Researcher Emma Fransson.
Researcher Emma Fransson. Credit: Dave Russell

Is joint physical custody better for young children?

5:14 min

Pre-school children living alternately with their parents after a separation or divorce, by switching between homes from one week to the next, have fewer behavioural problems and psychological symptoms than those who live exclusively with one parent, according to a new report.

The results of the Swedish study of pre-school children with joint physical custody goes against the widely held view of child experts who say that children under the age of six need continuity and stability and would be better served living at the home of just one parent.

We see that children that move between the parents' homes after separation or divorce, they actually fare better than three to five year olds who stay mostly with one parent."

The researchers from Karolinska Institute, Uppsala University and the research institute Chess, reached their conclusions after looking at three to five year olds in Sweden, whose parents have split up or were still together. By questioning parents and pre-school teachers, they compared the health of 3,656 children who still live in nuclear families, who move between parents' homes after separation or divorce, or who live mostly or solely with one parent.

"We have seen this pattern before looking at older children, but it is still quite controversial when looking at children this young and thinking that they might need a stable position in life and they should not be moved back and forth between the parents. So we can be happy to say to parents that these children do not seem to fare ill from moving. On the contrary, we can say that they can benefit from having regular contact with both parents," Emma Fransson tells Radio Sweden. But she notes there are exceptions.

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