Children who live full time with one parent, following separation or a split in their family, are more likely to feel stressed than children in shared custody. The new study from Stockholm University’s Demography Unit attributes this to the fact that these children “lose resources like relatives, friends and money.”
Further, the children become more stressed because they may worry about the parent they rarely meet says Jani Turunen, researcher in Demography at Stockholm University and Centre for research on child and adolescent mental health at Karlstad University.
The research specifically shows that the children from single-parent homes have a higher likelihood of experiencing stress several times a week, than children in shared physical custody. This generally applies even if the parents have a poor relationship, or if the children don’t get along with either of them. Here, shared physical custody means that the child actually lives for equal, or near equal, time with both parents, alternating between separate households.
Inversely, children who share residence equally with both parents have a lower likelihood of experiencing high levels of stress. This is regardless of the level of conflict between the parents or between parent and child.
This is because children in shared physical custody can have an active relationship with both their parents, which previous research has shown to be important for the children’s well-being. Primarily because the relationship between the child and both of its parents becomes stronger, the child finds the relationship to be better and the parents can both exercise more active parenting. This can be interpreted as evidence for a positive effect of continuing everyday-like parental relationships after a family dissolution.
Sweden, where the study was conducted, is a forerunner in emerging family forms and behaviors like divorce, childbearing and family reconstitution. Therefore, the researchers believe the results of the study are relevant in most European countries. This can also lend some insight into Africa’s family set ups where divorce, separation, and single parenthood exist. A 2015 study by McGill University researchers found out that divorce rates across 20 African countries—including Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda —over the past 20 years have remained stable or declined.
Divorce, said the researcher of the McGill study Shelley Clark, comes with dire consequences for the health and education of children. Clark’s previous research in 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa showed that while children of all single mothers tended to be disadvantaged (compared to children whose parents were married), children whose mothers were divorced were more likely to die than were children of never-married or widowed mothers.
The data for the Swedish study is from the Surveys of Living Conditions in Sweden, ULF, from 2001-2003, combined with registry data. A total of 807 children with different types of living arrangements were surveyed by answering to questions about how often they experience stress and how well, or badly, they get along with their parents. The parents have answered how well they get along with their former partner.
Study details: Shared Physical Custody and Children’s Experience of Stress, Jani Turunen Stockholm University, Journal of Divorce and Remarriage Volume 58, 2017 – Issue 5.