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What the research says about joint custody

Some parents in Virginia who are getting a divorce might believe myths about shared custody that are not supported by research. Studies show that unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as neglect or abuse, children usually do better in joint custody arrangements than in sole custody situations.

This appears to be true even if the children are very young or there is a lot of conflict between the parents. While some people may believe that an infant bonds strongly with the mother and should stay with her, research indicates that it does not harm babies and toddlers to spend nights away from either parent. Parents can also co-parent effectively in spite of conflict. In fact, there is usually less hostility in joint custody arrangements. Furthermore, this appears to be true even if the joint custody is mandated instead of being part of the parents' agreed-upon negotiations. When children are able to build strong relationships with both parents due to joint custody, it can even mitigate the negative effects of parental conflict. Finally, joint custody may reduce conflict between parents.

Parents might also be concerned that it will be disruptive for their children to move back and forth between their homes. However, according to one researcher and expert on joint custody, children express a preference for this situation over having limited time with either parent.

There are a few circumstances in which sole custody that involves visitation with the noncustodial parent might be the right solution. One parent might be struggling with substance abuse, and a judge might order supervised visitation until he or she has completed a treatment program. In other cases, a parent might be abusive or endanger his or her child's well-being in some other way. However, parents should keep in mind that simply disagreeing with their ex-spouse's lifestyle is usually not considered sufficient reason to keep the child from him or her.

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