The relation between joint physical custody, interparental conflict, and children's mental health
Keywords:Child well-being, FAMOD, interparental conflict, joint physical custody, post-separation families, sole physical custody, mental health
Objective: This study investigated the relationship between joint physical custody and children’s mental health, and tested whether interparental conflict moderated the association.
Background: Joint physical custody is an emerging post-separation care arrangement that is expected to counter the negative effects of family dissolution on children’s overall well-being. There is, however, substantial disagreement about the impact that joint physical custody may have on children’s mental health when interparental conflict is high.
Method: The statistical analysis was based on data from the Family Models in Germany (FAMOD) study, which was conducted in 2019. The analytical sample consisted of 1,087 post-separation families practicing either sole physical custody or joint physical custody. Linear regression models were estimated to determine the relationship between physical custody arrangements, interparental conflict, and children’s mental health problems.
Results: Living in a joint physical custody arrangement was positively related to children's mental health, whereas high levels of interparental conflict were negatively related to children's mental health. However, when levels of interparental conflict were high children in joint physical custody arrangements displayed levels of mental health problems that were quite similar to those of children in sole physical custody arrangements.
Conclusion: The findings emphasize that joint physical custody is not a "one-size-fits-all model" that is suitable for all post-separation families, and that it is only beneficial for children's mental health when interparental conflict is low.