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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Living in two homes-a Swedish national survey of wellbeing in 12 and 15 year olds with joint physical custody

Malin Bergström1*, Bitte Modin1, Emma Fransson1, Luis Rajmil3, Marie Berlin45, Per A Gustafsson6 and Anders Hjern12

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Health Equity Studies (CHESS), Stockholm University/ Karolinska Institute, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden

2 Clinical Epidemiology, Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden

3 Catalan Agency for Health Information, Assessment and Quality, and IMIM Hospital del Mar Research Institute, Barcelona, Spain

4 National Board of Health and Welfare, 106 30 Stockholm, Sweden

5 Department of Sociology, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden

6 Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Linköping University, 581 85 Linköping, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:868  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-868

Published: 22 September 2013

Abstract

Background

The practice of joint physical custody, where children spend equal time in each parent’s home after they separate, is increasing in many countries. It is particularly common in Sweden, where this custody arrangement applies to 30 per cent of children with separated parents. The aim of this study was to examine children’s health-related quality of life after parental separation, by comparing children living with both parents in nuclear families to those living in joint physical custody and other forms of domestic arrangements.

Methods

Data from a national Swedish classroom study of 164,580 children aged 12 and 15-years-old were analysed by two-level linear regression modelling. Z-scores were used to equalise scales for ten dimensions of wellbeing from the KIDSCREEN-52 and the KIDSCREEN-10 Index and analysed for children in joint physical custody in comparison with children living in nuclear families and mostly or only with one parent.

Results

Living in a nuclear family was positively associated with almost all aspects of wellbeing in comparison to children with separated parents. Children in joint physical custody experienced more positive outcomes, in terms of subjective wellbeing, family life and peer relations, than children living mostly or only with one parent. For the 12-year-olds, beta coefficients for moods and emotions ranged from −0.20 to −0.33 and peer relations from −0.11 to −0.20 for children in joint physical custody and living mostly or only with one parent. The corresponding estimates for the 15-year-olds varied from −0.08 to −0.28 and from −0.03 to −0.13 on these subscales. The 15-year-olds in joint physical custody were more likely than the 12-year-olds to report similar wellbeing levels on most outcomes to the children in nuclear families.

Conclusions

Children who spent equal time living with both parents after a separation reported better wellbeing than children in predominantly single parent care. This was particularly true for the 15-year-olds, while the reported wellbeing of 12-years-olds was less satisfactory. There is a need for further studies that can account for the pre and post separation context of individual families and the wellbeing of younger age groups in joint physical custody.

Keywords:
Alternate residency; Divorce; Joint physical custody; KIDSCREEN; Parental separation; Wellbeing