Advances in Applied Sociology
2013. Vol.3, No.1, 54-60
Published Online March 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/aasoci) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/aasoci.2013.31007
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
The Views of Spanish Undergraduates on Gender Equality,
Parental Responsibilities and Joint-Custody
Francisca Fariña1, Ramon Arce2, María José Vázquez1, Mercedes Novo2, Dolores Seijo2
1Department of Psycho-Socio-Educational Analysis and Intervention, University of Vigo, Vigo, Spain
2Department of Social Psychology, University of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Received November 17th, 2012; revised December 20th, 2012; accepted January 5th, 2013
In recent years we have witnessed concerted efforts to achieve real equality between men and women
through legislative reform in the European Union (i.e., EU Directives 2002/73/EC; 76/207/EEC), and na-
tionwide in Spain (e.g., Law 3/2007, of 22 March, for Effective Gender Equality) as well as regional leg-
islation (e.g., Law 7/2004, 16 July, Galician Law for the Equality of Women and Men). In view of the
principle of equal rights enshrined in legislative reform, one would expect social change entailing the re-
moval of existing inequalities on the grounds of sex. In order to explore the views of Spanish youth re-
garding gender equality, a pioneering field study was carried out to assess their knowledge of current leg-
islation, and to examine their views towards gender equality, particularly in relation to specific issues
such as family, divorce, separation, joint-custody, sexual relationships, education, and employment. More-
over, perceived or real models of equality were contrasted with ideal or desired models of equality. Thus,
a total of 2071 Spanish undergraduates were administered an ad hoc questionnaire. The results reveal the
vast majority of undergraduates favoured gender equality, and the equal participation of women and men
in family and working life as well as joint-custody in cases of divorce or separation. Nevertheless, differ-
ences in gender were observed i.e., more women supported policies promoting the principle of equality
than men. The findings underscore the need for implementing intervention strategies designed to foster
shared responsibility and address different forms of discrimination based on sex in the family and the
workplace and to combat them.
Keywords: Spanish Undergraduates; Gender Equality; Joint-Custody; Shared Parenting
The Principle of Gender Equality
The principle of equality between men and women is en-
shrined in a wide array of international treaties such as the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women Adopted by the UN General Assembly in De-
cember 1979, and ratified by Spain in 1983; the Nairobi Con-
ference, 1985; and the Beijing Declaration, 1995. Likewise, the
European Union has adopted a range of measures outlined in
the Treaty of Rome, and several recommendations and direc-
tives promoting the principle of equality such as Directive
2002/73/CE, Directive 76/207/EEC on equal rights regarding
access to employment and vocational training, and Directive
2004/113/CE, implementing the principle of equal treatment
between men and women in the access to and supply of goods
and services. In Spain, Article 14 of the Constitution declares
the right to equality and protects citizens against any form of
discrimination, as does Article 9.2 requiring public institutions
and government agencies to promote equality in political, eco-
nomic, cultural, and social life. Similarly, Law 3/2007, 22
March, implements the Effective Equality between Women and
Men in all spheres of society by endorsing protection against
discrimination, and enforcing policies promoting equality. By
passing this law, Spain, provides legal and constitutional safe-
guards guaranteeing the representation of women in public
institutions. A further decisive step to combat inequality in
Spain is Law 1/2004, de 28 December, on Integrated Protection
Measures Against Gender-based Violence that acknowledges
that any form of violence exercised against women constitutes a
violation of their human rights. Thus Art 1 states that the pur-
pose of this Act is to combat the violence exercised against wo-
men by their present or former spouses or by men with whom
they maintain or have maintained analogous affective relations,
with or without cohabitation, as an expression of discrimination,
inequality, and the power relations prevailing between the sexes.
In 2008, the Spanish Government set up the Ministry of Equal-
ity to enforce the laws and policies on equality and the previ-
ously mentioned Law Against Gender-based Violence. The role
of the Local Authorities and Autonomous Communities in pro-
moting equality in recent years is also worthy of mention. In the
Autonomous Community of Galicia, Law 7/2004, 16 July, for
the Equality of Men and Women provides a legal framework
that strives to ensure equality between women and men. Chap-
ter II seeks to mainstream gender equality in all spheres of life
be it political, social, cultural or artistic.
