The type of divorce we think benefits children may be the most harmful.

We were as surprised as you will be.

Divorce isn’t nice for anyone. Not for the married couple who’ve come to the end of a painful journey.

And definitely not for the kids who have to watch their parents split.

While there has been a lot in the news lately of the best way to divorce, thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow for introducing the concept of conscious uncoupling. (For more on conscious uncoupling, click here.) It turns out, maybe she was on to something.

A new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health says that the ‘stability for the children’ custody arrangements may not be the best option for the kids.

Researchers studied national data from 150,000 12 and 15 year old students and looked at key indicators like sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, headaches, stomachaches and feeling tense, sad or dizzy according to TimeThey wanted to see if kids who lived part-time with each parent were in fact, more stressed than those who had stability and only lived with one parent.

Malin Bergström, PhD, researcher at the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden, says, “Child experts and people in general assumed that [children in shared-custody situations and who moved constantly between two homes] should be more stressed. But this study opposes a major concern that this should not be good for children.”

It was previously thought children need stability in the home life, particularly during stressful divorce situations. And living with one parent, was far better than spending every second week with the other parent in their home.

Surprisingly though, the study found the kids who lived with both parents in shared-custody arrangements reported fewer problems than those who just lived with one parent.

Bergström explains, “We think that having everyday contact with both parents seems to be more important, in terms of stress, than living in two different homes. It may be difficult to keep up on engaged parenting if you only see your child every second weekend.”

In addition, living with both parents (and having regular and constant interactions with both parents) means kids have double the resources than the kids who rarely saw the other parent.

In the study, girls seemed to suffer the most problems from unequal shared-custody arrangements with the most frequent problems being sadness. While sleep problems were common among both genders. (Click here for 8 signs of stress post divorce in children.)

Shared custody arrangements are not always possible, however. But this is interesting new information that may help inform situations where they are.

The latest Australian custody statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, say:

In 1997, 3% of children whose parents had separated were in a shared care arrangement, (i.e. each natural parent cared for the child for at least 30% of the time). The vast majority (97%) were in a sole care arrangement (i.e. the natural parent with whom they lived cared for them for more than 70% of the time). Of those children in a sole care arrangement, 42% spent time with their other natural parent fortnightly or more frequently. However, over one third (36%) saw their other natural parent rarely (once a year or less) or never. Of those children (aged two years or older) who saw their other natural parent rarely or never, 33% had some contact by telephone or letter. As children get older they are less likely to see their other natural parent on a frequent basis.

What are your thoughts on the new findings?

Want more? Try:

“Why I quit Facebook after my split.”

Think you’re headed for a break up? Have a look at how you argue.