What Custody Arrangment is Best for the Children?

What Custody Arrangment is Best for the Children?

Any caring parent who has considered divorce has thought long and hard about how the divorce would affect the children.  There is little doubt that the traditional “nuclear family” is usually the best option for children; “nuclear family” meaning both parents in the home with the child.  In fact, scientific studies have routinely backed that up.  This report from the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services backed up the idea that the nuclear family was best for children.  Among the highlights of the report:

Children in nuclear families were generally less likely than children in nonnuclear families
• to be in good, fair, or poor health [Note: these three categories are considered “less than optimal”];
• to have a basic action disability;
• to have learning disabilities or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder;
• to lack health insurance coverage;
• to have had two or more emergency room visits in the past 12 months;
• to have receipt of needed prescription medication delayed during the past 12 months due to lack of affordability;
• to have gone without needed dental care due to cost in the past 12 months;
• to be poorly behaved;
• and to have definite or severe emotional or behavioral difficulties during the past 6 months.

Unfortunately, the nuclear family is not an option for divorcing couples.  This study published in the “Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health” completed earlier  in 2015 confirmed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report’s findings on the nuclear family.  It then went a step further and compared parenting arrangements in which the children spent a significant amount of time with both parents as compared to parenting plans where a child spends most of his time with only one parent.

Researchers said that they had expected the children residing primarily with one parent to benefit from that stability.  Indeed, that is a common expectation and basis for rulings from many family court judges.  The researchers were surprised to see that the data did not support that hypothesis.  On the contrary, their findings confirmed that children who spent a significant amount of time with both parents were better off in the long run.  The study looked at a range of psychosomatic issues, including loss of sleep, headaches, loss of appetite, depression, stress, and many others.

What the researchers found was that parental stability was far more important that housing stability.  The children who had close relationships with both parents fared much better than children who lived primarily with only one parent.  By far the children of the nuclear families in the study still fared the best and reported the fewest psychosomatic issues.  However, of the separated parent households, those children in a joint custody situation with a liberal timesharing schedule with both parents fared the better than those living with only or primarily with one parent.

This study should not be taken to mean that an equal timesharing schedule is going to work for everyone or that a schedule providing housing stability for your child will not work best for you.  Every case and family is different.  However, it does provide food for thought.  Regardless, parents who can put aside their anger and resentment of one another and work together for the best interests of the children is always the best arrangement.

Photo courtesy of aleksandra.kostina

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