The impact of legislative reform on education and employ-
ment (see Spanish Ministry of Equality, 2009), cannot be fully
understood without taking into account the accompanying
transformation in family structures and parental roles.
Gender Equality and the Family
Relationships of equality within the family are good indica-
tors of social change (Meil, 2006). As for views among the
young regarding the family, the recent Youth and Gender
F. FARIÑA ET AL.
Equality survey (INJUVE) found that many young people (46%)
acknowledged there were difficulties in overcoming gender
inequality in the family (López et al., 2008). Most youngsters
(60%) mentioned the need to remove existing inequalities at
work and in the family, and viewed the ideal family in which
both parents work as being based on shared parental responsi-
bility in housekeeping and child rearing (CIS, 2007). The ten-
dency to consider shared parenting as the ideal family model
has steadily increased from 47.7% in the 90s to the current
figure of 60% (Navarro, 2006). In reconciling work and family
life, some authors have suggested that changing gender roles
and legal reform on gender equality have brought about greater
parental responsibility for men. Thus, Alberdi and Escario
(2007) have drawn attention to the increasing commitment of
men in shared parenting and child rearing which contrasts with
their own family upbringing. Recommendation 19 (2006) of the
Committee of Ministers to Member States of the Council of Eu-
rope on policy to support positive parenting strives to elimi-
nate obstacles to positive parenting and to reconcile family and
With reference to family breakdown, Spain is the EU-27
country with the highest increase in quantitative and qualitative
terms of divorce in the last 10 years, and represents 69% of the
increase in the EU-15, and 58% of the total of the EU-27 (In-
stitute of Family Policy, 2010). Spain registered a total of
110,561 divorces in 2011, an increase of 0.3% with respect to
the previous year (INE, 2012). The figures underscore the need
for addressing the issue of joint-custody outlined in Law 15/
2005, 8 July, that amends the Civil Code and the Code of Civil
Procedure on matters of separation and divorce, and expounds
shared parenting and joint-custody (Bauserman, 2012; Lathrop,
Divorce, Equality and Joint-Custody
The Spanish national legislation concerning joint-custody is
complemented by regulations and laws pertaining to each au-
tonomous community that enforce the principle of equality be-
tween men and women. Thus, in the Autonomous Community
of Aragón, the preamble of the Law of Equality of Family Re-
lationships in situations of Family Breakdown, 2010, declares
that social change demands legislative reform regulating child
custody to ensure the continued contact of children with both
parents and the equality of both parents. Moreover, the law
states that joint-custody is to be understood as a progressive
system designed to foster shared parenting in the exercise of
parental authority on the grounds of gender equality in all
spheres of life, to enhance the professional development of wo-
men, and to address the demand of men for a greater role in
child rearing, a right which has traditionally been the exclusive
domain of women. Thus, this law on joint-custody aims to con-
tribute to the equality of gender roles, which still has a long
road ahead. Similarly, the Autonomous Community Cataluña
seeks to foster joint-custody as the preferred option of choice
with Law 25/2010, 29 July, that amends the Second Book of
the Civil Code of Cataluña regarding the family. The preamble
of the said law mentions two innovative proposals regarding
parental rights and obligations in circumstances of separation or
divorce. The first is that all proposals by either party are subject
to a judicial process to establish a parenting plan, which is an
instrument designed to specify the parental rights and responsi-
bilities concerning the child’s wellbeing, rearing, and education.
Secondly, the traditional scenario of child separation from one
parent in cases of family breakdown is rejected in favour of
joint-custody whereby both parents retain equal or equivalent
rights and obligations to ensure that above all the rights and
wellbeing of children prevail in all circumstances. The under-
lying current of thought is that shared parenting and joint-cus-
tody serve the best interests of children by fostering stable rela-
tionships with both parents. In addition, the granting of equal
parental rights and obligations dispels lingering feeling of win-
ners and losers, enhances affective ties and mutual collabora-
tion to achieve common educational and economic goals. Hence,
Article 233-8 reminds litigating couples that the judicial proc-
ess of divorce or separation does not alter or relieve couples
from the parental rights and duties described in Article 236-
17.1. Thus, current Spanish legislation takes a pro-active ap-
proach to promoting joint-custody as well as equal rights, re-
sponsibilities, and parental roles (Coloma, 2011).
