About Us


About Us

MobileKids is a research project funded by the European Research Council and conducted by a team of sociologists from the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Families and Sexualities from the University of Louvain. The project seeks to understand the lived experiences of children who grow up in separated or divorced families practicing shared physical custody arrangements in Belgium, France and Italy. Our aim? Identify the specific needs of those children, based on their own accounts of their lives. Our team studies how, and under what circumstances, children appropriate this mode of living and develop new abilities, practices, and ways of being that incorporate the capacity to maintain social relations in a multi-local context, including via the use of communication technologies. In doing so, we hope to enrich the understanding of societies where geographical and virtual mobilities have become an integral part of social relations, and are increasingly shaping our daily experiences at a personal, family and professional level.



Shared Physical Custody as a channel for autonomization and agency?

This research project seeks to understand in what ways children from separated parents who live in shared physical custody develop new competences and/or ways of being as a result of a multi-local life. In particular, I try to grasp how these children are actors in the midst of the various changes that happen after their parent’s separation – be it, new organizations, mobility, or eventually the presence of new family members and figures of authority in the family – and in what ways their daily life between two homes develops certain forms of autonomization. More generally, what is central in this research project, is to grasp the children’s standpoint, the point of view that they construct in relation to the context of divorce and physical shared custody. In that respect, I mobilize creative and participative methods such as board games and pictures which help the children tell their story.

Project of Sarah Murru
Building a sense of ‘home’ in a multi-local context: shared physical custody in Brussels and its periphery.

In this project, I study contemporary family relations through the lens of children from separated/divorced families who experience multi-locality through their own residential mobility between different life spaces. It is through children’s own accounts of their lives that I try to understand how they build a sense of ‘home’ while being in movement between ‘here’ and ‘there’. The inter-relations between space and family relations are central to my work, as I question both how space structures family relations and, conversely, how family relations shape and structure space by giving it a special meaning and associated feelings.

Project of Bérengère Nobels

Family constellations and identity building: growing up in two separate worlds?

In this research project, I am interested in the experiences of children who live in shared custody arrangements in Belgium, and thus experience a life between different places and at the crossroads of several networks. In this context, I am interested in the socialization of children based on the way they define their family configurations and their functioning. That is, I would like to understand how children position and/or integrate the rules, references and habits transmitted by their different family networks. I would also like to explore the place of communication in these different networks. To study this, I use creative and participatory methods to allow children to express their point of view.

Project of Coralie Theys

Shared custody in France, and children’s digital practices

My contribution to the MobileKids project was twofold. I participated in the development of the project’s methodological framework, in particular by using my inventiveness and graphic design skills to produce the materials we use to recruit families (video, information and consent sheets, etc.). I also made the notebooks that accompany participating teenagers during the interviews with our team. Then, I carried out an exploratory research in Lyon (in collaboration with prof. Jean-Yves Authier from the Max Weber Center) on the uses and functions of digital communication in the daily lives of children. This has led me to take an interest in the French legal framework on divorce and separation; to explore theoretical approaches in digital sociology, childhood and youth studies, and family sociology; and to conduct some exploratory interviews with families in Lyon.

Project of Kristina Papanikolaou

Shared custody in Belgium

For the MobileKids project, I first conducted exploratory fieldwork on the identity construction of children of multicultural couples who practice egalitarian shared custody. I tried to understand how they positioned themselves in relation to, and appropriated, the cultural references transmitted by their two parents, in a context where family socialization takes place in, and between, two distinct households.

I then wrote a legal report on parental separation and child custody in Belgium. To do this, I conducted a literature review on the legal framework for divorce and child custody. I then conducted a quantitative survey of Francophone family lawyers on their professional practices and statistical trends in legal decisions regarding egalitarian shared custody. I then conducted qualitative interviews of family judges in Belgium on their representations of changes in family practices regarding child custody, on how they make their decisions about egalitarian shared custody and on their representations of the child’s best interests.

Project of Maryse Baar


The Team


Laura Merla

Principal Investigator

I am professor of Sociology and member of the CIRFASE (University of Louvain, Belgium), where I study family relations in a context of geographical distance, including when family members are separated by migratory processes, or in the case of separation, divorce and family recompositions.


Sarah Murru

Postdoctoral Researcher in Sociology

I have a PhD in social and political sciences (ULB) and I am particularly interested in the study of various forms of resistance. My doctoral dissertation was focused on Single Moms’ resistance in Vietnam, which also triggered my interest in the various forms of family organizations. Within the MobileKids research project, my work focuses on the everyday forms of resistance mobilized by children of separated parents and living in shared physical custody. In other words, , I seek to understand how children are actors inside this reality and if they develop strategies, tactics or other creative responses towards situations/decisions that trouble or disturb them. My field of study is in Turin, Italy.


Bérengère Nobels

PhD Student in Sociology

I studied Sociology at the Université libre de Bruxelles, and in my Masters dissertation I studied school strategies and scholar practices within a gentrified locality of Brussels, mixing urban sociology and the sociology of education. One of my key research interest lies in the spatial embeddedness of social and family practices. This is why my research within the MobileKids project focuses on the ways in which children from separated parents build a sense of ‘home’ in a multi-local context.


Coralie Theys

PhD Student in Sociology

After studying Sociology and diverse research experiences, I have now joined the MobileKids team as a PHD student. My thesis in sociology was about the study on the mechanisms of a Citizen School system within a secondary school in Brussels. In this context, I was interested in the students’ perception of these devices and how they integrated them into their daily lives at school. Today, I continue to be interested in young people and their lives, studying their place and role within their families.


Maryse Baar

PhD Student in Sociology

I have a Bachelor degree in Sociology and Anthropology, and a Masters degree in Sociology with a specialization in research and social intervention (UCL, Belgium). My main research interests lie in the study of the identity construction of children in a multi-local and multicultural contexts. Whereas my Masters dissertation focused on the career of exile of unaccompanied minors in Belgium, today, I am studying the identity construction of children in separated bi-national (or mixed) couples.


Kristina Papanikolaou

PhD Student in Sociology

I am a historian by training: I have indeed a Bachelor degree in the History of Literature, Societies and Civilisation (USL-B) and a Master degree in History, Societies, Economies and Civilization (UCL). During my studies, I explored historiographic traditions and regimes of historicity, articulated with contemporary alter-activist storytelling. I am now studying family sociology through the lens of kin’s digital practices, with a clear interest in the symbolic and communicational dimensions of digital storytelling.


Jonathan Dedonder

Research Logistics

I am a Dr in Psychology by training, and I work as a research logistician at the IACCHOS and ISPOLE Institutes, where I support the research activities of the members of these two institutes. My support ranges from helping them design their methodologies, to disseminating their results.

My role in the MobileKids project consists in treating quantitative data and establishing the socio-demographic profiles of families who put in place shared physical custody arrangements in Belgium, France and Italy.


Sandrine Levêque

Administrative Support