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Can shared parenting spare kids from stress after divorce?


Research suggests that kids who live with both parents after divorce are less at risk for stress-related health issues than those who live with one parent.

Many parents who are divorcing in Colorado appreciate the potential benefits of shared parenting. Still, they may worry that this arrangement will create needless stress for their children. Shared parenting can introduce relocations and upheaval. It also can increase parental interactions, along with the potential for conflict. However, recent research suggests that, despite these issues, shared parenting after divorce might still be the least stressful arrangement for children.

Assessing post-divorce stress

According to Time magazine, a Swedish study surveyed data on nearly 150,000 children, who were all in sixth or ninth grade. The researchers assessed the prevalence of psychosomatic health problems among children who split time with both parents, lived with one parent or lived in nuclear families. The researchers used these health conditions, which can be influenced by emotions such as stress, as proxies for each child’s overall level of stress.

The researchers predicted that, after the children whose parents weren’t divorced, the children who lived with one parent would exhibit the fewest issues. However, these children were actually significantly more likely to experience various health problems, including:

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Feelings of tension or sadness
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Issues concentrating
  • Stomachaches or appetite disturbances

The researchers theorized that children who spent time living with both parents after divorce might experience fewer health issues for various reasons. These children might enjoy closer relationships with each parent. They might also have greater access to financial and social resources, which could offer various benefits for their general well-being. These benefits may make shared parenting an approach worth seriously considering for parents who are already interested in this arrangement.

Shared parenting in Colorado

In Colorado, state law does not presume that equal parental rights and responsibilities always serve the best interests of every child. Parents have a right to agree to custody and parenting time arrangements that give both parents equal duties and parenting time. However, if custody and parenting time are decided in court, a judge may consider various factors and ultimately choose to award sole custody or unequal parenting time because the Court is always required to consider the “best interests” of the children of a relationship.

Additionally, there is no presumption in Colorado that one parent based upon their sex is better suited to nurture a child, and the law actually specifies that sex alone cannot be the basis for a parenting time decision.

The Court will consider a number of factors in making a parenting time decision such as whether there is drug use, child abuse or domestic violence as well as the proximity of the parents to one another.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers considered a bill that would have established 50-50 parenting time as a parental right. This legislation also would have presumed that evenly divided parenting time generally served the best interests of children. Critics, however, worried that this presumption could leave children vulnerable to abuse, and the bill ultimately failed to pass before the end of the legislative session.

The concerns of these critics underscore the fact that shared parenting might not be the optimal arrangement for every family. The study suggests that, in general, this arrangement can offer emotional and even physical benefits for children. However, it is always important for each family to find the arrangement that best accommodates the unique family dynamic and the needs of each child.

Reaching the right arrangement

To arrive at more fitting custody and parenting time arrangements, divorcing parents may benefit from seeking legal guidance. An attorney might be able to help a parent identify the most appropriate arrangement, given the circumstances. An attorney may also be able to help a parent protect his or her rights in the event that custody must be decided in court.

Keywords: family law, divorce, child, custody