Furthermore, the literature has reported a plethora of benefits
for children living under joint-custody as opposed to those liv-
ing the sole-custody of one parent, in particular, the former tend
to maintain stable relationships with both parents (Bauserman,
2012; Luepnitz, 1982; Welsh-Osga, 1981), better family rela-
tions, ongoing and long-lasting contact with both parents (Bau-
serman, 2012; Luepnitz, 1980, 1982; Welsh-Osga, 1981), and
are better adjusted than sole-custody children (Buchanan, Mac-
coby, & Dornbusch, 1996; Shiller, 1984, 1986), regardless of
the degree of previous conflict (Gunnoe & Braver, 2001). In
terms of coparenting following divorce or separation, children
are better adjusted when both parents maintain a positive rela-
tionship and are actively engaged in the child’s upbringing
(Amato & Gilbreth, 1999; Lamb, 2002), are more motivated at
school (Buchanan, Maccoby, & Dornbusch, 1996), and achieve
higher academic performance (Bauserman, 2002; Buchanan,
Maccoby, & Dornbusch, 1991). The benefits of joint-custody
are not limited to children only, parent also stand to gain from
better child-parent relationships (Bauserman, 2012; Welsh-Os-
ga, 1981), greater personal satisfaction (Bredefeld, 1985); and
in the long-term averts deteriorating parent-child relationships
and reduces conflict (Bauserman, 2012; Pearson & Thoennes,
1990; Yarnoz, 2010). Mothers in joint-custody arrangements
have better mental health, greater ability at solving mother-
child disputes, receive more social support, and feel less bur-
dened and stressed versus sole-custody mothers (Bauserman,
2012; Hanson & Boxett, 1985).
In contrast, joint-custody fosters cooperation between both
parents (Patrician, 1984); the equal sharing of rights and obli-
gations (Bauserman, 2002; Fariña, 2010; Ortuño, 2006), and
minimizes the judicialization of parenting (Bauserman, 2012).
Notwithstanding, the rulings of the courts in child custody
disputes appear to be impervious to recent research findings
and guidelines advocating the joint-custody and shared parent-
ing of children. The few case studies undertaken in Spain re-
vealed the courts continue to grant sole-custody to one parent
i.e., a review of 287 court rulings in child custody litigation
revealed no joint-custody plans were granted by the courts, and
in 91% of cases the mother was granted sole-custody (Catalán
et al., 2008). Likewise, a case study of 498 court rulings under
Law 15/2005, found joint-custody was granted in only 1.8% of
cases of family breakdown (Alonso, 2011). The figures suggest
that legislative reform has had little impact on child custody
rulings, and traditional views of the mother as the “primary
caretaker” of a child remain dominant and unchallenged.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 55
F. FARIÑA ET AL.
Bearing in mind recent legislative reform in Spain concern-
ing child custody, parenting, and gender equality as well as the
findings and guidelines of current research, the aim of this
study was threefold: to assess the knowledge of Spanish under-
graduates regarding current Spanish legislation; to explore their
views towards gender equality, particularly in relation to spe-
cific issues such as family, divorce, separation, joint-custody
custody, sex, education, and employment; and to gauge the dis-
crepancies between perceived levels of equality and ideal levels
The sample consisted of a random selection of 2071 Spanish
undergraduates. The sample reflected the current gender distri-
bution of the Spanish undergraduate population i.e., 72.7% wo-
men and 27.3% men, aged 18 to 30 years (M = 20.57) (Sx =
In order to explore their views, undergraduates were admin-
istered an ad hoc questionnaire consisting of 24 items with a
yes/no response format allocated to three broad categories:
1) Knowledge of the law. Consisting of 3 items designed to
assess the participant’s knowledge of the law on gender equal-
ity and child protection i.e., Law 3/2007 on Effective Gender
Equality, Law 1/2004 for Integrated Protection Measures agai nst
Gender Violence, and the Convention on the Rights of the
2) Views regarding gender equality. Consisting of 12 items
designed to examine discrepancies between perceived equality
and ideal models of equality as well as to contrast the rights and
obligations women and men in different spheres of life e.g.,
education, work, sexual relationships, and family).
