Studies suggest joint physical custody is best for children

This article looks at recent studies that suggest joint custody is better for children’s wellbeing.

Child custody is often the most emotional and divisive aspect of many divorce cases. Courts and child experts have evolved in recent years on defining what parenting structure is best for children's wellbeing. While in the past courts tended to award child custody to just one parent, nowadays courts tend to favor a more equal split in parenting duties, if possible. A number of recent studies suggest that this shift may indeed be in the child's best interests, with one study in particular showing that preschool children who receive equal amounts of time with each parent have fewer psychological problems than those raised primarily by one parent.

Effect on preschool children

As Science Daily reports, one recent Swedish study compared four different groups of preschool children: those raised in nuclear families, those raised in joint physical custody, those raised primarily by one parent, and those raised exclusively by one parent. The parents and teachers of the children were surveyed using the "Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire" (SDQ) to assess the children's psychological and behavioral development.

The study found that both teachers and parents reported finding that children raised in single-parent or primarily single-parent households had more difficulties than those raised in nuclear family or joint custody households. Teachers also reported that children raised by nuclear families had fewer difficulties than those raised in joint custody, while parents reported no difference between children in either nuclear or joint custody households.

The case for shared parenting

The study supports the idea that shared parenting and joint custody tend to be better for children than sole custody. However, the issue remains a controversial one. Many child experts, for example, tend to support the view that joint custody creates too much instability for children and exposes them to too much parental conflict. As a result, in the past courts tended to award custody primarily to one parent.

However, as the above study shows, that view is being challenged. Furthermore, another study has found that parental conflict isn't necessarily guaranteed to have a major negative impact on children. As the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, that study found that while parental conflict had only a limited effect on children's outcomes, what was far more important was the strength of the relationship between the child and his or her parents. Children who had a strong relationship with each parent tended to perform well on outcome tests, even when the parents did not have a good relationship with each other.

Child custody help

Of course, while joint custody may be the best arrangement for many families, there are instances where it would inadvisable, such as if there was the risk of child abuse or neglect by one parent. Every family is different and when it comes to child custody there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Parents should talk to a family law attorney if they are involved in a child custody dispute or need help coming up with an effective parenting plan. An experienced and skilled attorney can help par ents ensure they remain a presence in their children's lives and ensure that their parental rights are respected and upheld by the court.