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Is a 50/50 Parenting Plan Stressful for Children?

It probably goes without saying that most family law attorneys are not psychologists, mental health counselors, or child development researchers; however, family law attorneys do work to stay up-to-date on issues related to how family law and child development intersect and how we can help our clients help their children deal with two-home families.  As family law practitioners we are always excited to see new research on how custody arrangements (called residential schedules in Washington) are impacting kids.  A recent Time magazine article, “This Divorce Arrangement Stresses Kids Out Most” describes a recent Swedish study looking at different types of custody arrangements and how the arrangements affect children.

One finding of the study was that children are not as stressed as conventional wisdom had believed by shared custody arrangements (where the child spends roughly equal time with each of his or her parents).  In fact, the study found that these kids were less stressed than kids that spent little or no time with one of their parents.

It should be noted that the kids participating in this study were 12 to 15 years old.  This study may not be relevant to people with children much younger.  Furthermore, this study did not take place in the United States, and it is difficult to determine whether results would be similar in the United States.  Still, this is positive information for those families hoping to have their children spend equal time living with both parents.  The frequent moving back and forth does not seem to be as stressful for kids as some formerly thought.

In our practice we have seen 50/50 parenting plans work really well for some families, and we have seen every-other-weekend parenting plans work really well for some other families.  Parenting plans should fit the needs and abilities of the children and their parents.  If the parents live in close proximity, work well together, and have a desire to share residential time with the children, a 50/50 parenting plan should at least be considered.

We also encourage parents to be flexible if circumstances, the children, or the parents change over time.  If circumstances change and a 50/50 plan becomes too stressful for the kids or the parents, parents should consider a modification of the parenting plan to provide the children with the lowest-stress custody arrangement possible.  On the other hand, if the child is spending the majority of time with one parent but it appears the circumstances have changed such that the child would be better served by a 50/50 plan, parents should consider a modification to provide each parent with more equal residential time with the child.

Parenting Plans are not one size fits all.  They should be customized to meet a family’s needs.  If you would like to talk about creating a parenting plan that serves the needs of your children, please contact us today.  We would be happy to discuss how your parenting plan can be tailored to fit your family.

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