3) Views regarding gender equality in relation to separation
and divorce. Consisting of 9 items designed to explore views
regarding joint-custody, and maternal and paternal roles and
responsibilities following separation or divorce.
The questionnaire was administered at 5 Spanish universities
selected at random by trained and experienced researches dur-
ing the 2010-2011 academic year. All of the undergraduates
freely volunteered to participate in the study, were informed of
the aims of the study, and assured their data would remain
anonymous and confidential.
Data analysis was undertaken using the SPSS Version 19
statistical software package. The responses to the items on the
questionnaire were used to generate the descriptive statistics,
and to form contingency tables, chi-square and independent test
in repeated measures.
Knowledge of the Law
With reference to knowledge of the law, 50.6% (n = 1045) of
subjects stated they were unacquainted with the laws mentioned
in the questionnaire, 36.5% were acquainted with at least one
law, and 12.9% (n = 266) were acquainted with all of the laws.
As shown in Graph 1, women were more acquainted with the
current legislation than men, χ2(2, N = 1983) = 11.81, p < .05.
Views Regarding Gender Equality
1) Rights and Obligations
Though 96.8% (n = 2049) of respondents favoured equal
rights for both men and women, more women as opposed to
men demanded more rights, χ2(1, N = 1983) = 16.76, p < .01, ϕ
= −.094. As for obligations, 95.9% (n = 1960) of subjects fa-
voured equal obligations for men and women, but once again
more women in contrast to men demanded equal obligations for
both genders, χ2(1, N = 1960) = 12.44, p < .01, ϕ = −.081. In
terms of concordance, it should be noted that 97.4% (n = 2043)
of subjects favoured equal rights and obligations for both men
and women, χ2(1, N = 2047) = 334.35, p < .01, ϕ = .41, and
non-concordant responses were found according to gender.
2) Views of equality in specific spheres of life
Graph 2 shows 80% (n = 1668) of subjects thought there
were equal rights in education, 31.4% (n = 650) in sexual rela-
tionships, 21.2% (n = 439) in the family, and 10.8% at work (n
According to gender, significant differences were observed
between men and women in relation to equality in the family,
χ2(1, N = 2062) = 12.36, p < .01, ϕ = .078; sexual relationships,
χ2(1, N = 2049) = 6.04, p < .01, ϕ = .054; and work, χ2(1, N =
2065) = 12.95, p < .01, ϕ = .79; with the exception of education,
χ2 (1, n = 2059) = .82, ns. In comparison to men, women per-
ceived greater levels of gender equality in all spheres of life.
Noknowl e dg e oflaw Knowledgeofone
Kno w ledge ofthree
19.9% 12.2% 11.2%
24.0% 14.2% 13.5%
Knowledge of legislation according to gender.
10.8% 21.2% 31.4%
Perceived real equality according to different spheres of life.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
F. FARIÑA ET AL.
With regards to the ideal family, 98.2% of subjects (n =
2049), stated men and women should have equal rights, a view
that was also held for other spheres of life (see Graph 3).
However, significant differences were observed according to
gender i.e., family, χ2(1, N = 2060) = 156.80, p < .01, ϕ = .27;
sexual relationships, χ2(1, N = 2049) = 140.99, p < .01, ϕ = .26;
education, χ2(1, N = 2059) = 14.28, p < .01, ϕ = .08; and work,
χ2(1, N = 2065) = 106.78, p < .01, ϕ = .22 (see Graph 4). A
similar pattern was observed for perceptions of real equality
with female undergraduates underscoring the need for greater
equality in all contexts.
As for the assessment of the degree of concordance between
perceptions of real equality and ideal levels of equality, the
results reveal significant differences between both, χ2(1, N =
2062) = 26.24, p < .01, ϕ = −.12. Moreover, nonconcordant
responses were observed in each sphere of life under study (see
Table 1) i.e., nonconcordant perceptions of real equality and
perceptions of ideal equality in the family and at work.
