Kim Bastaits, Inge Pasteels
First Published March 31, 2019 Research Article


When thinking about custodial arrangements after a divorce, there has been a shift from sole custody (mainly by mothers) to joint physical custody after a divorce. In certain countries, joint physical custody has even become the primary, legal custodial arrangement. Joint physical custody, whether implemented in legislation or not, is believed to be in the best interests of the child, as children can shape a postdivorce relationship with both their mother and father. Nevertheless, many studies on joint physical custody focus only on child outcomes. This study aims to investigate (1) whether custodial arrangements matter in addition to the parental divorce for parent–child relationships and (2) whether joint physical custody provides a better framework for parent–child relationships than sole custody arrangements. The study adds to the existing literature by including both the mother–child relationship and the father–child relationship. Moreover, joint physical custody is not only compared to sole maternal custody, but also to sole paternal custody. Using a dyadic subsample of Belgian parents and children from the Divorce in Flanders data set (N = 623), we compare two indicators of the parent–child relationship (parent–child communication and parenting) for children with married parents, with children in joint physical custody, sole maternal custody, and sole paternal custody. The results indicate that (1) the custodial arrangements after divorce affect parent–child relationships, in addition to the divorce, with regard to both open and problematic father–child communications and the support and control of children by mothers and fathers; and (2) joint physical custody, compared with sole custody (either by the mother or father), provides a better framework to shape a postdivorce parent–child relationship with both parents in terms of open communications and support.