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Is joint custody always in the best interests of the child?

The phrase “best interests of the child” is used a lot in family law. In fact, for many people who have not been through a divorce or custody action, the trope may be all they know about family law. And, while the concept of deciding custody and support issues for the “best interests of the child” seems simple enough, the truth is that there are a lot of complex factors that go in to that evaluation, and the right answers aren’t always clear.

One example of this comes to us from a recent study looking at the impact of joint custody agreements on infants. The study found that there was a signficant impact on attachment for babies who spent overnights away from their primary caregiver.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term attachment, it is a psychological term used to describe the bond between a child and a parent. Attachment is a crucial part of development and impacts the way that people form relationships throughout their life. The bonds necessary to form a strong attachment take place within the first year of life, so infancy is an incredibly important time for babies to bond with a parent.

Unfortunately the dynamics of attachment are not often considered when judges in family court are considering the best interests of the child, since the more obvious answer seems to be to allow both parents to spend signficant time with the child. The study shows that in fact infants who spent at least one night out of each week away from their primary caregiver formed less secure attachments to that caregiver than babies who saw their other parent only during the day or on less frequent overnights.

Source: UVA Today, “Overnights Away From Home Affect Children’s Attachments, Study Shows,” Fariss Samarrai, July 18, 2013

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