98.6% 98.2%97.2% 98.5%
Views on ideal levels of equality according to different spheres of life.
WorkFamily Sexualrelationships Education
26.8% 27.2% 27.0% 26.8%
73.2% 72.8% 73.0% 73.2%
Ideal levels of equality according to gender.
Perceptions of equality in specific spheres of life.
Sphere of life χ2 p
Work 29.99 .001 1797.24 .001
Education .78 .379 363.57 .001
Sexual relationships .22 .636 1337.45 .001
Family 4.77 .005 1573.27 .001
3) Views on equality in reconciling work and family life
Only a small number of respondents, 13.6% (n = 279), per-
ceived real equality of rights in reconciling work and family life
(see Table 2). As shown in Graph 5, of these respondents
54.1% were men (n = 151) and 45.8%, were women (n = 128),
with a significant difference between genders, χ2(1, N = 2055)
= 116.02, p < .01, ϕ = .24. As for ideal situations of equality,
98.7% of subjects favoured equal rights in reconciling work and
family life; however, significant differences were found ac-
cording to gender, χ2(1, N = 2056) =12.51, p < .01, ϕ = .08.
Graph 5 shows women (n = 1484) were more in favour of
equality in reconciling work and family life (73.1%), than men
(n = 545) 26.9%.
Views on Equality of Parental Roles and Child Care
Following Separation or Divorce
In cases of family breakdown (see Table 3), 92.7% (n =
1889) respondents identified the mother with the primary role
of care and upbringing of children, χ2(1, N = 2037) = 50.80, p
< .01, ϕ = −.16, of these 74.7% were women (n = 1412) and
25.3% men (n = 477). This percentage, however, fell to 67.7%
(n = 1387) when respondents were asked about the ideal situa-
tion i.e., if women should be primarily responsible for the care
Thereareequalrights Thereshouldbeequalri g h ts
Male Fem ale
Perceptions of equality in reconciling work and family life according to
Real and ideal perceptions of equality in reconciling work and family
Yes (%) No (%)
Real equality* 13.6 86.4
Ideal equality** 98.7 1.3
Note: *Men and women have equal rights; **Men and women should have equal
Real and ideal perceptions of equality in the care and upbringing of
children by the father and mother following separation or divorce.
Yes (%) No (%)
Mother 92.7 73
Is responsible for the care
and upbringing of the childFather 54.6 45.4
Mother 67.7 32.3
Should be responsible for
the care and upbringing of
the child Father 86.3 13.7
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 57
F. FARIÑA ET AL.
and upbringing of children, χ2(1, N = 2048) = 71.52, p < .01, ϕ
= −.18, of these 78.4% were women (n = 1088) and 21.6% (n =
As for the role of the father, 54.6% (n = 1099) of subjects
thought the father was the primary carer of children χ2(1, N =
2013) = 2.95, ns, of these 71% were women (n = 780), and 29%
men (n = 319) (see Graph 6).
In terms of the ideal situation (Graph 7), 86.3% (n = 1768)
of subjects thought the father should be the primary carer of
children, 74.9% of these respondents were women (n = 1325)
and 25.1% men (n = 443), revealing a marked difference be-
tween both genders, χ2(1, N = 2049) = 32.73, p < .01, ϕ = −.12.
Graph 8 shows 97.2% (n = 2002) of respondents were in
favour of joint-custody, of which 73.2% were women (n =
1465), and 26.8% men (n = 537) as illustrated in Graph 9.
Differences were found according to gender, χ2(1, N = 2061) =
12.52, p < .01; ϕ = .07). Subjects in favour of joint-custody also
believed it fostered gender equality, χ2(1, N = 2027) = 155.64, p
< .01, ϕ = .27). However, nonconcordant responses were found,
χ2(1, N = 2027) = 80.52, p < .01.
Joint-custody (see Graph 10) was understood as a right of
parents and children (77.3%) (n = 1552), whereas 15.5% (n =
312) defined it as a right of both parents, and a right of the child
6.8% (n = 137). Other responses obtained residual percentages.
