"We also communicate through a book in the diaper bag"-Separated parents´ ways to coparent and promote adaptation of their 1-4 year olds in equal joint physical custody

PLoS One. 2019 Apr 10;14(4):e0214913. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0214913. eCollection 2019.


Joint physical custody (JPC) refers to a practice where children with separated parents share their time between the parents' respective homes. Studies on parents' views of JPC for young children are scarce. The aim of this interview study was to explore parents' perceptions on how they experience and practice equally shared JPC for their 1-4 year-olds in Sweden. Forty-six parents (18 fathers and 28 mothers) of 50 children (31 boys and 19 girls) under 5 years of age were interviewed. Parents were recruited through information in the media and represented a broad range of socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as both voluntary and court-ordered custody arrangements. The interviews were semi-structured and analyzed using systematic text condensation. Two themes emerged regarding the research question. In the first theme, Always free, never free, parents described their striving to coparent without a love relationship. While they appreciated the freedom of being a "half-time parent", doing things one's own way, they felt constrained by the long-term commitment to live close to and keep discussing child rearing issues with the ex-partner. Good communication was key and lessened parent's feelings of being cut-off from half of the child's life. When JPC was ordered by court or conflicts were intense, parents tried to have less contact and worried when the children were in the other home. The second theme, Is it right, is it good?, included descriptions of how the parents monitored the child's responses to the living arrangement and made changes to optimize their adjustment. Adaptations included visits for the child with the other parent mid-week, shared meals or adapting schedules. In conclusion, these parents worked hard to make JPC work and cause minimal damage to their children. Most parents were pleased with the arrangements with the notable exception of couples experiencing ongoing conflict.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child Custody / methods*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Divorce*
  • Family Conflict
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parenting*
  • Parents*
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Sweden

Grant support

This work was supported by FORTE, grant number 2014-0843 (www.forte.se) and Länsförsäkringsbolagens Forskningsfond, project name "Växelvis boende-tryggast för barnet eller ett socialt experiment?" (http://nyhetsrum.lansforsakringar.se/2013/03/13/pressinbjudan-bara-bo-hos-mamma-eller-pappa-ar-det-bast/). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.