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What are the effects on children of joint physical custody arrangements in which children have dual residence (e.g. alternating weeks or months living in each parent's home)?

Dual residence means that the child spends some time living with each parent, but not necessarily equal time. This arrangement can work well for some families, but may be very difficult for others.


Researchers recently compared the results of 33 studies of custody arrangements. They found that in general, children in joint custody arrangements are better adjusted (better emotional adjustment, family relationships, self-esteem, and behavior) and may be more satisfied than children in sole custody arrangements. Most adolescents were doing well regardless of whether they lived primarily with their mother, primarily with their father, or spent equal time living with both. However, 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. Younger children need consistent routines so it is important to keep routines in each household as consistent as possible. For adolescent children, 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.


Kim Leon, Ph.D., Former Assistant Professor and State Specialist, Human Development & Family Studies, Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri Extension


Alison Levitch, Human Development & Family Studies Graduate Student, Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri Extension


Adapted by Maureen Jenkins, Web Editor, Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri Extension





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Last update: Friday, August 22, 2008




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