
one parent as a preferred caretaker, the mother.
Florida Statutes list likelihood of allowing the child
frequent and continuing contact with the nonresidential
parent as one of the guidelines for custody determinations.
Literature on post divorce child adjustment also support the
importance of continued contact with the nonresidental
parent (Hess & Camara, 1979; Isaacs, 1988; Shybunko, 1989;
Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). In light of these points, the
62

63
TABLE 2
Characteristics of Parent/Step-Parent Pairs*
Mother/
Father/
Step-Father
Step
-Mother
Represented by Counsel
92
93
Plans to Live in Florida
92
95
Provided for the Physical Needs of
the Children Prior to Separation
70
27
Provided for the Emotional Needs of
the Children Prior to Separation
70
32
Held Custody After Separation
73
15
Has More Time for Caretaking than
the Other Parental Pair
54
17
Can Be Labeled Unfit
28
18
Physical Problems Limit Caretaking
12
3
Secretly Taken the Child
18
13
More Willing to Allow the Other
Parental Pair Visitation
33
35
Recently Moved
37
25
* Table values represent percentage
of pairs falling
into
each category.

64
item addressing willingness to allow parental visitation and
that which refers to a parent secretly taking a child from a
custodial parent are of interest. In our sample, concerns
about willingness to allow visitation arose in almost 70% of
the cases while kidnapping occurred in 31% of the cases.
Consequently, willingness to allow contact between the
children and the nonresidential caretaker appears to be an
issue of concern in many of these contested custody cases.
The information in the table also suggests that in a
few cases one or both parents may have limited caretaking
abilities. The difficulty caring for the children may arise
from some physical limitation due to illness, injury, or
handicap. This occurred in very few cases and only one
parent in a family was ever handicapped. Additionally, a
parent may be unfit as a caretaker due to a history of child
abuse/neglect or spousal abuse. Although at least one
parent was determined to be unfit in 40% of the cases, both
parents were unfit in only four cases (6%). Consequently,
these issues clearly discriminated between parental pairs.
Due to the impact abuse and neglect have on children,
further description of our sample with regard to these
issues is warranted. Figure 1 presents the relative
frequencies of the different types of abuse allegations and
substantiated reports. For all types of abuse and neglect,
allegations arose much more frequently than substantiated
reports, especially for sexual and emotional abuse. In

3 100%
Sexual Physical Emotional
Abuse Type
Neglect
Figure 1: Occurrence of Child Abuse and Neglect

66
fact, 83% of the cases included at least one allegation of
abuse or neglect. Surprisingly, in 47% of the cases, these
allegations involved only one parental pair, and thus could
be used to discriminate custodial options for some cases.
With regard to the type of problem, more cases involved
allegations or substantiated reports or emotional abuse than
any other abuse, while physical and sexual abuse were
alleged or substantiated least often. This pattern was not
replicated when substantiated reports are considered alone.
Neglect was substantiated in the largest number of cases,
while sexual abuse occurred least frequently. In addition
to reports of current abuse/neglect, substantiated reports
of previous child abuse/neglect were present in 13% of the
cases. An additional 10% of the cases involved allegations
of previous abuse/neglect.
Reports of spousal physical and emotional abuse were
also prevalent in our sample. Spousal physical abuse was
alleged in 29% of the cases, while spousal emotional abuse
was alleged in 35% of the cases. Substantiated physical and
emotional abuse occurred in 11% and 16% of the cases
respectively.
Reports of alcohol and drug abuse have also been given
attention in literature describing judicial decision-making
and post divorce child adjustment. In our sample,
allegations of substance abuse occurred in 60% of the cases,
while substantiated reports were made in an additional 25%

67
of the cases. Of the cases involving allegations or
substantiated reports of substance abuse, the reports were
made against one parent in 47% of them. Alcohol abuse was
listed as a problem in 52% of the cases, while drug abuse
was reported in 43%. Both were alleged in 37% of the cases.
Reports of alcohol and drug abuse were made approximately
equally against mothers and fathers. These figures indicate
that substance abuse reports are relatively common in these
contested cases.
The number of substantiated reports of abuse/neglect
and the number of parents involved with alcohol or drug
abuse indicate the incidence and degree of psychological
problems within these families. In fact, guardians
recommended treatment for a family member in 60% of the
cases. Additionally, guardians recommended that someone
undergo a mental health evaluation in 49% of the cases.
Evaluations, however, were only completed in 28% of the
cases. The difference in these frequencies are due in part
to the difficulty of getting a parent to consent to the
evaluation for either themselves or their children.
Frequency of Custody Awards and Recommendations
Before describing the result of the regressions, we
will discuss GAL recommendations for custody awards as well
as the actual custody determinations awarded by the court.
This information is reported in Table 3. Consistent with a
presumption for shared custody, this arrangement was awarded

68
TABLE 3
Custody Awards and Recommendations
Final Determinations
Shared Custody with Mother as Primary Custodian
Shared Custody with Father as Primary Custodian
Shared Custody with Split Primary Custody
Maternal Sole Custody
Paternal Sole Custody
Other Custody Arrangement
Guardian Ad Litem Recommendations
Mother as Primary Custodian
Father as Primary Custodian
Alternative Arrangement Recommended
Children's Wishes
Preference for the Mother as Primary Custodian
Preference for the Father as Primary Custodian
No Preference was Stated
Percent
43
33
5
8
7
4
51
39
10
39
21
40

69
much more frequently than sole custody or any other
arrangement. Additionally, primary residential custody was
almost universally awarded to one parent under shared
custody. An interesting item evident in the table is the
number of cases in which physical residence was awarded to
the father. These results suggest that, at least in our
sample, there is little apparent tendency for either
guardians to recommend physical residence to mothers or for
the court to award custody to mothers over fathers. In
fact, a preference for the mother to be the primary
caretaker was evident only in the children's wishes.
Prediction of Custody Awards
The primary aim of this study was to describe the
factors that are most influential in child custody
determinations. A series of logistic regression equations
were calculated in order to address this issue. In
particular, two aspects of custody determinations were
addressed: whether shared or sole custody was awarded and
which parent would serve as primary residential custodian.
Awards of Shared Versus Sole Custody
Prior to evaluating the importance of legal,
sociological, and psychological issues, we assessed whether
custody awards might be influenced by factors unrelated to
the information provided to the court. For instance, since
data was collected on both initial disposition and
disposition modification cases, we were concerned that

