The study “Children’s Experiences of Stress in Joint Physical Custody” by Lara Augustijn explores the impact of joint physical custody (JPC) and sole physical custody (SPC) arrangements on children’s stress levels. This research, published in the Child & Youth Care Forum in 2022, is set against the backdrop of high separation and divorce rates across Western countries and their potential negative effects on children’s well-being. The study is particularly significant because, while JPC is seen as a way to mitigate the adverse impacts of family dissolution by ensuring children spend substantial time with both parents, it could also introduce stress due to instability and the need to adapt to different parental regimes and interparental conflicts.

The research utilized data from the Family Models in Germany (FAMOD) study, focusing on a sample of 297 children aged 11 to 14. It aimed to investigate whether JPC arrangements contribute to lesser stress in children compared to SPC arrangements, considering both the time spent with each parent and the number of transitions between households.

Key findings from the study revealed no significant association between the type of physical custody (JPC vs. SPC) and the levels of stress experienced by children. Additionally, the frequency of transitions between parents’ households did not significantly affect children’s stress levels. These results suggest that different custody arrangements may present different stressors but lead to similar stress levels among children in post-separation families.

Important variables considered in the analysis included gender, age, the presence of siblings and stepparents, economic well-being, parents’ educational levels, years since family dissolution, quality of parent-child relationships, and levels of interparental conflict. Among these, the study found that female children reported higher stress levels than males, and a better economic situation and a positive mother-child relationship were associated with lower stress levels.

This research provides valuable insights into the debate over the benefits of JPC arrangements. It challenges the assumption that JPC inherently reduces stress in children, suggesting instead that the well-being of children in post-separation families may be more influenced by factors outside the family environment, such as school-related issues or peer relationships. Furthermore, the study highlights the need for more research to understand the nuances of how different custody arrangements impact children’s stress and overall well-being, including potential moderating factors like interparental conflict and pre-divorce parental involvement.

The study’s limitations include its reliance on a convenience sample, making the findings not representative of all post-separation families in Germany. Additionally, the cross-sectional nature of the data prevents the determination of causal relationships. Future research could benefit from longitudinal studies and a broader age range of children to better understand the dynamics between custody arrangements and children’s stress levels.

Overall, the research by Lara Augustijn contributes to the complex discussion on the implications of JPC arrangements for children’s stress and well-being, indicating that the choice of custody arrangement may not be as straightforward in its effects as previously thought.

Augustijn, L. (2022). Children’s experiences of stress in joint physical custody. Child & Youth Care Forum, 51(5), 867-884. doi: