Want Healthy, Happy Kids? Share Custody After Divorce

Mothers gain full physical custody of children following divorce in more than 80 percent of court-ordered child custody cases, but studies show shared custody leads to happier, healthier kids.

Custody After Divorce

“Shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children,” according to Linda Nielsen, a professor of adolescent and educational psychology at Wake Forest University, who was quoted in a recent Minneapolis Star Tribune article on the topic.

There is a long-held belief among judges that arguments between estranged spouses who are in the process of divorcing cause stress for children, the article stated. Nielson looked at this and found that the effect of conflict between spouses on their children is inflated and shouldn’t be the primary factor when the court seeks to determine child custody.

Conflict between spouses tends to subside over time, “but custody decisions often last a childhood,” the Star Tribune article stated.

Nielsen reviewed 44 published studies on divorce conflict and its impact on children. Her goal was to determine the extent to which less fighting and more amiable co-parenting benefitted children, as well as whether high legal conflict adversely affected children.

Nielsen did not find strong support for the belief that high conflict and poor co-parenting meant poor outcomes for children, the article stated. She found that the greatest factor in determining children’s happiness and health revolved around the parent-child relationship with both parents.

Nielson’s work on the subject isn’t the only research that suggests more time with fathers is good for children. Research from Arizona State University found that children of divorce, regardless of age, benefit from spending time and having overnight visits at each parent’s house.

“Not only did overnight parenting time with fathers during infancy and toddlerhood cause no harm to the mother-child relationship, it actually appeared to benefit children’s relationships with both their mothers and their fathers,” said William Fabricius, an ASU associate professor of psychology who served as the study’s lead author. “Children who had overnights with their fathers when they were infants or toddlers had higher-quality relationships with their fathers as well as with their mothers when they were 18 to 20 years old than children who had no overnights.”

In light of the recent observation of Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26, it’s also worth mentioning that shared custody might help more women remain in the workforce and advance their careers, wrote Kristin Paasch in an opinion piece on Awarding sole custody to mothers traps them in the homemaker role and keeps them dependent on ex-spouses in many cases.

Paasch calls coparenting a “triple win for mothers who can have the time to pursue career goals, fathers who can maintain close and loving relationships with their children, and the children themselves, who are happier and more successful with shared parenting.”

If coparenting is an avenue you wish to pursue as you navigate your divorce, let us know. We can assist you in reaching an agreement with your spouse that will benefit your whole family.


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