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Feature Article


The Effects of Dual Residence Custody Arrangements on Children

Kim Leon, Ph.D., Former State Extension Specialist, Human Development and Family Studies, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia

Dual residence is a type of joint physical custody in which the child spends equal amounts of time living in each parent's home. For example, a child may live at mom's house for two weeks or a month, then dad's house for two weeks or a month. Dual residence arrangements can work well for some families, but may be very difficult for others.


A recent study that compared the results of 33 studies of custody arrangements found that, in general, children in joint custody arrangements are better adjusted (better emotional adjustment, family relationships, self-esteem, behavior, and adjustment to the divorce) than children in sole custody. The joint custody children in this study didn't necessarily spend equal time living in both parents' homes, but most spent at least 25% of their time with each parent and spent substantial time living with each parent. However, other research has found that if there is a lot of conflict between parents, then joint custody may not be a good arrangement for children.

A study of adolescents with divorced parents found that adolescents with dual residence arrangements were more satisfied with their living arrangement than adolescents who lived primarily with their mothers or fathers. Most adolescents were functioning normally, regardless of whether they lived primarily with their mother, primarily with their father, or spent equal time living with both. When there was conflict between parents, the adolescents who spent equal time living with both parents were more negatively affected by the conflict.

So, some issues to consider in deciding whether or not to pursue a dual residence arrangement are:

  1. The level of conflict between parents. An equal time arrangement may not be optimal if there is a lot of conflict between parents. Parents need to be able to communicate and cooperate with each other for this type of arrangement to work well.
  2. The child's level of adaptability to change. Equal time arrangements work best for children with a flexible, adaptable temperament.
  3. The child's age. For preschool-age children, it may be difficult to make frequent transitions between homes. However, it also may be difficult for a preschool-age child to maintain a close bond with a parent he or she doesn't see for a long time. When adolescent children are involved, it is important to consider whether their activities will be monitored in both homes. It is important for adolescents to be accountable to a parent who knows where they are and and what they are doing at each home.


Bauserman, R. (2002). Child adjustment in joint-custody versus sole-custody arrangements: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Family Psychology, 16, 91-102.

Maccoby, E. E., Buchanan, C. M., Mnookin, R. H., & Dornbusch, S. M. (1993). Postdivorce roles of mothers and fathers in the lives of their children. Journal of Family Psychology, 7, 24-38.



Last Updated 05/12/2009


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