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The Shared Custody Experience: The Adult Child's Perspective on Transitions, Relationships and Fairness

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Title: The Shared Custody Experience: The Adult Child's Perspective on Transitions, Relationships and Fairness
Author: Whitehead, Denise L.
Department: Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
Program: Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
Advisor: Lollis, Susan
Abstract: Shared custody has risen to the fore as one of the most contentious issues facing family law justice systems. Ongoing efforts to implement or contemplate legislative reforms to prescribe a rebuttable presumption for shared custody have been central. Drawing on in-depth, retrospective qualitative interviews with 28 young adults between 18 and 25 years of age, this researcher conducted a thematic analysis and examined children’s perspectives and motivations regarding transitions into and out of shared custody, relationships with parents, and their sense of fairness around decision-making. The dissertation research is presented in a ‘publications format’ and contains an introduction, three self-contained journal-ready publications and an overarching discussion. The introduction provided an overall review of the literature and presented a developing model for tying together the complex strands of existing theoretical and empirical literature. Paper one focused how and why transitions into and out of shared custody happen. Drawing on the metaphor of alchemy, the analysis illustrated that shared custody is not a short-cut to a successful custodial arrangement or parent-child relations. Shared custody blends together complex interactions among elements related to the child’s living situation, maturation and changing notions of fairness, flexibility, the push and pull of relationships, and in some instances, rigid enforcement. The second paper highlighted how participants’ utilized the business strategy of “managing-up” and illustrated how children are active agents in navigating post-separation family relations finding ways to exert their agency to help and protect siblings, manage parental conflict, maintain shared custody to shield their parents and siblings from emotional hurt and initiate contact to maintain parent-child relationships. Including children’s voices in custodial decision-making is predicated on a rights-based doctrine that children ought to have input on decisions that affect their best interests. Participants felt that young children (13 years or less) should have input in how their arrangements were constructed, but not the final say about the type of custodial arrangement. There was general consensus that adolescents (about age 14), should have considerably more input. A final overarching discussion chapter integrated the three papers with the model presented in the introduction and suggests implications for policy and practice.
Date: 2012-05
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