Study Suggests Joint Custody Best for Children After Divorce


A new study using data from a national classroom survey of almost 150,000 Swedish 12- and 15-year-old children has discovered that divorce is bad for children’s psychosomatic health. That said, there are also particular domestic arrangements following a split that can make a difference to kids’ well-being, writes MedicalNews’ Markus MacGill.

In the study, children in sixth or ninth grade and who who were in joint physical custody after their parents separated or divorced were compared to children who were mostly living with only one parent. Children remaining in nuclear families were also compared, and it was concluded that a family break-up, no matter the living arrangements, was worse for kids’ health than being in an intact family.

Results showed that there were fewer problems for children under joint custody arrangements than when kids were cared for by only one parent. Answers given by parents questioned on the survey showed that psychosomatic health – physical problems caused by mental distress – was slightly better for those children sharing time between both parents.

Eight questions were asked using the answer choices: never, seldom, sometimes, often, and always. The instrument used was the PsychoSomatic Problems (PSP) scale to establish the existence and frequency of difficulties concentrating or sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, feeling tense, sad or dizzy, or having a weak appetite. The pattern of well-being followed a spectrum of answers which were: worst with only one-parent custody. slightly better if mostly with one parent, a bit better still if joint physical custody is equal in time, and best when a child is able to have a truly nuclear family.

According to the research, a third of Swedish children affected by separation or divorce were in an equitable arrangement in 2010, while a much smaller 1 to 2% of kids were in joint physical custody during the 1980s. This increase, say the authors, became a concern to child clinicians and researchers. The primary worry was that children could experience feelings of alienation caused by living in two separate worlds, could be exposed to parental conflict, and suffer from other stressors that joint physical custody could create. The new results show that it is true that living in two different homes can be stressful for children, but that this stress might be outweighed by the positive factors included in being in close contact with both parents.

There were, however, no reliable conclusions about cause and effect regarding the differences between domestic arrangements, such as finances or comfortable communication with parents between the two households,  and the psychosomatic health of the children involved in the observational study, explained the researchers.

The New Zealand Herald adds that overall, girls were more likely to experience psychosomatic difficulties than boys.

Parents who are divorcing can often find themselves in the middle of custody battles which can end with one parent having significantly reduced time with with his or her child. This typically occurs when one or both parents are using the custody process as a revenge tactic.

Also, it is not unusual for one parent to believe that the child is better off when the other parent is eliminated from the child’s life, writes Zawn Villines, reporting for GoodTherapy.


05 18, 2015