70
custody awards might differ between these groups of cases.
We were also interested in testing whether the location of a
judicial circuit affected custody awards. Thirdly, in a
subset of the case, guardians did not have the opportunity
to interview all family members; the influence of this
procedural variable was also of concern. When these
variables were included in a prediction equation, none of
them surfaced as significantly related to an award of shared
versus sole custody. Conseguently, custody appears to be
awarded similarly across the state, among disposition and
modification cases, and when guardians did not interview all
family members.
The legal variables were then entered into a series of
logistic regression equations. A few variables emerged as
significantly related to the determination of shared versus
sole custody within several of these regressions. As
presented in Table 4, both the model goodness-of-fit chi-
square and the variable chi-square were significant in each
case. In this table, positive parameter values indicate
that higher values of that variable resulted in a increased
likelihood of sole custody awards.
Relationships between fathers and their children,
specifically the degree of warm feelings held by the fathers
for the children, also affected custody awards. However, it
is difficulty to interpret the effect this variable has on
custody awards. The parameter estimate for this variable is

71
TABLE 4
Logistic Regressions Using Legal Variables
To Predict Shared Versus Sole Custody
G2
Df
Predictor Variables
Parameter
Estimate
Df
Chi-
Scruare
Initial Legal Models
11.66a
9
Physical Problems Limit
Mothers Caretaking
.85
1
3.7 6b
45.36a
52
GAL Rating of Father's
Warm Feelings for
the Children
-.03
1
3.75b
GAL's Confidence in Rating
Warm Feelings
.03
1
3.85b
23.66a
21
Mother Determined Unfit
.97
1
5.74b
Presence of a Young Child
2.34
1
9.87c
Interaction Between Child's
Age and Child's Wish to
Live with their Mother
-2.49
1
34.70d
13.95a
14
Substantiated Physical Abuse
by the Father
1.32
1
4.19b
Combined Legal Model
33.28a
51
Physical Problems Limit
Mothers Caretaking
1.43
1
4.37b
GAL Rating of Father's
Warm Feelings for
the Children
-.05
1
4.7 8b
GAL's Confidence in
Rating Warm Feelings
.05
1
4.65b
Mother Determined Unfit
1.14
1
5.8 lb
a
b
c
d
£>>• 05
P<. 05
p<. 01
pc.001

72
negative, suggesting that shared custody was more likely to
be awarded when this variable was rated high. However, the
parameter estimate for GAL confidence in this rating is
positive, suggesting that confidence mediates the
relationship between ratings of father-child relationships
and an award of shared versus sole custody. Conseguently,
in cases where confidence in this rating is low, high
ratings of paternal warm feelings increase the likelihood of
an award of shared custody, while low ratings of paternal
warm feelings have little effect on custody determinations.
However, in cases where confidence is low, high ratings of
paternal warm feelings have little effect on custody
determinations, while low ratings of paternal warm feelings
increase the likelihood of an award of sole custody.
Children's wishes and their age both influenced the
likelihood of sole versus shared custody awards. Taken
together, the significant effect of age and the interaction
between children's wishes and age suggest a nonlinear
relationship between these variables and custody awards.
When children were young and wished to live with their
mothers, shared custody was the most likely award. In fact,
primary residence was usually awarded to the mother in these
cases. However, when children were young and they did not
wish to live with their mothers, the likelihood of sole
custody being awarded to the father was increased. The
wishes of older children had little impact on awards of sole

73
versus shared custody; as there were only four families
without young children, this effect could not be adequately
tested within this sample.
Sole custody was more likely to be awarded when mothers
were either physically handicapped or perpetrators of any
form of child abuse or neglect. Further examination of the
data indicated that in these cases, judges awarded sole
custody to the father. Similarly, cases involving
substantiated reports of physical child abuse perpetrated by
the father also resulted in increased awards of sole
custody. In these cases, sole custody was typically awarded
to the mother. It is striking in this context, however,
that substantiated reports of child sexual abuse, child
emotional abuse, neglect, or spousal abuse do not
significantly increase the likelihood of judges awarding
sole custody when the father was the perpetrator.
Legal variables identified as significantly predictive
of outcome in the aforementioned regressions were then
combined into another logistic regression model. This model
was significant (see Table 4), and the following variables
were shown to be related to the custody arrangement awarded:
presence of maternal physical problems limiting caretaking
ability; the guardian's rating of the father's warm feelings
for the child(ren); the guardian's confidence in that
rating; and a determination that the mother was unfit as a
caretaker. The presence of a young child in the family,

74
substantiated reports of paternal physical abuse, and the
interaction between children's wishes and their age were
dropped from the combined model. This does not indicate
that these variables were unrelated to outcome, but that
they did not add significantly to the prediction of custody
awards over the other variables.
The eleven sociological variables were entered into two
regression eguations. Although both of the two models were
significant, G2 (24, N=57) = 30.03, p>.05 and G2 (23, N=57)
= 21.47, p>.05, only mothers' occupational level was shown
to be predictive of outcome. For the purposes of this
study, occupation was classified into four categories:
unemployed, unskilled labor, skilled labor, and
professional. Within our sample, sole custody was more
likely to be awarded when mothers had skilled jobs than
otherwise (parameter value=1.30), X2 (1, N=57) = 3.95,
E<•05. Upon further examination of the data, the awards of
sole custody in these cases usually went to the mothers.
Given the small number of cases (N=4) in which mothers held
professional jobs, our sample may not have adequately tested
the relationship between custody determinations and this
occupational level.
Psychological variables, entered into two regression
models, were highly predictive of whether shared or sole
custody was awarded. Model goodness-of-fit chi-squares and

