Between professionalism and traditional social norms: Social workers’ parental custody recommendations

Guy Enosh, Hani Nouman, Odelia Sharon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When divorcing parents are in conflict about child custody and parental responsibility, social workers have to make a recommendation to the court about which parent should be awarded custody. This recommendation must be based on rational considerations, and the best interest of the child. A gap between parents’ functioning must be a determining factor, and a child’s wishes and parent’s gender take second place. However, when the parents’ level of functioning is similar, there is room to consider additional issues when making the decision. An experimental survey design was implemented, using case descriptions that incorporated experimental manipulations corresponding to the research variables. Data were collected from 120 social workers in Israel. The findings indicate the social workers’ tendency to prefer the mother rather than the father, with an overall preference for joint custody when both parents are functioning well. It is important to note that the child’s wishes are significant as long as the parent demonstrates high capability and competence. The findings highlight the understanding that traditional social norms have an impact on the social worker’s decision, even if these norms are not necessarily correct and feasible at the present time. We emphasise the importance of developing and assimilating organisational mechanisms that include control and supervision as well as drafting standards for more efficient decision making regarding recommendations for parental custody.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2032-2048
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.


  • Decision making
  • Divorce
  • Parental custody

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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