Social scientists and individuals involved with the divorce process have often debated the pros and cons of shared or joint physical custody arrangements where children reside approximately equally with both parents. Conventional wisdom has suggested that frequent moves between parental households may be stressful for children. However, a study recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggests that children raised in a shared physical custody environment typically report better psychosomatic health than children living mostly or only with one parent. The study, which relied upon data from a national classroom survey of all sixth and ninth grade students in Sweden, investigated the association between children’s psychosomatic problems and their living arrangements.
Several past studies have established that children with separated parents show “higher risks” for emotional problems and social maladjustment than children raised by cohabitating parents. Children whose parents do not reside together may experience more psychosomatic problems than children brought up in nuclear families. Notwithstanding this situation, children raised in a two-parent, but high conflict, nuclear family also experience higher rates of social or emotional problems. High conflict between cohabitating parents is also a negative for children.
In many western countries, including Sweden where this study took place, an increasing number of post-divorce families have joint or shared physical custody of their children. The study indicated that in Sweden about 30 – 40 percent of the children with separated parents were in a shared physical custody situation. The authors of this study suggest that children having everyday contact with both parents is more important, in terms of stress, than living in two different homes.
So what is the bottom line here? When parents can no longer reside together, a divorce with a shared physical custody outcome where the children spend substantial time in each parent’s household may be the best possible outcome when evaluated from the perspective of the children’s best interests and the children’s post-divorce mental and emotional health.
The divorce mediation process, with its emphasis on cooperation and collaboration, is the best method for getting to a mutually agreeable shared parenting arrangement that secures your children’s emotional health after the parents have split up. When parents cannot cooperate and a contested courtroom divorce process takes place, judges typically will not order shared physical custody. This is because the parents’ participation in a contested custody/parenting case suggests that those parents cannot communicate and cooperate as required to implement a shared physical custody outcome. If you bring your custody and parenting dispute to a judge, the likely outcome is no shared physical custody of the children.
See: “Fifty moves a year: is there an association between joint physical custody and psychosomatic problems in children?” Bergstrom M, Fransson E, Modin B, et al. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2015;69:769-774.