Ever since 1976, Sweden permitted joint physical custody. Joint physical custody is a living arrangement whereby children live part of the time with one parent and part of the time with another. This arrangement has been on the rise in that country and now; about 30-40% of children whose parents are separated live in a joint physical custody arrangement. The rates of this arrangement are rising in Western countries where parents are playing a more and more equal and active role in childrearing even if they are separated. Legislation in countries such as Belgium and Australia has also pushed up the numbers of children living in joint physical custody arrangements.

A recent study conducted by Swedish researchers looked at the effects of this living arrangement (when the children lived with each parent about 50% of the time) on children, and compared it to children living in nuclear families and with children living with only one parent. The study looked at psychosomatic symptoms for each group. Symptoms reviewed through recent national survey data include problems with concentration, sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, being tense, having a small appetite, sadness and dizziness.

Past studies have found that children living in nuclear families exhibited psychosomatic symptoms far fewer than those living with parents who do not live together. The researchers postulated this might be due to the stress of a parental breakup and the challenges of moving between parents’ homes, for those living in joint physical custody arrangements.

This study of children between the ages of 12 and 15 found that children living in a nuclear family had the fewest psychosomatic symptoms, whereas those living mostly with one parent or only with parent had the most symptoms. Children living in a joint physical custody arrangement fell in the middle. It is possible that certain socioeconomic and environmental factors played a role in the results. Parents living apart from each other typically have economic resources fewer than those who live together.

Joint physical custody, which revolves around who takes care and houses the children differs from joint legal custody. Joint legal custody deals with decision-making power on matters such as schooling, summer activities, and religion. Custody can be worked out in court or outside of court in a settlement that the court then approves. The researchers would like to see a study that analyzes data over a longer range of time. That longitudinal study may provide more definitive answers to the researchers’ key questions and will help the public understand the effects on children of different living arrangements.

If you are considering divorce or need advice on child custody or support, then you should contact an experienced attorney. Jayson Lutzky is a lawyer with over 32 years of legal experience. He frequently appears  before family courts in New York City. To set up a free in-person consultation with Mr. Lutzky, call 718-514-6619 or visit www.MyNewYorkCityLawyer.com to learn more about Mr. Lutzky.

Source: Bergström M, Fransson E, Modin B, et al. J Epidemiol Community Health Published Online First: [8 June 2015] doi:10.1136/jech-2014-205058