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New Divorce Study Changes the Way We Look at Custody

When parents get divorced, it's usually any children involved who have the toughest time. But a new study out of Sweden is having some parents rethink the best way to rear kids of divorced parents.

It seems that the best custody arrangement, according to a new study published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, is when children spend time living with both of their parents, as reported in Time magazine.

Traditional thinking was that children in shared-custody situations were exposed to more stress from the constant moving and social upheaval that comes with moving back and forth between parental households.

"Child experts and people in general assumed that these children should be more stressed," says study author Malin Bergström, PhD, researcher at the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden. "But this study opposes a major concern that this should not be good for children."

Kids in nuclear families reported the fewest psychosomatic problems, as was expected, but the more interesting discovery was that children who lived with both of their separated parents reported significantly fewer problems than those who lived with only one parent. Having two participatory parents also tends to double the number of resources a kid is exposed to, including social circles, family and material goods like money.

MORE: Co-Parenting After Divorce

"Only having access to half of that may make children more vulnerable or stressed than having it from both parents, even though they don't live together," Bergström says. In Sweden, joint-custody parenting has risen dramatically in the past few decades, from only one percent in the 1980s to 40 percent in the year 2010, Time reports.

Shared parenting is less common in the United States, says Ned Holstein, MD, founder and acting executive director of the National Parents Organization. He estimates that the rate of shared parenting among separated parents at less than 20 percent in the U.S. Still he says the research in favor of shared parenting is overwhelming.

"You'll hear opponents say, 'You'll turn them into suitcase kids; they don't want to be dragged back and forth,'" Holstein says. "Clearly, taking the suitcase back and forth once or twice a week so that you spend a lot of time with both parents is way better for the kids than the alternative of basically losing an intimate and closely loving relationship with one parent."

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