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Joint custody situations might be better for children

California parents who are divorcing may have heard that it is better for children to primarily live with only one parent rather than split their time equally between two households. However, a study from Sweden that appeared in the "Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health" in April seems to contradict this belief.

The study examined nearly 150,000 children who were either 12 or 15 years old and the incidence of psychosomatic symptoms they experienced. These symptoms included headaches, dizziness, feeling tense and loss of appetite. Children in nuclear families experienced the fewest number of symptoms, but those who moved back and forth between the households of both parents had far fewer than those who lived with only one parent.

The most commonly reported symptom overall was sleep problems. Girls reported more symptoms than boys did with sadness being their most frequent complaint.

Researchers speculated that splitting time between parents strengthened bonds that are more difficult to maintain when parents and children only see each other a few times per month. Joint physical custody has increased in Sweden over the past three decades from only around 1 percent of children with divorced parents to 40 percent. In contrast, the director of the National Parents Organization says fewer than 20 percent of such children live in joint custody situations in the United States.

Parents who are divorcing may want to keep these figures in mind as they are negotiation child custody arrangements. Like the courts, most parents will want what is in the best interests of the child even if they do not necessarily agree what these best interests might be. Older children may also express a preference for their living arrangements. Parents may want to work with an attorney and attempt to come to an amicable resolution before turning to litigation.

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