75
at least one variable chi-square were significant (see Table
5).
As can be seen in Table 5, sole custody is more likely
to be awarded in those cases in which guardians rate mothers
as being hostile towards them. Fathers' relationships with
people outside the immediate family are also important
predictors of shared versus sole custody. The significant
interaction and main effects for ratings of fathers' social
support and guardians' confidence in those ratings together
indicate a nonlinear relationship between these variables
and shared versus sole custody awards. A judge is more
likely to award sole custody when guardians are confident
that fathers are satisfied with their social supports than
when the guardians are uncertain of their ratings on this
issue. Conversely, shared custody is a more likely outcome
when guardians rate fathers as being only moderately
satisfied with their social supports as well as when the
guardians are less confident of their ratings. This
relationship suggests that in the absence of clear
information on fathers' social support, judges favor an
award of shared custody.
The above paragraphs describe how each of the three
groups of variables, sociological, psychological, and legal,
individually predict the award of shared versus sole
custody. After the variables most predictive of custody
awards within these groups were specified, a combined model

to teto
AAV
76
TABLE 5
Logistic Regressions Using Psychological Variables
To Predict Shared Versus Sole Custody
G2
Df
Predictor Variables
Parameter
Estimate
Df
Chi-
Sauare
Initial Psychological Models
30.76a
50
Hostility of Mothers
Towards GAL
.04
1
8.47c
GAL Rating of Father's
Satisfaction with
Social Support
-.06
1
3.05a
GAL's Confidence in Rating
Social Support
-.04
1
4.21b
Interaction Between
Father's Social Support
Rating and GAL Confidence
.001
1
5.79b
3.90a
21
Psychological Evaluation
was Recommended for
Some Family Member
1.21
1
4.82a
Combined Psychological
Model
30.76a
50
Hostility of Mothers
Towards GAL
.04
1
8.47c
GAL Rating of Father's
Satisfaction with
Social Support
-.06
1
3.05a
GAL's Confidence in Rating
Social Support
-.04
1
4.2 lb
Interaction Between
.001
1
5.79b
Father's Social Support
Rating and GAL Confidence
. 05
. 05
.01

77
was constructed to identify those variables most predictive
of custody awards. Nonsignificant variables were excluded
from the equation, resulting in the model presented in Table
6.
In particular, three variables out of the nine entered
into this final model were dropped. These variables
included mothers7 occupational level, presence of maternal
physical problems that limited caretaking ability, and
determinations that mothers were unfit as caretakers.
These variable were dropped because they failed to increase
the predictability of the outcome over the remaining
variables. Thus the remaining variables are the strongest
predictors of judicial determinations of sole versus shared
custody.
As Table 6 shows, mothers7 and fathers7 responses to
and involvement with people outside of the immediate family
are strong predictors of custody determinations. In
particular, judges are more likely to award sole custody
given either the presence of maternal hostility towards
guardians or confident GAL ratings of paternal satisfaction
with available social supports.
Relationships within the family are also predictive of
custody awards. As discussed earlier, the relationship
between ratings of paternal warm feelings for their children
and custody awards is contingent on the guardians7
confidence in their ratings of this variable. The reader

o tr o»
78
TABLE 6
Logistic Regressions Using Combined Psychological,
Sociological, and Legal Variables
To Predict Shared Versus Sole Custody
G2
Df
Predictor Variables
Parameter
Estimate
Df
Chi-
Sauare
24.10a
48
Hostility of Mothers
Towards GAL
.06
1
7.39c
GAL Rating of Father's
Satisfaction with
Social Support
-.07
1
2.34a
GAL's Confidence in Rating
Social Support
-.03
1
3.35a
Interaction Between
Father's Social Support
Rating and GAL Confidence
.001
1
4.42b
GAL Rating of Father's
Warm Feelings for
the Children
-.05
1
4.28b
GAL's Confidence in
.05
1
4.19b
Rating Warm Feelings
£>>• 05
p<. 05
p<. 01

79
should note that as with the issue of paternal social
support, judges are more likely to award shared custody when
there is an absence of clear information on these issues.
Awards of Maternal Versus Paternal Primary Physical
Residence
As with prediction of shared versus sole custody, we
assessed whether the purpose of the case (initial
disposition or disposition modification), a change in GAL
procedures (i.e., a family member was not interviewed), or
the location of the circuit influenced the award of primary
physical residence (PPR). These variables were entered into
a regression model before psychological, legal, and
sociological data were considered. Both the model chi-
square and the variable chi-squares indicated no
relationship between these variables and primary physical
residence awards. Consequently, PPR appears to be awarded
similarly across the state as well as among disposition and
modification cases. Additionally, PPR is not influenced by
the unavailability of a subset of family members for
interview by guardians.
Next, legal variables were entered into a series of
regression equations. Variables emerging as significant
predictors of PPR and with significant goodness-of-fit model
chi-squares are listed in Table 7. In this table, positive
parameter values indicate an increased likelihood of awards
for maternal primary residence.

80
TABLE 7
Logistic Regressions Using Legal Variables
To Predict Primary Physical Residence Award
G2
Df
Predictor Variables
Parameter
Estimate
Df
Chi-
Scruare
Initial Legal Models
4 0.86a
30
Mother has More Time
to Care for Children
1.16
1
13.12d
64.58a
52
GAL Rating of Father's
Daily Involvement with
the Children
-.03
1
6.58c
8.90a
11
Mother Held Residence
Following Parental
Separation
.79
1
5.42b
60.91a
49
Confidence in Rating
Parental Warm Feelings
for the Children
-.13
1
4.37b
Interaction Between Ratings
of Mother's Warm Feelings
and Confidence
.004
1
3.78b
Interaction Between Ratings
of Father's Warm Feelings,
Mother's Warm Feelings, and
Confidence
.00002
1
3.84b
25.79a
22
Child Wishes to Live
with the Mother
1.66
1
12.75d
Mother Determined Unfit
-.97
1
4.93b
26.21
19
Substantiated Report
-5.40
1
12.74d
of Maternal Neglect

