Research Links Joint Custody to Better Outcomes for Children

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Joint custody and gavel in a court.

Joint custody and gavel in a court.

It has long been believed that children whose parents share true joint physical custody do better after a divorce. Of course, much of this is due to anecdotal evidence and the experiences that are reported by attorneys, social workers, and others involved in the process. However, research by Linda Nielsen, recently published in the Journal of Child Custody lays out several key findings that tend to strongly support this assertion.

The Research

According to Linda Nielsen, a professor at Wake Forest University, joint custody generally results in better outcomes for children of divorce. Nielsen’s research cross referenced 60 academic studies spanning the past decade, and controlled for several variables, including parental conflict.

Areas of Better Outcomes

The research identified several areas where children of joint custody arrangements had better outcomes. Namely these were:

  • Behavioral
  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Academic well-being
  • Relationships with parents and grandparents

Dispelling Myths About Joint Parenting

One common criticism of joint parenting agreements is that in particularly hostile or volatile divorces, it may put children at a greater risk of emotional harm or separation anxiety to be shuffled between feuding parents. However, Nielsen’s research seems to dispel this misconception in several key ways.

First, research that has in the past raised concerns about joint custody simply revealed that joint custody can expose children to fighting and other emotional stressors for longer than if in a sole custody situation. However, the research does NOT necessarily demonstrate that this is statistically more likely to have negative effects. Said a different way, the hostility of a divorce impacts children in joint and sole custody arrangements in much the same way, and it is not necessarily the nature of the custody arrangement that makes the difference, but rather the nature of the interactions between parents.

Therefore, all things being equal and controlling for these variables, joint custody still seems to be the best arrangement for most children.

Situations Where Joint Parenting Produces Worse Outcomes

Finally, Nielsen did review six limited studies where researchers had previously identified negative outcomes from joint parenting arrangements. However, in each study, it appears the data was interpreted by others as being negative, where in truth, the data suggested relatively normal outcomes when compared with other children in different arrangements. In other words, there seemed to be limited value to these negative results, as they were more likely anomalies than statistical evidence.

Limitations of Research

It is important to note that the research admittedly does not suggest that by reviewing other studies it can predict or show that household income, race, socioeconomic class, or any other factor actually causes better or worse outcomes. Instead, the research was intended to draw attention to the fact that the overwhelming majority of studies into the subject still reflect better overall outcomes for children, where parents enter into joint parenting arrangements rather than sole physical custody arrangements.

Obviously there are situations involving domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, and other major risks that would certainly warrant sole physical custody in order to protect a child. However, the research tends to suggest that joint custody -where possible and appropriate -is usually the better approach.

Birmingham Divorce Lawyers

If you are facing a divorce or are fighting over the custody of your own children in Birmingham, AL or the surrounding areas, call Five Points Law Group to get help today.

Heather Fann
Heather Fann
Heather's practice seeks to preserve the dignity of clients through healthy paths for their changing families, employing both modern and traditional means of resolution including collaborative practice and methods such as use of Parenting Coordinators, as well as mediation, though she stands ready to litigate where necessary.

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