Social Science Says Joint Custody Healthiest for Kids

As parents and lawyers and courts and legislatures continue to wrestle with the “ideal” custody arrangement, social science has again weighed in with a very in-depth study that suggests joint physical custody increases the physical and emotional health of the children.

As reported in Time magazine, researchers in Sweden surveyed data for 150,000 twelve and fifteen year old children, looking at their health problems and the frequency of time with each parent.  The key finding:  “students who lived with both of their separated parents reported significantly fewer problems than kids who lived with only one parent.”

The researchers explained their finding as flowing from the benefits of more frequent contact with both parents, which provides not only more engaged parents but also more resources – social and material and familial – that comes with two active parents.

Ned Holstein, an American physician, says the research “in favor of shared parenting for kids is overwhelming,” and had this retort for opponents who claim shared parenting creates “suitcase” kids:  “Clearly, taking the suitcase back and forth once or twice a week so that you spend a lot of time with both parents is way better for the kids than the alternative of basically losing an intimate and closely loving relationship with one parent.”

While every state allows a court to order joint custody arrangements, the meaning of that term varies from state to state.  Indeed, in Missouri we use the term “joint physical custody” to refer to frequent contact with both parents, but that could mean that in a given 14 day period one parent could have three overnights or seven overnights – quite a difference in terms of actual shared parenting time.

It will be interesting to see what impact the social science has on movements in various states and nationally toward more “true” joint custody arrangements.  The publication of a single book by the daughter of Sigmund Freud and two other psychologists led to the modern “best interests standard” in custody and away from the traditional view that the mother would receive primary physical custody.  Could a similar revolution take place for “true” shared custody?  Only time will tell.

If you have questions about joint custody, contact us – we can help.