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Altman, M. (1984). Divorce, Child Custody and The Family. Formulated by the Committee on the Family, Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry. Volume X, No. 106, 1980, 186 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 71(3):513-514.

(1984). Psychoanalytic Review, 71(3):513-514

Divorce, Child Custody and The Family. Formulated by the Committee on the Family, Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry. Volume X, No. 106, 1980, 186 pp.

Review by:
Miriam Altman

This report of the Committee on the Family from the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry addresses the child custody decision-making process from an interdisciplinary perspective, with a family systems orientation as its theoretical framework. It is a timely subject with current statistics indicating that a third of all marriages end in divorce and that most of these marriages involve children.

The report presents historical and legal background material, clinical vignettes demonstrating the complexity and unpredictability of the decision-making process, a discussion of divorce counselling for the family, and a view of the possible role of the mental health professional in the litigation process.

The historical review which is presented is of some interest. Changing social values and biases have repeatedly played a decisive role in determining who will be awarded custody of a child. Prior to the mid-1800s, the father was usually seen as having a paramount right to the custody of his children. After the Industrial Revolution, and the change in the social and moral climate that accompanied it, the mother, unless shown to be unfit, tended to win custody. This pattern continued until recently. The definition of “unfit” has varied dramatically through time and geographic location. The custody decision-making process has become even more complex. Currently there is a new and burgeoning emphasis on joint custody or co-parenting. The authors share this bias, feeling that joint custody will satisfy the “best interest of the child.” The authors seem to be striving for the best interest of the family unit as a whole rather than for the best interest of any individual member of it.

The authors advocate family divorce therapy of a short-term nature as a solution to the problems which arise during the divorce process. They employ an educational stance, stressing their view of the best interest of the child. They feel that a child needs to have access to both parents as well as to all grandparents. They feel custody should be awarded to the parent who will ensure such access.

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