Are children happier living with one or both parents after divorce?

This article looks at the debate around whether sole custody or shared parenting is best for children.

Almost every parent wants what is best for their children, and that typically extends to ensuring that a divorce will have as little impact on their children's wellbeing as possible. However, with emotions running so high during divorce, and especially during child custody disputes, it can sometimes be hard to recognize what custody arrangement is, in fact, in a child's best interests. Specifically, when it comes to the question of where the couple's children will live most of the time, each parent typically has very strong opinions. While each child custody case is unique, recent scientific studies offer some useful insights into the debate concerning child custody arrangements after divorce.

Studies point to shared parenting

Proponents of awarding sole custody to just one parent argue that moving children back and forth between two households is too destabilizing. They contend that after a divorce, there should be as little change in the children's immediate environment as possible and thus the children should spend most of their time with one parent while visiting the other parent only occasionally. Sole custody also has the advantage of better shielding children from conflicts between their parents.

While there is certainly plenty of logic behind such arguments, recent scientific studies show that sole custody proponents may underestimate how resilient and quick to adapt children can be. As the Minneapolis Star Tribune points out, one retrospective examination of 44 child custody studies found that, on average, conflict that happens strictly between parents has surprisingly little impact on children's emotional and psychological wellbeing. What matters far more is that the children have a positive relationship with each parent, and not that the parents themselves get along with each other.

Every family is unique

Another study, this one reported on by Time, likewise found that children who lived with both parents after a divorce tended to have fewer psychosomatic problems than those who lived with just one parent. That seems to undercut the argument that living with two parents is too destabilizing for children.

However, it is worth pointing out that while shared parenting may be the best custody arrangement on average, every family is unique and will require a unique custody solution. In some cases, especially those involving alleged domestic, sexual, or substance abuse by one parent, shared parenting may not just be ill-advised, it could put the children in harm's way.

Working out a solution

Whether it is through mediation, negotiation, or litigation, it is important for those who are looking to resolve their child custo dy issues to get legal help. A family law attorney can assist parents with developing a child custody arrangement that works best for their children or, if necessary, with helping parents go to court to fight for their rights to maintain a meaningful presence in their children's lives.