Study suggests that shared custody can offer health benefits for kids

Research suggests that children may experience less stress and fewer associated health problems when they live with both parents after divorce.

Reducing the stress that children feel after divorce is a top concern for most parents in Leominster. However, identifying the arrangement that will make this transition easiest can be difficult. Many parents worry that joint physical custody, although potentially beneficial, may also create unnecessary stress for children. However, recent research suggests that the benefits of this arrangement may outweigh any downsides.

Comparing shared and sole custody

A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health used data from Sweden to assess the health of 15,000 children. All of these children were in sixth or ninth grade. About 69 percent had nuclear families, 13 percent lived with one parent and 19 percent spent some time living with each parent. The researchers assessed the amount of stress that each child felt by looking for certain psychosomatic health conditions, including:

  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches and loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Issues with concentration
  • Feelings of sorrow or stress

As expected, the researchers found that children in nuclear families experienced these conditions the least frequently. The researchers had anticipated that children who lived with just one parent would be the next least stressed. Children who share time with both parents have to deal with relocation and general upheaval, which could result in anxiety. However, the researchers found that the children who split time between parents were less stressed than those who resided with one parent.

Potential benefits of shared custody

To explain these findings, the researchers suggested that the benefits of regular contact with both parents offsets any potential drawbacks of shared custody. Shared custody arrangements allow parents to maintain stronger relationships with their children. These arrangements also ensure that children have access to more resources, whether those are financial or social.

These findings may not hold true for every divorcing family. The data was collected in another country, and many factors can affect the level of stress that a child feels in the wake of a divorce. For example, if two parents do not live near each other, the stress associated with making weekly relocations may be greater. Still, the findings suggest that, when shared custody is feasible, it may be an option worth considering.

Reaching the right arrangement

In Massachusetts, parents have the right to agree on custody and parenting time arrangements on their own. A family law court can then draw up an order that formalizes this arrangement, unless the court finds that it isn't in the child's best interests. If parents cannot come to terms independently or through family law mediation, the court determines custody, with the presumption that both parents have equal rights. However, the court doesn't assume that shared custody is ideal.

For this reason, divorcing parents who are interested in sharing physical custody may benefit from reaching an agreement independently. During this process, parents should consider seeking the assistance of a family law attorney. An attorney may be able to help a parenting identify and pursue an arrangement that is fair and in the best interests of the child.

Keywords: divorce, children, custody