Parental separation or divorce is linked to a heightened risk of psychosomatic problems among the children in the family, according to recent research from Sweden published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
However, the findings also suggest that joint custody arrangements are less problematic than sole custody.
Over the past 20 years, family break-up has become more common in developed countries, with an increasing tendency to award joint legal custody afterwards. In Sweden alone, joint custody has surged from 1-2% of children affected by divorce/separation during the 1980s to 40% in 2010.
Previous research has suggested that children whose parents have split up are more prone to emotional and behavioural problems than those who live in a nuclear family with two co-habiting parents.
The researchers therefore used data from a national classroom survey of almost 150,000 Swedish 12 and 15 year olds in a bid to see if children’s domestic living arrangements were linked to a heightened risk of psychosomatic problems, such concentration and sleep difficulties; headaches; stomach aches; feelings of tension, sadness, and dizziness; and loss of appetite.
The analysis showed that girls reported more psychosomatic problems than boys at both ages, although the researchers caution that girls generally report more psychosomatic ill health than boys.
But teens living mostly with one parent as a result of family break-up reported the most psychosomatic problems, while those living with both parents in a nuclear family set-up reported the fewest.
And the proportion of children who said they ‘often’ or ‘always’ had the different symptoms assessed on the scale was also highest among those who lived with just one parent.
Children living in joint custody arrangements had fewer psychosomatic problems than their peers living mostly or only with one parent, but they still had more than children living with both parents in a nuclear family.
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