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Considering long-term impacts of child custody arrangements

When a couple divorces, their family's daily life will likely undergo dramatic changes. One or both parents may move into a new home and a joint custody arrangement means that the children will split their time between two homes. Adjusting to moving between parents' homes may be stressful for a child.

Joint custody agreements will impact children of varying ages differently. For young children, their movement between parents' homes may not be very disruptive, as their lives are likely centered on school and family. However, older children in their middle school and high school years may have more difficulty adhering to joint custody arrangements.

One clinical psychologist points out that as children age, they often establish individual identities outside of their family. Teenagers may do this by engaging in extracurricular activities or placing increasing importance on spending time with their friend groups. So, a custody arrangement in which a child spends every other week with each parent may have worked smoothly while a child was in elementary school. However, it may become more challenging as the child gets older and his or her life becomes busier.

In addition, this clinical psychologist explains that teenagers begin to have more interest in making decisions affecting their lives. So, a child may have been fine with following along with a custody arrangement for years when he or she was younger. However, once the child gets into high school, he or she may not like being required to spend time with one parent or the other.

These situations point out the importance of considering the child's future when making custody arrangements. This means that parents may want to realize that the custody arrangement they create when their child is 2 years old may not be the best for the same child ten years down the road when the child is in middle school. Openness to adjusting the details of child custody arrangements as children age could eliminate potential arguments about a child's living arrangement.

Source: Psychology Today, "Divorced parents: Kids can decide where they live," Seth Meyers, Nov. 2, 2012

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