After a divorce, children usually want to spend time with both parents. That’s problematic because divorced couples usually do not want to spend time with one another. Enter joint custody—a legal solution that splits kids’ time between their parents. This not-so-grand bargain allows kids to move in with dad for weekdays then travel to mom on the weekends, or vice versa, or alternate weeks, or benefit from any number of other scheduling efforts designed to ensure they enjoy the benefits of having two engaged parents in their lives.
To be frank, joint custody is less than ideal. It demands that kids are always on the move, creates time management issues, and has can put children right in the middle of ugly feuds. At the same time, it is almost certainly the best solution to an intractable problem — at least for the kid. The numbers bear this out. Data distilled from some 30 studies on the topic clearly illustrates why joint custody is so often the best move in a bad situation.
Children In Joint Custody Have Fewer Health Problems
This data comes from a 2015 Swedish study. Researchers asked 150,000 young adults between the ages of 12 and 15 how often they experienced psychological or physical health problems. They found that those living with both parents fared the best, and that those living under joint custody arrangements were a close second. Children living with only one parent, however, were much more likely to report that they “always or often” have health problems that have been linked to stress, ranging from sadness and difficulty sleeping to stomach aches.
Dads Who Have Joint Custody Spend More Time With Their Kids
These figures are from a 1985 study that surveyed a small sample of 28 joint-custodial fathers and 54 non-custodial fathers. Although it may seem inevitable that non-custodial fathers spend less time with their kids, it doesn’t have to be. There’s no rule that non-custodial fathers can’t see their kids every day if they so choose. Yet, researchers found that 64 percent of joint-custodial fathers spend at least two days per week with their kids, as opposed to only 28 percent of non-custodial fathers. This suggests that fathers may be more motivated to see their children regularly under joint custody arrangements than they are under sole maternal custody.
Moms Do Better When Parenting Responsibilities Are Shared
This last table was culled from a 2001 study involving 52 families with sole maternal custody arrangements and 26 families with joint legal custody. Researchers were not particularly surprised to find that mothers preferred sole maternal custody and reported less satisfaction with joint custody. Still, mothers seemed better able to adjust and move on when they shared custody with their exes. Mothers with joint custody were three times more likely to be living with new partners than those who insisted on sole custody. So, even when mothers seem to be losing out by sharing time with their kids, the data suggests joint custody benefits them in the long run.