Volume 49 - Article 18 | Pages 479–492  

Joint physical custody of children in Europe: A growing phenomenon

By Mia Hakovirta, Daniel R. Meyer, Milla Salin, Eija Lindroos, Mari Haapanen


Background: Large-scale cross-country comparisons of children’s physical custody (which parent the child lives with after separation) are dated and limited in the age range of children considered.

Objective: We document the level of sole and joint physical custody (JPC, both equal and unequal) for children in European countries using data from 2021.

Methods: This article uses a new module on the living arrangements of children from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions survey. Our final sample comprises 9,102 children from 17 European countries. Analysis is descriptive.

Results: One in eight children in separated families has equal JPC arrangements; another 8.2% spend at least one-third of their time with each parent (but not exactly half-time), so 20.7% have some type of JPC. Direct comparisons with previous estimates show a doubling of the prevalence of JPC in less than 20 years. Substantial cross-national variation exists: In the Northern European countries, Belgium, France, Slovenia, and Spain, children are most likely to have JPC. Children in the age groups 6–10 and 11–15 are more likely to have JPC than younger or older children.

Conclusions: Compared to previous studies with data from 2002–2010, there has been an increase in JPC for children from separated families in Europe. Cross-country differences are large, but growth is not limited to a few countries. This paper improves on previous cross-national analyses by using more recent data, incorporating all ages of children, and considering unequal and well as equal time.

Contribution: This paper improves on previous cross-national analyses by using more recent data, incorporating all ages of children, and considering unequal and well as equal time.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Increases in shared custody after divorce in the United States
Volume 46 - Article 38

Most recent similar articles in Demographic Research

Partnership satisfaction in Czechia during the COVID-19 pandemic
Volume 49 - Article 24    | Keywords: COVID-19, family, pandemic, partnership, separation

Separation as an accelerator of housing inequalities: Parents’ and children’s post-separation housing careers in Sweden
Volume 49 - Article 4    | Keywords: divorce, family, housing, income inequality, neighborhood, parental separation, residential mobility, stratification

Family inequality: On the changing educational gradient of family patterns in Western Germany
Volume 48 - Article 20    | Keywords: census data, descriptive analysis, divorce, educational inequality, family, Germany, marriage, partnership, time, trends

Geographical distance between child and parent after a union dissolution in Sweden, 1974–2011
Volume 48 - Article 17    | Keywords: child custody, divorce, geographical distance, living arrangements, postdivorce parenting

Do the consequences of parental separation for children’s educational success vary by parental education? The role of educational thresholds
Volume 47 - Article 28    | Keywords: divorce, educational attainment, family, Germany, interaction, resource compensation, separation, sibling fixed effects