(0 43 on
81
TABLE 7—continued
G2
Df
Predictor Variables
Parameter
Estimate
Df
Chi-
Souare
Combined Legal Model
35.55a
49
Child Wishes to Live
with the Mother
1.38
1
6.94c
Mother Determined Unfit
-1.34
1
7.30c
Mother Held Residence
Following Parental
Separation
1.51
1
4.77b
GAL Rating of Father'
-.03
1
4.81b
Daily Involvement with
the Children
E>. 05
p<. 05
p<. 01
p<.001

82
Maternal PPR was more likely in cases where the mother
had more time to care for the children than the father and
when the mother held residential custody of the child(ren)
following parental separation. Maternal PPR was also more
likely when children expressed a desire to live with their
mother.
Paternal PPR was more likely to be awarded in cases
where fathers had been involved in providing for the child's
daily living needs and when substantiated reports of
maternal child abuse/neglect or spouse abuse were present.
Within the set of variables regarding abuse, reports of
maternal neglect were most predictive of paternal PPR. In
fact, PPR was never awarded to mothers in cases where
reports of neglect had been substantiated.
The significant interaction effects which emerged
between ratings of parental warm feelings for the children
and guardians' confidence in these ratings describe an
interesting relationship between these variables and PPR
awards. When GAL confidence is high, ratings of maternal
warm feelings strongly influence the likelihood of PPR
awards. High ratings of maternal warm feelings predict an
award of maternal PPR, while low ratings on this variable
predict paternal PPR. However, when confidence is low,
ratings of maternal warm feelings have little influence on
PPR awards regardless of the value of this variable. In any

83
case, ratings of paternal warm feelings have only a moderate
impact on the likelihood of PPR awards.
The legal variables identified as significant
descriptors of judicial decision-making in one of the
several regression models were then entered into a combined
model. The purpose of this model was to identify the
strongest descriptors among all the legal variables. This
combined model (see Table 7) was significant, and the
following variables were shown to be related to the award of
PPR: children's wishes to live with their mother, the
determination that a mother was unfit, the child's residing
with the mother following parental separation, and GAL
rating of the father's involvement in providing for the
child's daily living needs. Variables including whether the
mother would have more time available for the child and
those involving ratings of parental warm feelings were
dropped because they did not add significantly to the
predictability of the model.
Sociological variables were entered into the next
series of regression equations. Out of the eleven variables
in this group, only one emerged as significantly predictive
of PPR awards. Paternal PPR was more likely to be awarded
when there was only one child in the family than otherwise,
G2 (11, N=55) = 9.59, p>.05 and X2 (1, N=55) = 5.07, p<.05.
Psychological variables were entered next. Of the four
regression equations calculated, only one was significant,

84
G2 (4, N=55) = 5.80, p>.05. Within this model, however, no
variable obtained significance. Consequently, these
variables, including family conflict, parents' relationships
with nonfamily members, and the presence of a recommendation
for either a mental health evaluation or psychotherapy do
not appear to be very influential in the decision-making
process.
The previous paragraphs in this section describe how
variables within each of the three groups influence
decision-making regarding awards of PPR. With the exception
of the item indicating the number of children in the family,
all variables identified as influential fell within the
legal domain. All of these variables were combined in
another regression in order to determine which were most
influential. The goodness-of-fit chi-square for this model
was significant, G2 (47, N=55) = 30.83, p>.05.
Additionally, the individual chi-squares for all of the
legal variables were also significant. The number of
children, however, did not add anything to the prediction
equation. Consequently, the model combining predictors from
all three groups of variables was identical to the combined
legal model presented in Table 7. Thus, four legal items,
child(ren)'s wishes for a residential parent, maternal
fitness, the child's residing with the mother following
parental separation, and the degree to which fathers were
involved in providing for the daily living needs of the

85
children, were the most influential in determinations of
parental PPR.
An additional area of interest was the relative impact
of GAL recommendations regarding PPR awards in comparison to
the other predictors discussed. This variable was not
entered into the model earlier because it is based on the
same information described above and would be largely
collinear with the other variables. Consequently, a model
was constructed that included this variable and the four
legal variables found to best predict PPR awards. The
resulting model was significant, G2 (43, N=55) = 22.63,
p>.05, but no variables other that GAL recommendation, X2
(1, N=55) = 5.73, p<.05, were significant. Further
examination of the data showed that judicial determinations
were consistent with GAL recommendations in 86% of the
cases.
Guardians/ Decisions Regarding When to Report Ratings
With regard to custody cases, the importance of
guardians' opinions about family members is evident in the
previous sections. Both their characterizations of family
relationships and their recommendations regarding custody
awards were shown to be influential. Consequently,
guardians' decisions regarding when to report information
significantly affected the decision-making process. One
reason for reporting a given characteristic could be that a
family exhibited it to an unusually high or low degree. A

86
second possible reason is that guardians' felt confident
about their evaluation of the family with regard to a given
issue.
The two hypotheses listed above were tested by using
the guardians' ratings of a family characteristic, their
confidence in making those ratings, and the interaction
between these to predict whether the issue were reported to
the court. Some issues required separate ratings for each
parent. For these issues, ratings on each parent separately
and on the interaction between them were included in the
analyses. As with the analyses on custody awards, the
outcome variable here was binary. Consequently, a logistic
regression procedure was used. Although some G2 values were
significant, no variable chi-squares were. Thus, in every
case, the results indicated no significant relationship
between either variable and the decision to report the
information.

