Joint child custody (or shared parenting) is becoming more and more common in the family courts as the winning child custody arrangement for children of divorce. In fact, joint child custody has been shown by studies to be the best option for children of divorce.
For a legal joint custody definition you’ll want to check with the laws of your state as the legal definition may vary slightly. For a general joint custody definition one can think of “joint child custody” as a parenting plan that allows the child to spend a significant amount of time or an equal amount of time (i.e. joint physical custody) with each parent post-divorce.
Why is joint child custody the best option for children of divorced families? In a recent study by Psychologist Robert Bauserman, Ph.D. (of AIDS Administration/Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, Maryland), which appeared in the Journal of Family Psychology and published by the American Psychological Association (APA), he found that children from divorced families are better adjusted when they live with both parents at different homes or spend significant time with both parents (i.e. joint physical custody) compared with children who interact with only one parent (i.e. sole physical custody).
Bauserman conducted a meta-analysis of 33 studies that examined 1,846 sole custody and 814 joint child custody children between 1982 and 1999. Both groups of children were compared with a sample of 251 kids in intact families. The studies compared child adjustment in joint physical or joint legal custody with sole custody settings and 251 intact families.
Bauserman’s study found that children in joint child custody arrangements had fewer behavioral and emotional problems, higher self-esteem and better family relationships and school performance compared with those in sole-custody situations. Bauserman also found no significant difference in adjustment among children in shared custody and those living in intact family situations. Joint child custody children probably fare better, according to Bauserman, because they have ongoing contact with both parents (Child Adjustment in Joint-Custody Versus Sole-Custody Arrangements: A Meta-Analytic Review – Journal of Family Psychology, 2002, Vol. 16, No. 1, p. 91–102).
As noted above in Bauserman’s study, a child’s living situation is not as influential as the amount of time the child spends with each parent. Children from divorced families who either live with both parents at different times or spend certain amounts of time with each parent are better adjusted in most cases than children who live and interact with just one parent.