Custody arrangements can make a big difference for children

This article looks at how certain child custody arrangements can impact children’s wellbeing after a divorce.

The phrase "staying together for the kids" is one that many parents use to justify staying in a marriage that makes them unhappy. The thinking goes that so long as a child's parents stay together, that child will have a better chance of developing well emotionally, academically, and psychologically than if their parents divorced. While such an attitude is understandable, there is actually very little scientific evidence to back it up. Many factors, most importantly child custody arrangements, can have a much bigger impact on how well a child develops after divorce.

Short- and long-term effects

The announcement of a divorce is rarely going to be received well by children. Most children will react extremely negatively, usually by displaying shock, disbelief, anger, and sadness. These emotions are entirely normal and healthy. While it can be upsetting for parents to see their children so upset, so long as the children know that they are not responsible for the divorce then in most cases the child will adapt quite well eventually.

In fact, as Scientific American points out, the long-term effects of divorce on children are extremely negligible. One Pennsylvania State University study, for example, examined the long-term effects of divorce on children by comparing one group of children whose parents divorced to one group whose parents stayed together. Researchers collected data on the children's behavioral, academic, social, and emotional wellbeing. The study found that over several years, the children of divorced parents performed similarly to those whose parents stayed married.

Child custody arrangements matter

That is not to say that all children bounce back after a divorce, just that most do. Other factors can make a big difference to a child's wellbeing after their parents split, not least of which is how parenting time is divided. As the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, a study of 44 previously published studies on divorce's impact on children found that children who maintained a healthy and meaningful relationship with each parent after a divorce had better behavioral, academic, and social outcomes. When the child felt alienated from one parent, then long-term problems were more likely to manifest.

Of course, there are plenty of situations where the above studies would not apply. Obviously, there are cases where it is in the child's best interests for one parent to be granted sole physical custody, such as in cases of abuse, addiction problems, and so on.

Family law advice

Divorce is never easy, but one way to make it a little less stressful is by talking to a family law attorney early on. An experienced attorney can help clients understand what options they have at their disposal, including how to negotiate issues related to child custody in a way that is sensitive to both the parent and the children's needs.