DISCUSSION
The results of this study provide descriptive
information about the contested custody cases which are
served by the GAL program in Florida. These cases involve
predominantly Caucasian families with young children. The
parents tend to be in their 30s, have a high school
education, and have a joint family income of between $25,000
and $35,000 a year. As mothers were freguently unemployed,
fathers tended to be the principle wage earners. Almost all
of the cases were referred from urban settings.
Additionally, the vast majority of parents were represented
by counsel in these cases.
These families have experienced considerable stress.
In addition their involvement with the court, many parents
have recently lost their jobs and the custodial parent is
often single. In a few of these cases, the conflict between
the parents resulted in the kidnapping of the child by one
of the parents. It is interesting to note, however, that
very few parents had either moved out of the state or had
plans to do so.
Additionally, many of these families exhibited signs of
more serious psychological problems. Substantiated reports
of abuse by at least one of the parents were present in 40%
87

88
of the cases, and allegations of abuse had been made in 83%.
The extent to which these allegations reflect actual beliefs
that abuse has occurred versus an attempt by the parents to
gain leverage in the custody dispute is undetermined.
Reports of alcohol and drug abuse were also common in these
families. Furthermore, guardians were sufficiently
concerned about the psychological functioning of these
families to recommend a mental health evaluation in 49% of
the cases and treatment in 60% of them.
It appears, therefore, that divorce is probably only
one part of a larger picture of personal and familial
problems experienced by these individuals. It is clear from
this description that the judges seldom have an
unequivocally safe and supportive placement available for
the children.
Before discussing specific case variables, it is
important to note that, in general, judges favored shared
custody over sole custody. The degree to which this was the
case suggests that judges approached cases with the
presumption that they would award shared custody. Such a
presumption is consistent with the legal statutes (Joint
Legislative Management Committee, 1985). An interesting
finding in this regard, was that the strength of the
information presented weighed heavily in the decision¬
making. For example, ratings indicating that a father had
warm feelings for his children predicted sole custody awards

89
only when the guardian was confident in making this rating.
In the absence of confidence, this rating had only a
marginal impact on custody awards. Taken in conjunction
with the data indicating that judges ruled in accordance
with GAL recommendations in 86% of the cases, this suggests
that judges relied heavily on the judgement of the
guardians.
In determinations of primary physical residence, judges
did not demonstrate a bias toward either parent. This is
consistent with some recent literature on judicial decision¬
making suggesting a general decrease in the degree to which
judges favor maternal PPR even when there are young children
in the home (Felner et al., 1985; Sorensen & Goldman, 1989;
Racusin et al., 1989). Thus, the tender years presumption
no longer appears to hold in Florida. Although awards of
maternal PPR did occur somewhat more often, this appeared to
reflect characteristics of the case relevant to the legal
statutes. In particular, awards of maternal PPR were more
likely to occur in cases where mothers held custody
following parental separation, and paternal PPR was more
likely to occur in cases where the father has been more
involved in child care prior to marital dissolution.
Additionally, the slightly higher freguency of maternal PPR
awards is consistent with the greater caretaking role of the
mother in most of the families prior to separation. In

90
these cases, an award of maternal PPR maintained continuity
in the children's caretaking environment.
According to Goldstein et al. (1973), awarding PPR to
the mothers here supports the best interests of the children
by placing them with the parent to whom they are most
bonded. Literature on post divorce child adjustment also
suggests that consistency in a child's living environment is
important. In his review of recent literature, Felner
(1987) noted that consistency in the child's living
environment predicted adjustment. Consequently, maternal
PPR awards are consistent with the goal of protecting the
interests of children and do not indicate a general
preference for the mother as caretaker.
Issues relevant to parenting capacity were also
influential in the decision-making process. Substantiated
reports of maternal child abuse/neglect or spouse abuse
generally resulted in an award of sole paternal custody.
Additionally, sole paternal custody was awarded in cases
where a mother had physical problems that limited her
ability to care for her children. Similarly, in cases that
involved substantiated reports of paternal physical abuse
against the child, sole maternal custody was often awarded.
Consistent with our results, reports of abuse and neglect
have influenced custody awards for many years. This finding
dates back to the initiation of the best interests of the
child doctrine (Derdeyn, 1976), and has been supported

91
consistently in the literature examining judicial decision¬
making (e.g., Folberg, 1984; Hoorwitz & Burchardt, 1984;
Pearson & Ring, 1981) in spite of the changes that have
occurred in the legal presumptions and statutes.
However, although some abuse reports resulted in sole
custody awards to the nonabusing parent, many did not. With
regard to fathers, only child physical abuse appeared to
affect judicial custody awards. Child sexual abuse,
emotional abuse, neglect and spousal abuse did not appear to
influence case awards significantly. This occurred even
when abuse reports were substantiated. This is in contrast
to the situation for mothers, wherein all forms of
substantiated abuse impacted judicial decision-making,
although neglect was most influential. It is difficult to
understand the finding that substantiated abuse has
divergent functional outcomes contingent upon which parent
perpetrated the abuse. The judges' decision-making would
appear to suggest that abuse, other than physical, renders
mothers but not fathers unfit as parents.
It is noteworthy that in comparison to substantiated
abuse, allegations of abuse did not emerge as predictive of
custody awards. One possible explanation for these findings
is that judges may consider abuse allegations to be simply a
product of the divorce process and not an accurate gauge of
parental competence. Secondly, given the frequency of
allegations in this sample, it is possible that they no

92
longer communicate anything about a case. However, it is
important to note that the lack of a significant
relationship between abuse reports and custody awards does
not indicate that this information was never utilized by
judges, only that it was not done so consistently.
Another issue considered by judges in contested custody
cases is the parent-child relationship. When fathers are
rated as having strong warm feelings for their children,
shared custody is more likely. Conversely, sole custody is
more likely when fathers are not rated as concerned about
their children. Although ratings of this variable have
little impact on the determination of parental PPR, ratings
of maternal warm feelings lead to maternal PPR when high and
paternal PPR when low. Consequently, judges make awards
that facilitate involvement with the children for any parent
known to have affection for them. Modifying custody awards
based on the parent-child relationships is consistent with
child adjustment literature, as warm parent-child
relationships have consistently predicted increased social
adjustment (Hess & Camara, 1979; Santrock & Warshak, 1979;
Shybunko, 1989).
A relationship between parental affection for children
and custody awards has been demonstrated in past research
(Felner et al., 1985; Settle & Lowery, 1982; Sorensen &
Goldman, 1989) as well as in this study. However, this
study found that judges considered this issue differently

