Date of Award


Degree Type

Honors Paper

First Advisor

David Lehr, Ph.D.


Despite growing interest in the analysis of family structure (in particular divorce) and its impact on the social and economic development of children, little empirical research has attempted to analyze the factors that explain the child custody decisions of the courts. In this paper, I analyze a random sample of 222 state level child custody court decisions in an attempt to uncover the factors that significantly influence the outcome of the decision. In particular, using a multinomial logit approach, I am able to more accurately assess the role of social, demographic, and legal characteristics of each case. Unlike previous work, I examine the determinants of both physical and legal custody outcomes. My results broadly suggest that the legal environment plays a substantial role in determining outcomes, particularly with regard to joint custody decisions. Specifically, I find evidence that laws favoring the presumption of joint custody tend to not only increase joint physical and legal custody, but also father-sole legal and physical custody outcomes. Inaddition, income measures as well as family characteristics (such as the child's gender and presence of special needs) significantly impact the court's decision, albeit to a lesser degree. Finally, I find no evidence supporting the claim that the judge's age or gender has any impact on the child custody outcome. Future work may want to examine jointly the child custody and child financial support decisions using a system of seemingly unrelated regressions.

Included in

Sociology Commons



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