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New study suggests kids' stress levels lower in joint-custody arrangements

The common assumption used to be that children endure more stress when they go back and forth between their divorced parents' separate households. You may have heard the term "suitcase kids" to describe children whose separated parents have joint custody.

The validity of that assumption has lost traction in recent years, though, as multiple studies and anecdotal evidence point to a shared custody arrangement as the most beneficial and least stressful for kids. However, the National Parents Organization estimates that less than 20 percent of children of divorced parents in the U.S. live in joint-custody arrangements.

A study recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health underscores the importance of shared parenting time. Researchers looked at data from nearly 150,000 6th and 9th graders and considered their psychosomatic health problems. Those problems included sadness, feeling tense, loss of appetite, dizziness, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, stomachaches and headaches.

The researchers found that 13 percent of the students lived with one parent; 19 percent lived part of the time with each parent; and 69 percent lived with parents who were still together.

The children whose parents were still together reportedly had the fewest psychosomatic problems, but the important conclusion of the study was that children who lived part of the time with each of their separated parents had fewer problems than the children who lived with one parent only.

The study also noted that having two parents in the picture can also provide children with two times the resources, including family, social groups and monetary support.

Every family situation is different, and it is not always possible for parents to share equal amounts of parenting time. It is possible, though, for parents to work together on the details of their children's care. For more on these matters, please see our time sharing and parenting plan overview.

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