93
depending on the parent. Fathers demonstrating a lack of
warm feelings were removed from a position of responsibility
over the children; sole maternal custody was awarded.
Mothers demonstrating a lack of warm feelings were denied
PPR but continued to be involved in child care through
shared custody.
Parental relationships with people outside of their
immediate family was also influential. High ratings of
fathers' satisfaction with social supports and maternal
hostility towards a guardian both predict an award of sole
custody. One possible reason for this finding is that
maternal expressions of hostility may lead judges to
conclude that the parents would not be able to work together
in a shared custody situation. The rational behind awarding
sole custody in cases of high paternal social support is
unclear, especially in light of the fact that this issue is
not significantly related to an award of PPR. This issue
has been given little attention in previous literature on
judicial decision-making. It is possible that parental
social support is related to other case variables that do
predict PPR awards. Unfortunately, the size of our sample
did not permit the type of exploratory analyses that might
uncover this kind of relationship.
Children's wishes also predicted custody awards.
Primarily they predicted PPR awards, but for young children
they also predicted sole versus shared custody. Cases

94
involving young children who did not want to live with their
mothers generally resulted in awards of sole paternal
custody. Maternal shared custody was awarded when children
wanted to live with their mothers. This result is
consistent with Florida Statutes which list children's
wishes as one of the guidelines for determining custody.
The reason for the sole versus shared custody awards in
these cases is unclear. However, since more children wished
to live with their mothers than fathers, it is possible that
a desire to live with one's father often arose out of
circumstances that would warrant restriction of the mother's
involvement in child care. Again, our sample size
restricted us from testing this hypothesis.
Another interesting finding was that cases in which a
guardian recommended that a family member receive a
psychological evaluation resulted in awards of sole custody
more often than when this was not the case. Previous
research has also found that judges consider parental mental
health in these cases (Lowery, 1981; Sorensen & Goldman,
1989). It appears that in the context of custody cases,
recommendations for psychological evaluations augur problems
sufficient to warrant restricting a parent from child care
responsibility. However, as with earlier research (Ash &
Guyer, 1984), this variable did not appear to be as
important to judges as other issues. When this variable was
included in a model with other variables found to influence

95
custody awards, it failed to add to the model. Research on
child adjustment has identified parental mental health as
strongly related to child adjustment. Specifically, mental
health problems have been related to child behavior problems
even at two-year follow-ups (Kline et al., 1989; Kurdek,
1988). This finding suggests that children might benefit if
parental mental health is more strongly considered by
judges.
Only two of the sociological variables were shown to
relate to custody awards. Higher maternal occupational
status increased the likelihood that judges would award sole
custody. It is possible that greater occupational status
indicates that a mother is less dependent on paternal
resources and thus may make sole custody a more viable
option. Discovery of a relationship between
occupational/financial status and custody awards is not new
(Felner et al., 1985; Lowery, 1982).
The second significant sociological variable, whether
there was one or more than one child, was related to PPR
awards. Paternal PPR occurred more frequently in cases in
which there was only one child. It appears that judges may
perceive fathers as less capable of caring for more than one
child. The rational for this decision remains unclear, and
it has not been studied previously.
In contrast with previous literature (Felner et al.,
1985; Lowery, 1982), our study did not demonstrate a

96
preference for placing children with parent's of the same
sex. Our results may indicate a change in judicial attitude
concerning this issue. A reduced emphasis on this issue and
our finding that other sociological variables are not
strongly considered by judges is consistent with the fact
that researchers have found no relationship between these
variables and child adjustment for young children (Adams et
al., 1984; Hess & Camara, 1979; Kline et al., 1989; Santrock
& Warshak, 1979; Shybunko, 1989). Our sample included few
older children.
The results described above illuminate the range of
issues considered in the determination of custody awards.
While several psychological and sociological variables
emerged as related to custody awards, the predominant source
of influence in these determinations involved legal
criteria. In addition to indicating the relative strength
of the relationship between legal information and custody
awards, these findings also support the conclusion that
judges are following the guidelines provided in the legal
statutes. First and foremost, the preference for shared
custody is consistent with Florida Statutes providing for a
presumption of shared custody except in those circumstances
where it can be shown to be detrimental to the child's best
interests. Additionally, our data indicates that
information on children's wishes, the willingness of the
parents to allow contact between the child and the other

97
parent, the affection between the parents and children, the
capacity and disposition of the parents to provide for the
children's needs, continuity in child care, and the mental
and physical health of the parents are all being considered.
Each of these factors have also been identified in
previous literature as strongly related to judicial
decision-making (Felner et al., 1985, Lowery, 1981; Sorensen
& Goldman, 1989). The consistency with which they are
identified in the literature adds further weight to the
conclusion that legal criteria are being followed by judges.
Additionally, the legal criteria appear to be largely stable
over time, except for the increasing presumption of shared
custody and the decreasing reliance on maternal PPR.
Although judges appear to be following the legal
guidelines regarding custody determinations, other
information relevant to child development appears to have
been neglected. In particular, several variables identified
in the psychological literature as being related to post¬
divorce child adjustment (Felner, 1987) were not considered.
An especially significant oversight in judicial decision¬
making is the inattention to guardians' evaluation of
parental conflict. Models including ratings of conflict
between the parents as well as that between each parent and
the children were nonsignificant. At a minimum, these
results indicate that other variables are given considerably
more weight than are ratings of conflict in most cases.

98
Furthermore, the lack of significance of these models
suggests that parental conflict may not even be factored
into their decision-making. Given that the degree of
conflict is the primary predictive variable of later
psychological adjustment in children of divorce (Felner,
1987; Kline et al., 1989; Kurdek, 1988; Wallerstein & Kelly,
1980), its omissions from judicial decision-making may well
exacerbate the negative consequences of divorce for the
children. It must be noted, however, that a nonsignificant
finding here may only indicate a disagreement between
guardians and judges on the issue of conflict.
Another source of concern for the author, is the lack
of consistency in the use of information regarding
substantiated reports of abuse and neglect. Given that the
state of knowledge within the mental health field allows for
confidence in predicting serious and long-term emotional and
behavioral problems for abused and neglected children, the
inconsistency in the use of this information by the judges
is both surprising and unsettling
A third issue of concern involves substantiated reports
of substance abuse. As with child abuse/neglect, judges did
not consistently use these reports in their decision-making.
This occurred in spite of the fact that the prevalence of
substance abuse within this population appears to be rather
high. Additionally, many cases involve reports of both drug
and alcohol abuse. Parental substance abuse also has

