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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Joint Legal Custody and Child Support Payments: Are There Lasting Custody Effects?


This paper addresses the question: Does joint legal custody increase child support payments? It describes differences in formal child support payments for those with and without joint legal custody among divorce cases. It examines legal custody differences in the short-term after divorce as well as in the intermediate term, through the sixth year after divorce, to assess whether any economic benefits of joint legal custody endure through a significant part of childhood.

To the extent that legal custody differences in payments exist, we ask whether family and case characteristics, such as parents' incomes, number of children, and amount of child support orders

account for these differences. Finally, the paper uses statistical methods that adjust for the fact that unmeasured characteristics may affect both the adoption of joint legal custody as well as higher child support payments. Ignoring these unmeasured differences may overstate the benefits of joint legal

custody for child support payments. The paper aims to provide a less biased estimate of the effects of joint legal custody on child support payments than is available from most previous studies.

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