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Fifty or more years ago, the residential landscape of America looked different than it does today. Families settled in one place, sometimes within walking distance of extended family members. Children often lived in the same house for their whole childhoods.
Of course, things are different today. Families move across town, across the state, or across country for a parent's work opportunities. And, of course, the increase in divorce and families in which parents have never been married means that children often move between homes. Parents do their best to provide stability, but is there a risk to children from this residential mobility? And if there is, what can parents do to minimize it?
A recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine paints a disturbing picture of the long-term effect of frequent moves on children. A group of nearly 1.5 million young people in Denmark were studied from their fifteenth birthdays until their early forties. The study identified a link between several negative outcomes, including self-directed and interpersonal violence, mental illness and substance misuse, and premature death and frequent residential moves. The risk increased with multiple moves during childhood, multiple single moves in a year, and with increased age at the time of a move.
Some of these outcomes may correlate with frequent moves, but not be caused by them. Even controlling for issues that might cause both frequent moves and adverse outcomes for kids (such as parental mental illness), the study authors still found that there was evidence that increased residential mobility for kids led to increased risk of health, mental health, substance abuse, and violence in later years.
To be clear, this study was NOT evaluating children who experienced frequent moves back and forth between parental homes. That said, it's possible to infer from the study results that frequent moving back and forth may not be ideal for children in joint custody arrangements. None of this means that if you share joint custody with an ex your child is destined for a bad future. But it does suggest that you should take every possible step to maximize their chances for a good one.
Moving back and forth between parents' homes isn't exactly like moving from one new home to another, over and over. Ideally, children will feel safe, secure, and comfortable at home with both parents. That said, frequent moves back and forth can be jarring and disruptive for kids, especially when it forces them to miss out on social events and school gatherings with friends as they become teens.
How can you insulate your kids from the effect of moving between homes? For starters, work on crafting a parenting time arrangement that's less focused on being fair to you and your ex, and more centered on your child's needs. That may mean ditching a 2/2/5/5 schedule, which gives parents equal time but bounces kids back and forth in such a way that they barely have time to settle in to one home before having to shift to another. More than one set of parents has belatedly discovered the harm caused by the 2/2/5/5 schedule.
Please contact us at Mundahl Law with any questions you have about protecting your children's well-being while moving between their two homes. We look forward to working with you.