In the last few years, there’s been a seismic shift away from child custody arrangements that place children primarily in one parent’s physical custody. These days, the courts overwhelmingly favor arrangements that give both parents more or less equal time with the kids.
Why the switch?
The change puzzles a lot of parents who go into divorce expecting one parent to be the “winner” and one to be the “loser” when it comes to custody. Not all parents are fans of the new approach, either.
It can be inconvenient to have to move the kids back and forth between houses. It’s also sometimes difficult to maintain the cordial relationship with an ex-spouse that’s necessary for joint parenting. Many parents feel like it would simply be easier and better to go back to the old way of handling custody.
However, there’s increasing evidence that the old way worked better for the parents than it did for the kids. It turns out that the kids are more resilient than many people think. They can adapt pretty well to the back-and-forth between households and the adjustments that have to be made when a different parent is in charge from week to week.
What they don’t adjust to very well is the absence of one parent, which was the net effect of the old way of doing things. Numerous studies show that children of shared parenting plans fare better than children left in the sole primary custody of only one parent in all of the following areas:
- Emotional well-being (measured by such things as self-esteem and mental health complaints)
- Physical health (including fewer illnesses related to stress)
- Behavior (fewer delinquencies, drug addictions and so on)
- Relationships (with both family members and peers)
- Academic achievement
Rather than making it harder for children to bond with either parent, shared physical custody seems to make it easier for children to bond with both their parents.
Even in high-conflict situations, where the parents have significant animosity toward each other, the children of shared parenting plans seem to have advantages over the children placed in a single parent’s physical custody.
While you may have reservations over the idea of joint custody, it’s important to think about its potential benefits to your children and to oppose it only if there’s a real need.