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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

The role of custody arrangements for child wellbeing: A longitudinal study of child, family and relationship mechanisms

Alternative title: Betydningen av bostedsordninger for barn og unges trivsel og psykiske helse

Awarded: NOK 8.0 mill.

Project Number:


Project Period:

2019 - 2024


Subject Fields:

Partner countries:

About 40 % of all 17-year-olds in Norway have parents living apart and more than 20 000 children experience parental breakup annually. The choice of custody arrangement has undergone substantial change in recent years. Choosing shared custody has increased among most groups of parents, including parents with low incomes, high conflict levels and those with younger children, while the number of children living mostly or only with their mother has decreased. Despite these changes, the relationship between custody arrangement and child’s well-being is still unclear because of several influential factors, such as child and family characteristics and inter-parental conflicts. The overarching aim of this project is to promote child well-being when parents live apart and to increase the knowledge on factors that should be emphasized to make arrangements that are in the best interest of the child. We aim to clarify the relationship between custody arrangements and child well-being by taking into account important relationship mechanisms as well as family and child characteristics. Furthermore, we want to increase the knowledge of custody arrangement for children under the age of three. The research project will use two longitudinal datasets. The Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) follows more than 100 000 children from pregnancy and throughout childhood and the Dynamics of Family Conflict-study follows 3000 families where more than half are living apart. These datasets, in combination with information from public registers will provide enhanced knowledge about child, family and relationship characteristics both prior to, during and after parental breakup. The research team interacts with research networks, both nationally and internationally and holds substantial expertise in family dynamics and child mental health. The project is situated at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH). Due to the Covid-19-pandemic, there has been some delay in the Wave 2 data collection in the FamilieForSK-study. All physical interviews with children had to stop in 2020. Instead, the interviews were carried out through video links. Furthermore, in the FamilieForSK-study, three additional data collection waves were carried out during the pandemic. The last wave of data collection ended in June 2021. The research has now carried on. There has also been delays in accessing the MoBa-data. The Custody-arrangement project is attached to the «Centre for Fertility and Health, at NIPH (a collaborator in the project), to access the MoBa-data with register linkages. This data source is currently available. However, the 14-year-old survey data is not available until December 2022. As this part is important in order to respond to some of the research questions within the current project, there are some delays regarding the papers using these data. Several papers are in work or in a review process within international journals. We have presented preliminary results from the project at several international conferences, both through scientific symposium with collaborators, but also through individual paper presentations. The conferences that we have participated in is the European Divorce Network Conference (in both 2021 and 2022), the 26th Biennial Meeting of the International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development (ISSBD, in 2022) and the Conference for International Acedemy of Family Psychhology (IAFP, in 2022). Several meetings in the reference and research group as well as with international collaborators have been carried out. The PhD-candidate is working with her research activities. She is currently working with her second paper while she in parallel is about to resubmit her first paper after receiving it for revision from a journal. The PhD-candidate has presented preliminary results from her first and second paper at the international conferences described above (European Divorce Conference, ISSBD og IAFP). We are in close contact with the Norwegian Directorate for Children Youth and Family Affairs (Bufdir)- that are also partner in the project. We inform them about preliminary results from the project but do also collaborate with them about how to disseminate the results to the Family Counselling Service, and others that are in need of the results. There are core knowledge groups rooted in the Family Counselling Service, and the Custody Arrangement Project is in close contact with them. The Norwegian Directorate for Children Youth and Family Affairs is invited to a meeting at NIPH on December 13, 2022, where we will present and discuss preliminary results from the project.

About 20 000 children experience parental breakup annually. Making arrangements that are guided by the best interest of each child is an explicit policy goal and essential to minimize the significant gaps in levels of wellbeing and mental health between children in intact and dissolved families. This Project will use a multi-informant longitudinal design to increase the knowledge-base on arrangements for children when parents live apart. Investigating a complete conceptual model of how custody arrangements relate to child Development, while including potential confounders and mechanisms, will address important knowledge gaps, as former studies are predominantly cross-sectional correlation studies. Results will help policy makers, mediators and others in guiding parents to make educated choices on arrangements for children across child, family and relationship characteristics. The overarching aim of this project is to clarify the relationship between custody arrangements and child wellbeing and adjustment. Combining two longitudinal dataset (MoBa and FamC) and register, will put us in a unique position to carry out comprehensive investigations of selection effects into different custody arrangements and whether associations with child development is confounded by selection effects; the role of inter-parental conflicts and parent-child relationships as a mediator across custody arrangements; conditions for child adjustment across arrangements; and provide a more thorough knowledge base for advices on arrangements for children under the age of three. The project is organized within a core research group at the Norwegian institute of Public Health. A substantial network of international and national collaborators including the Directorate of Children, Youth and Family affairs is established, and will optimize data analyses and concurrent and future dissemination of the results to mediators, policy makers, users and the general population

Funding scheme:

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