Date of Award

Fall 1993

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Sociology & Criminal Justice


Applied Sociology

Committee Director

Lucien Lombardo

Committee Member

Donald H. Smith

Committee Member

Otto Sampson

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.S62B37


In recent years, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts have seen increases in child custody disputes. This increase has caused many jurisdictions to seek alternatives to the traditional adversarial process. Mediation has attracted the most attention. Several jurisdictions such as Norfolk, Virginia, the one used in this study, now refer parents to mediation before the court will hear the case.

Unlike previous studies where divorce mediation was researched with child custody being one of the factors, this study examines the differences in the outcomes of the mediation and litigation processes used to solve only child custody disputes. The outcomes examined include the length of time each process takes, joint and shared custody, paternal custody, maternal custody, noncustodial visitation, and compliance. After collecting data, from court files, an analysis, was done using t-tests and crosstabulations with the chi-square statistic to show differences in the outcomes. The findings support much of the previous research done on the mediation of child custody disputes. More joint and shared custody agreements were found in the mediation process. Mediated cases had higher rates of compliance than did litigated cases. Fathers and mothers who mediated received more custody than did fathers and mothers who litigated. However, there was no significant difference found in the length of time each process took nor was there a difference in the visitation awarded to the noncustodial parent.

These findings as well as previous research tends to show mediation as the more desirable dispute resolution technique. However, more research is needed before making mediation 'mandatory•. Background characteristics about the parents, which have not been thoroughly researched might be an alternative explanation for the findings. When interpreting the results here and previous findings in an attempt to formulate policy about the use of mediation, serious attention should be given to the lack of knowledge about the characteristics of the people who successfully use each process.


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