Moral intuitions about fault, parenting, and child custody after divorce

Ashley M. Votruba, Sanford L. Braver, Ira Mark Ellman, William Fabricius

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Allocations of child custody postdivorce are currently determined according to the best interest standard; that is, what is best for the child. Decisions about what is best for a child necessarily reflect cultural norms, at least in part. It is therefore useful as well as interesting to ask whether current understandings of the best interest standard align with moral intuitions of lay citizens asked to take the role of judge in hypothetical cases. Do factors such as whether 1 parent had an extramarital affair influence how respondents would award custody? In the current studies, a representative sample of citizens awaiting jury service was first given a neutral scenario portraying an "average" family. Almost 80% favored dividing custodial time equally between the 2 parents, replicating earlier findings. Then, in Study 1, they were given a second, test case, vignette in which either the mother or the father was said to have carried on an extramarital affair that "essentially ruined the marriage." In Study 2, either the mother or the father was said to have sought the divorce, opposed by the other, simply because he or she "grew tired" of the marriage. For both test cases, our respondents awarded the offending parent significantly less parenting time; about half of our respondents in each Study. The findings indicate that many citizens feel both having an affair and growing tired of the marriage is sufficient cause to award decreased parenting time, reasons for which are explored in the discussion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-262
Number of pages12
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • Child custody
  • Divorce
  • Moral intuition
  • No fault
  • Parenting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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