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||New Study, Case May Help California Children of Divorce Retain Bonds with Both Parents
by Glenn Sacks, GlennSacks.com
12 June 2003
Professors at Arizona State University recently completed a study showing that move-aways are correlated with damaging long-term
consequences for children.
One of the greatest
tragedies children of divorce in California face is the way courts allow
custodial parents to move hundreds or even thousands of miles away after
divorce, damaging or sometimes destroying the bonds between children and
their noncustodial parents. However, new research and a case pending before
the California Supreme Court may change that.
In the case of In re: Marriage of Lamusga, a Contra Costa County custodial
mother seeks to move out of state with her two young boys and her new husband.
The boys' father, who enjoys joint legal but not joint physical custody,
seeks to block the move, arguing that it is not in his children's best interest
because it will damage their relationship with him. The mother, who first
tried to move to Ohio, now seeks to relocate to Arizona in order to provide
her new husband with better career opportunities.
Since the 1996 Burgess decision California custodial parents, usually
mothers, have had the presumptive right to move. However, according to Arizona
State University researcher Sanford Braver, this decision and others like
it were made in a "vacuum" of information on the long-term effects of move-aways.
Braver and his ASU colleagues Ira Ellman and William Fabricius have begun
to fill this vacuum with a newly released study which shows that move-aways
are correlated with damaging long-term consequences for children. The study,
published in the June 2003 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology,
found that among 14 variables related to a young adult's overall well-being,
move-away status was correlated to significant, negative impact in 11 of
These negative consequences include: greater inner turmoil and distress from
parents' divorce; health problems, particularly in the case of girls; more
hostility in interpersonal relationships; negative feelings towards their
parents; greater conflict between divorced parents; and greater problems
in general life satisfaction and personal and emotional adjustment. Not surprisingly,
financial support, including financial support for college expenses given
voluntarily by the noncustodial parent, was significantly higher when children
grew up within a one hour drive of their noncustodial parent.
The study, conducted from a pool of 2,067 college students enrolled in an
introductory level class at a large university, may even understate the damage
of move-aways. As the survey's authors point out, many of the children most
damaged by divorce and alienation from their noncustodial parents were not
measured because they probably never made it as far as college.
The study's results also indict noncustodial fathers who move away from their
children, finding that such move-aways are also correlated with long-term
negative consequences for children. Noncustodial fathers often justify their
moves by arguing that the custodial mother is already denying them access
to the children anyway, or that these moves are necessitated by their child
support obligations. The second claim, however, is no more legitimate than
custodial mothers' claims that moving helps them financially.
While the study's findings on move-aways are new, studies documenting the
disastrous effects of fatherlessness on children are not. Research shows
that the largest single factor in predicting whether a child will graduate
high school, attend college, become involved in crime or drugs, or get pregnant
before age 18 is the presence (or absence) of a father in the child's life.
Studies show that this remains true even after adjustments for household
The Burgess decision and others like it ignore the fact that children
need more from their fathers than a check in the mail--they need the love,
guidance and strength which fathers provide. Allowing a custodial parent
to move away often removes one of the two people in the world who love a
child the most from that child's life. How could that be in a child's best
Glenn Sacks is a men's and fathers' issues columnist and radio talk show
host. His columns have appeared in dozens of America's largest newspapers.
To learn more about his radio show, go to His Side with Glenn Sacks. Glenn's
website is GlennSacks.com.
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