Study shows joint custody may benefit children after divorce

People often believe joint custody increases stress for children, but new research suggests that the benefits of this arrangement may offset any downsides.

Most parents in Lincolnton are familiar with the debate over the benefits that sole or joint child custody offers for children. Joint custody helps kids maintain relationships with both parents, but this child custody arrangement also can introduce stress and instability. Still, despite these potential drawbacks, new research suggests that joint custody may generally be the least stressful post-divorce arrangement for children.

Health effects of custody arrangements

As CBC News explains, researchers in Sweden surveyed about 150,000 children who lived with nuclear families, with one parent or with two divorced parents. These students were all in sixth or ninth grade. The researchers asked the students about a number of psychosomatic health problems, such as insomnia and headaches, which often indicate stress.

The researchers found that the children who lived with nuclear families experienced the fewest problems, followed by the children who spent time living with both parents. The children who lived with just one parent were the most likely to experience stress-related health issues. For example, 22 percent of these children reported sleeplessness, and another 19 percent suffered from headaches.

Social benefits of joint custody

These findings ran contrary to what researchers expected, since they thought that the children living in joint custody arrangements would experience the most stress. As Time magazine explains, the researchers now believe that the following benefits may offset any potential downsides of joint custody:

  • Everyday contact with both parents may allow children to maintain stronger and more satisfying relationships with both.
  • Children who spend time living with both parents may have access to greater financial resources, which may reduce stress.
  • Joint custody also may expose children to more social resources, from family members to acquaintances, which may offer emotional benefits.

According to The Washington Post, the study participants who lived with just parent reported feeling least satisfied with their overall parental relationships. Children who split their time living with both parents, meanwhile, reported nearly the same level of satisfaction as children in nuclear families.

These study findings may not apply to every family. Issues such as finances, interpersonal dynamics and parental location often help determine the arrangement that is most supportive for a child. Still, the findings suggest that, in general, joint custody may help reduce the stress that children experience after divorce.

Determining custody in North Carolina

In North Carolina, state law does not presume that joint custody or custody with a particular parent is ideal for a child. Instead, family law judges may consider various factors, including each parent's ability to support the child's best interests, to identify the most beneficial arrangement. As a result, parents who are interested in sharing custody may benefit from reaching a voluntary agreement outside of court through mediation.

For parents who are attempting to draft the ideal joint custody arrangement, the advice of a family law attorney may be invaluable. An attorney may be able to help a parent understand the available options or offer any assistance needed during the mediation process.

Keywords: divorce, custody, children, joint custody

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