99
serious negative and long-term effects on children.
Consequently, the best interests of children may not be
adequately protected if these issues are not given strong
weight in the decision-making process.
While this study did identify a number of variables
important in custody determinations, several methodological
limitations were present in our study. First, the measure
of family relationships used has not been validated. The
specific meaning of the item scores is less clear than would
be desirable; we could not describe our sample's general
level of conflict, warm feelings, or care of children's
emotional and physical needs. However, this limitation did
not restrict us from evaluating the relative impact of low
versus high ratings on decision-making. Second, although
moderate test-retest and inter-rater reliability has been
demonstrated for the vast majority of the ratings on the
measure, the study used to evaluate these characteristics of
the measure involved only a few subjects and did not
generate optimal results.
A third limitation concerns the selection of our
sample. Although we endeavored to collect data on every
case referred to the GAL custody project during the period
of study, this did not happen. Some circuits were more
cooperative than others and even the most cooperative
circuits did not provide us with the desired sampling. The
sampling of cases was also not random. Rather, we were

100
provided with data on cases that involved guardians willing
to complete our forms. Consequently, our sample may not
represent the population of GAL custody referrals in Florida
and caution should be used when generalizing our results to
other samples of GAL cases.
Our sample also was not distributed across a wide range
of parental ages, income levels, or ethnic groups. It is
very likely that judges may weigh information differently
when considering cases involving wealthy families, families
with much older or much younger parents, or minority
families. Thus generalizability of our findings to
populations with different demographic characteristics is
not advisable.
Another qualification concerning the generalizability
of our results arises from the fact that only cases referred
to the GAL program in Florida were sampled. Cases not
referred to the GAL program may well be very dissimilar to
our sample. Furthermore, judges in states with different
legal guidelines and political climates may base their
decision-making on criteria which is not consistent with
that used by the sample of judges in this study.
Consequently, our results should not be generalized to other
parts of the country.
Finally, our results are based on only a small sample
of custody cases. Consequently, some of our findings may be
sample specific. However, given that conservative criteria

101
were used to identify significant effects, this potential
difficulty has been minimized.
Future research is needed to assesss the
generalizability of our findings to other populations. In
particular, information on custody cases not referred to the
GAL would provide an excellent comparison group for this
study. Issues of special interest include the degree of
child abuse and neglect, substance abuse, and the frequency
of different custody awards within a nonreferred sample.
Later studies using a similar population would also be of
interest in order to replicate the current findings and
gauge changes in judicial decision-making over time.
Research is also needed to further clarify the results
presented here. Our results identify a number of factors
important in judicial decision-making, but the factors are
only described in a very general sense. For example,
further research is necessary to refine the understanding of
how judges evaluate the degree of parental warm feelings.
Because guardians7 judgements are also influential,
research examining their decision-making would also be of
interest. In particular, further study on the stability of
guardians7 impressions regarding family relationships would
be of interest. This study provides only preliminary
information on this topic. Future research aimed at
matching guardians7 ratings to some objective reference
points would also be extremely useful.

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APPENDIX
DEMOGRAPHIC AND LEGAL INFORMATION:
Who is filling out this form?
Guardian Coordinator/Director Other
Date of this hearing? Judge Code:
Circuit: County:
Check the purpose of this hearing:
Visitation Modification
Primary Residence/Custody Modification
Other Modification
Dissolution and Residence/Custody
If the purpose of this hearing is for modification, please report
the previous custody arrangement:
Who requested that the Guardian become involved?
HRS Judge Parent
Other Relative Attorney Other
Circle any immediate family members who have not been interviewed
by the GAL: (Circle all that apply)
Mother Stepmother Father Stepfather
Child Grandparent Other (specify)
Report for each parent the state where he/she plans to live:
Mother (& Stepfather) Father (& Stepmother)
Has one or more of the parents lost their
jobs within the last year? Yes No
108

109
If either parent has moved within the last year, please report
who moved and how far he/she moved ?
WHO? HOW FAR?(miles)
Please circle the parent(s) who is represented by counsel:
Mother(& Stepfather) Father(& Stepmother)
Please report for all family members the following information:
Role: M=mother, F=father, SM=stepmother, SF=stepfather,
GP=grandparent, C=child, 0=other
Sex: M=male, F=female
Race: C=caucasian, H=hispanic, B=black, O=other
ROLE AGE SEX RACE ROLE AGE SEX RACE
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
Record the number of years of education completed, gross yearly
income, and age of each parent: Yearly Years of
Income Education Age
MOTHER
FATHER
STEPMOTHER
STEPFATHER
Occupation of each parent:
Mother Father
Stepmother Stepfather
What was the child(ren)'s preference for primary residential
custodian?
Mother Stepmother Other Relative None
Father Stepfather Foster Care N/A

110
For the following questions, please circle all that apply:
M=Mother, SM=Stepmother, F=Father, SF=Stepfather, N=Neither
Who held primary residence of the M SM F SF N
children just prior to filing the
petition for dissolution?
Which parent(s) has taken the child M SM F SF N
secretly and prevented the other parent
from seeing them for some period of time.
Which parent(s) may have difficulty M SM F SF N
caring for the child due to a physical
handicap, serious illness, or injury?
Which parent appears to be more M SM F SF N
willing to allow the child(ren)
to visit the other parent?
Which parent would have more time M SM F SF N
available to spend with the
child(ren) if he/she were awarded
physical residence or sole custody?
for
N
E
I
T
H
E
R
Alcohol
Drug
Hitting the Child
Child Physical
Child Sexual
Child Emotional
Child Neglect
Spousal Physical
Previous Reports of
Child Abuse/Neglect
For the following questions, place a check mark in the box
corresponding to any alleged or substantiated problem made
any parent(s):
ABUSE TYPE
ALLEGATIONS
SUBSTANTIATED
M
S
M
F
S
F
N
M
S
M
F
S F
0
T
0
A
T
A
E
0
T
0
A
T A
T
E
T
T
E
T
I
T
E
T
T
E T
H
P
H
H
P
H
T
H
P
H
H
P H
E
E
E
E
H
E
E
E
E
R
R
R
R
E
R
R
R
R
R

