In a meta-analysis of both published and unpublished research on custody arrangements, Bauserman (2002) concluded that children in joint custody arrangements are better adjusted than those in sole maternal custody on a variety of measures, including general adjustment, family relationships, self-esteem, emotional and behavioral adjustment, and divorce specific adjustment. Bender (1994) also found that kids of all ages tend to do better in joint custody. Families with joint custody tend to move less often, which also benefits the children. (Braver, Ellman & Fabricius, 2003, p. 213) It’s important for both parents to remain “full service” parents if they want their children to remain psychologically healthy. (Clarke-Stewart & Hayward, 1996)
The best arrangements are those where joint custody is agreed upon and the parents work out the details among themselves according to what works best. Keep in mind, joint custody doesn’t necessarily always mean equal. A child may live primarily at one residence while spending evenings at dad’s after school while mom is working. One child may prefer to spend more time with one parent than another. It might mean a loose arrangement where parents take the kids as needed and desired, without any particular schedule. Joint custody merely means both parents are actively involved and will raise the children as a team, even though separated.
One thing is for certain: the more parents argue on custody situations, the worse off things will be for their children. You don’t want the courts dictating your children’s life. Real living situations don’t follow neat and tidy schedules. It will always make things harder on both parties when they are mandated to live under inflexible parenting arrangements dictated by the courts than when they work things out together. With that in mind, here are some other factors to take into consideration when deciding upon custody arrangements:
Things to think about in child custody arrangements
A) It’s not uncommon for children to greatly favor one parent over the other. There are several natural explanations for this: Perhaps one parent has been the primary caretaker, while another has been less involved in their upbringing. Perhaps a certain child’s unique disposition rubs the wrong way with the personality of a particular parent. One child’s natural personality may lead to a closer bond with one parent. Provided these preferences are natural (and not the result of indoctrination of the child by one parent to resist the other) they should be taken into consideration.
Going against a child’s natural attachment tendencies can do quite a bit of harm. Some children have touchy attachment tendencies to begin with, and can’t even stay over at a friend’s house without calling mom or dad to come home in the middle of the night. To ask a child with a strong attachment to dad and a weaker one to mom (or vice versa) to stay a week at mom’s house (without dad) can be nothing short of pure torture. Not only will it hurt the child, but it can also build up resentment and be counterproductive to the other parent. There are ways to work around this; spending time with the child during the day, for instance, or otherwise working out arrangements where sleepover times are kept to a minimum. Eventually the child will get more comfortable and such issues won’t be a problem. In the mean time, pay attention to the child’s preferences and do all you can to accommodate their needs if they happen to favor one parent over the other.
B.) Children may develop unique attachments to different parents, and favor each one in different ways and at different times. This is just another reason to opt for a flexible joint custody arrangement.
C.) Gender differences may play a role. In environments where caretakers are equally capable, most children tend to migrate more towards the affections of their gender-opposite. These cross-gender attachments play an important role in the development of the child, which is why girls who are missing fathers tend to have problems later on. This can be a part of their biological nature – a natural tendency towards affection from the opposite sex that prepares them for future roles. Try not to take it personally.
D.) Kids need time with both parents, even if they have a lesser relationship with one. Research shows that students report both they and their non-custodial parents (in this case fathers) generally wanted more time together. (Fabricius & Hall, 2000). Obviously, in many cases kids aren’t receiving the interaction they desire. Be sure to check in often about how they’re feeling and try to arrange for them to get the parent-child time they want and deserve.