50-50 Joint Custody May Be Best For Preschool Kids of Divorce

Preschool children in joint physical custody have fewer psychological symptoms than those who live mostly or only with one parent after a separation, according to new research from Sweden.

In a new study of 3,656 children between the ages of three and five, researchers from Uppsala University, Karolinska Institutet, and the research institute CHESS found that kids living alternately with their parents after a separation show less behavioral problems and psychological symptoms than those living mostly or only with one of the parents.

The practice of joint physical custody — children living alternately and spending approximately the same amount of time in each of their parents’ homes — has increased in recent years and is more common in Sweden than in any other country.

Previous studies have shown that school children and adolescents fare well in joint physical custody. But child experts have claimed it is unsuitable for young children since they are assumed to need continuity and stability in their parent relations. However, few studies of preschool children with joint physical custody have been conducted, the researchers noted.

Based on parents and pre-school teachers estimates, the researchers compared behavioral problems and mental symptoms of 136 children in joint physical custody, 3,369 in nuclear families, 79 living mostly with one parent, and 72 children living only with one parent.

Symptoms were assessed using the popular “Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire” (SDQ), and showed that both preschool teachers and parents indicated children living mostly or only with one parent have more difficulties than those living in joint physical custody or in nuclear families.

In the parental estimates, there were no significant differences between children in nuclear families and joint physical custody, while preschool staff reported fewer symptoms of children in nuclear families.

The study is the first of its kind to show how Swedish children this young fare in joint physical custody, the researchers said. The assessments of children’s health from the preschool staff, in addition to those of the parents, is a considerable strength of the study, they noted.

However, the study design does not show causality, they warned. These interpretations require knowledge of the children’s well-being and symptoms before their parents separated.

Source: Uppsala University

Posted by Patricia Adams