Ill
INTERPERSONAL AND FAMILY ISSUES: Please evaluate items 1-8 from
your interviews with the family members. Place a mark on the
line to indicate your rating of the family. Also, please circle
the number of the question if you have included information on
that issue in your report to the court.
1.CONFLICT BETWEEN THE TWO PARTIES SEEKING CUSTODY:
Very Little Very Much
CONFIDENCE in your rating:
None
Total
2. For when the family was living together, rate the degree to
which the PHYSICAL NEEDS OF THE CHILD(ren) were met:
| ,
None Total
CONFIDENCE in your rating:
| 1
None Total
These needs are primarily met by (circle one):
Mother Father Other (specify)
3. For when the family was living together, rate the degree to
which the EMOTIONAL NEEDS OF THE CHILD(ren) were met.
| 1
None Total
CONFIDENCE in your rating:
| 1
None Total
These needs are primarily met by (circle one):
Other (specify)
Mother
Father

112
For items 4-8, use the following letters that apply to this
family to represent your evaluation of the parents on these
issues. Place a mark on the line to represent your rating of
each parent, labeling each mark with one of the following letters
to indicate the parent to which it referrs. Please make sure
that you make separate ratings on each parent, including your
ratings of the CONFIDENCE you have in your rating on each of
them. M=mother, SM=stepmother, F=father, SF=stepfather
4. CONFLICT BETWEEN EACH PARENT AND THE CHILD(ren) for whom
there is a custody guestion, with an M, F, SM, and an SF.
Very Little Very Much
For each parent, is this conflict mostly with:
Father:
Stepfather:
One More Than One More Than
Child One Child Child One Child
Mother:
Stepmother:
CONFIDENCE in each of your ratings with an M, F, SM, and SF.
None
Total
5. WARM AND POSITIVE FEELINGS FOR THE CHILDREN for whom there is
a custody guestion, held by each parent with an M, F, SM, and
an SF.
None Total
CONFIDENCE in each of your ratings with an M, F, SM, and SF.
None
Total
6. INVOLVEMENT each parent has with the child(ren)'s daily lives
(e.g., peer relationships, child's feelings, minor illnesses)
with an M, F, SM, and an SF.
No Involvement Excessive Involvement
CONFIDENCE in each of your ratings with an M, F, SM, and SF.
None
Total

113
7.HOW EACH PARENT RESPONDED TO YOU in general with an M, F, SM,
and an SF.
Friendly Hostile/Rejecting
CONFIDENCE in each of your ratings with an M, F, SM, and SF.
None Total
8.SATISFACTION WITH SOCIAL SUPPORT that each parent receives
for any problem from relatives, friends, coworkers, and
community agencies, with an M, F, SM, and an SF:
Inadequate Excellent
CONFIDENCE in each of your ratings with an M, F, SM, and SF.
None
Total
9.Put a check in the space next to the following problems if
any child reportedly exhibited one of the following problems:
Child verbally fights excessively with parents
Child physically fights with parents
Child physically fights with siblings
Child verbally or physically fights with non-family
members
Child steals from family members or others
Child is withdrawn and does not participate in normal
daily activities, such as school work or family
activities
Child refuses to do what his parents tell him to do,
such as going to school or doing household chores.
CHECK TO MAKE SURE THAT YOU HAVE CIRCLED THE NUMBER OF THE
QUESTIONS WHICH CONTAIN INFORMATION YOU REPORTED TO THE COURT

114
FINAL JUDGEMENT
Check whether the following options were considered as a result
of your investigation and which decision was finally made.
CONSIDERED DECISION
Shared Parental Responsibility¬
primary physical residence
with Mother (& Stepfather):
Shared Parental Responsibility¬
primary physical residence
with Father (& Stepmother)
Sole custody awarded to the mother:
Sole custody awarded to the father:
Shared Parental Responsibility-
Split Physical residence:
Circle the GAL's recommendation for residence of the children:
(Circle all that apply)
Mother Father Treatment Facility
Stepmother Stepfather Dependency
Indicate who requested a mental health evaluation for any family
members:
1= Judge 2=Guardian 3=Attorney for a Parent 4=HRS 5=N/A;
And who completed it;
l=Clinical Psychologist, 2=Psychiatrist, 3=Social Worker, 4=0ther
Psychologist, 5=0ther, 6=Not Completed
Requested By Completed By
For the Mother
For the Father
For the Stepmother
For the Stepfather
For the Child(ren)
Circle the family member(s) for whom the GAL has recommended
therapy:
Mother Stepmother Father Stepfather Child(ren)

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Erik D. Sorensen was born on November 19, 1963, in
Indianapolis, Indiana, to James and Darlene Sorensen. He
graduated from St Louis University High School in May 1981.
Erik attended Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana,
from which he received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology in
May 1985. Erik entered the graduate program in clinical
psychology at the University of Florida in September 1985.
He is a clinical child psychology minor and plans to
continue working with adolescents and families.
115

I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as
a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Stfacquelin Go
Goldman, Chair
Professor of Clinical and
Health Psychology
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as
a dissertation for the degree of JQoctor of Philosophy.
James Johnson
Professok^of Clinical and
Health Psychology
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as
a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
npila â– pA/ViO-rrr v
Sheila Eyberg
Professor of Clinidal
Health Psychology
I
and
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as
a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
QV^~
Steve Boggs '
Assistant Professor of
Clinical and Health
Psychology
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in soope^ and quality, as
a dissertation for the degree of Doc^
Stev
Prof
ills
of Taxation

This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty
of the College of Health Related Professions and to the
Graduate School and was accepted as partial fulfillment of
the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
December 1990
Doctor of Philosophy.
(AwA ^
Dean, College of Health
Related Professions
Dean, Graduate School

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
3 1262 08554 4889



UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
3 1262 08554 4889


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