The topic of child custody can be difficult for divorcing parents to discuss. Emotions and tensions are usually running high during a divorce proceeding, and children can often feel stuck in the middle of their parents’ disagreements. Historically, courts across the country have typically granted the mother full custody. Recently, however, states like Washington are increasingly favoring joint custody when possible. A new study, which examines the data from many other studies that have been conducted over the last few decades, indicates that sharing child custody is beneficial to the children and to their parents.
Throughout the last several decades, courts historically awarded mothers the custody of their children during a divorce proceeding. A major justification against shared custody used to be the belief that the strife between divorcing parents would negatively impact the children. It was thought that children of divorcing parents would find themselves in the middle of arguments or used as pawns by one parent as leverage against the other parent.
Since this was the common philosophy, courts tended to grant full custody to the mother and allow the father to visit or take care of the children for a night or two each week. This arrangement was believed to have provided the children the stability they needed during an emotionally turbulent time. However, over the last decade or so, courts have started to grant joint custody more often and whenever possible. And the research is both prompting and backing this change.
Contrary to these historically-rooted beliefs, new studies are indicating that creating such an imbalance in custody arrangements does not benefit children. In fact, there was no evidence to substantiate the idea that high conflict and stressful arguments between parents led to poor outcomes for children.
Instead, the study, which examined 44 previously published studies on divorce conflict and how it impacts children, found that the quality of a child’s relationship with both the father and the mother was the most important factor in that child’s reported feelings of success and support. Linda Nielsen, a professor of adolescent and educational psychology at Wake Forest University, who conducted the study, emphasizes the critical role that parent-child relationships play in helping children to feel successful.
“Forget that it’s divorce. Think about growing up in a married home. Of course, it bothers kids when their parents quarrel. Conflict does mater. But what we’re saying is that the quality of your relationship with your parents matters a whole lot more than the parents’ relationship with each other,” Nielsen said.
Nationwide, it is still common for states to award full custody to the mother. In fact, as of 2017, courts across the nation granted the mother full custody in over 80% of child custody cases. However, some states are taking a different approach. Washington increasingly grants joint custody whenever possible. Of course, extenuating circumstances like a father’s history of violence or abuse will likely lead a judge to grant full custody to the mother, but when both parents are willing and able to parent, joint custody is granted. Psychology experts are hopeful that the joint custody arrangement will allow each parent to develop a strong bond with their child, which is critical for a child’s development.
If you are struggling with a divorce and are worried about child custody issues, John L. Davis PLLC is here to help you. We get to know you and your family and we always look out for your child’s best interests. Contact our Vancouver office today at (360) 597-4740 to get started with a compassionate and trusted divorce law and child custody attorney.
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