In terms of gender, of the 77.3% who thought joint-custody was
a right of parents and children, 76.9% were women (n = 1190),
and 23.1% men (n = 357); of the 15.5% who defined it as a
right of both parents, 60.9% were women (n = 190), and 39.1%
men (n = 122), and of the remaining 6.8% who defined it as a
Motherisresponsibleforthecare Fatherisres pon si bleforth e care
Male Fema l e
Perceptions of real equality in the care and upbringing of children by
the father and mother following separation or divorce according to gen-
Mothe rshouldberespons ib lefor
Fathersh oul dberesp onsi bl e for
chi l d care
Male Fe male
Perceptions of ideal equality in the care and upbringing of children by
the father and mother following separation or divorce according to gen-
Agree with joint-custody following separation or divorce.
Agree with joint-custody following separation or divorce ac-
cording to gender.
Joint-custody is a right of…
right of the child, 58.4% were women (n = 80), and 41.6% men
(n = 57).
Bearing in mind the limitations of this study in relation to
sample size, and consequently the ability to draw generaliza-
tions to other populations we may consider the following con-
1) As regards the understanding of the law relating to child
protection and gender equality, more than 50% of undergradu-
ates were unfamiliar with the current legislation. The results
underscore the need for raising social awareness and sensitivity
(European Commission of Member States, 2009), thus it is vital
that this initiative should be conceived and implemented in
terms of a rights-responsibility dichotomy. Strikingly, most un-
dergraduates, even those undertaking teacher-training, were un-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
F. FARIÑA ET AL.
acquainted with basic legislation on child protection such as the
Convention on the Rights of the Child. This highlights the need
for tackling these issues in cross curricula topics at higher edu-
cation (Aneca, 2011).
Though 97.4% of subjects supported equal rights and obliga-
tions, the findings of this study show that sexual inequality re-
mains widespread in the family and work, underlining the need
for intervention programmes in these areas of life. The concor-
dance between real versus ideal perceptions of equality in the
family and at work was low, which corroborated the findings of
previous surveys (e.g., CIS, 2007; López et al., 2008). Accord-
ing to the Global Report on Gender Inequality, 2012 (Haus-
mann, Tyson, & Zahidi, 2012), Spain has lost headway in its
efforts to achieve gender equality in reconciling work and fam-
2) As for family-breakdown, most undergraduates viewed
women as the primary child career and the linchpin of emo-
tional support though this was not considered to be the ideal
scenario. Thus, parental responsibilities continue to be a source
of inequality in situations of family-breakdown. Nevertheless,
joint custody was the preferred option by the vast majority
(97.2%) of respondents. As previously mentioned, in Spain few
studies have been undertaken on views towards joint custody;
nevertheless, our results have corroborated the findings of other
studies such as the SOS PAPA (2005) in collaboration with
Gallup Spain, a survey undertaken on a sample of 964 Spanish
adults showing 83.6% favoured joint custody in cases of di-
vorce even in cases involving child dispute litigation. A greater
number of women 86.6% than men 80.5% were in favour of
joint custody even in cases of child custody disputes.
The results of this study reveal two prevailing social tenden-
cies towards joint custody i.e., it is primarily conceived of as a
right of parents and children, and as crucial step towards equa-
lity between men and women (Bauserman, 2002, 2012; Fariña,
3) In terms of gender, female undergraduates had a better
understanding of the law, supported more equal rights and ob-
ligations, and demanded more rights to reconcile work and
family life. Moreover, they favoured shared custody on the
grounds that it is a right of parents and children. These demands
should be addressed in the design and implementation of pro-
grammes and policies on gender equality. Accordingly, the re-
port of the European Commission of Member States (2009):
policies on reconciling work and family should be focused on
men given that promoting gender equality entails social change
and fresh opportunities for both sexes.
Hence, efforts must be undertaken to promote equality be-
tween men and women by fostering shared parenting and the
empowerment of women (Zimmerman, 2000). Legislative re-
form enables legal equality, but it must to be accompanied by
real change in all spheres of life, particularly in reconciling
work and family life, to achieve real equality.
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