Family membership and household composition do not always coincide. Joint legal custody after divorce formalizes the relationship between fathers and children who live apart. Policymakers hope that explicit acknowledgment of nonresident fathers’ rights and responsibilities will increase their involvement with their children. I use prospective data from the National Survey of Families and Households to examine the association between joint legal custody and two aspects of nonresident fathers’ contributions to their children—the frequency of visits between fathers and children and child-support payments. The analysis examines approximately 160 families in which parents divorced between interviews conducted for Wave 1 (1987–1988) and Wave 2 (1992–1994) of the survey. I investigate the effects of joint legal custody holding constant physical custody or placement by restricting the analysis to children who live with their mothers most of the year. Controlling for socioeconomic status and the quality of family relationships before separation, fathers with joint legal custody see their children more frequently and have more overnight visits than do other fathers. The positive effect of joint legal custody on frequency of visits persists once unobserved differences among families are taken into account. Although fathers with joint legal custody pay more child support than those without joint legal custody, this difference lacks statistical significance when other family characteristics are taken into account. These findings support the view that joint legal custody may encourage some aspects of paternal involvement after divorce.

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