Joint Custody and Shared Parenting

What the Research Says, What Parents Say

To see the importance of shared parenting, consider how you, as an adult, would feel if you could see your children only four days a month. Like most parents, you would miss them terribly, even with your adult level of emotional maturity. Children, with their fragile, still-developing emotions, often suffer much more. Children naturally love and need both parents. Sadly, most children of divorce see their non-custodial parent only four days a month. 

Not surprisingly, the commonly used sole custody approach can result in serious problems for children. Children raised in single parent families are at greater risk for juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, poor grades, drugs, dropping out of school, and other trouble. These risks occur even after factoring in differences in income. In fact, risks are even higher in step families, despite their significantly higher income. Research shows that the lack of involvement by both natural parents is a primary cause of these risks. Here's what the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services has to say:

"More than a quarter of American children—nearly 17 million—do not live with their father. Girls without a father in their life are two and a half times as likely to get pregnant and 53 percent more likely to commit suicide. Boys without a father in their life are 63 percent more likely to run away and 37 percent more likely to abuse drugs. Both girls and boys are twice as likely to drop out of high school, twice as likely to end up in jail and nearly four times as likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems."  -- HHS Press Release, Friday, March 26, 2020.
The phrase "two heads are better than one" is old fashioned wisdom, but it reflects the thought behind CRC's slogan that the best parent is both parents
sad child

Children need
both parents

The concept of shared parenting, or joint custody, was developed about 1970 to help provide for the active participation of both parents in raising their children. The first joint custody statute was passed in Indiana in 1973, and since then shared parenting has spread to all 50 states.

Shared parenting helps provide emotional stability for children by promoting the involvement of both parents.  There are two aspects to shared parenting in divorce:  joint legal custody, which refers to shared decision making responsibility between divorced parents, and joint physical custody, which provides children with a more balanced residential arrangement than was allowed under sole custody.  With joint physical custody, children spend at least 30% of their time with each parent.  This may be accomplished with an evenly balanced, alternating week arrangement,  or through other arrangements that provide ways for the children to spend significant amounts of time with both parents.  Joint legal custody has become the norm in most states in the U.S.  Joint physical custody is less common, but Federal government statistics show that more than one fifth of divorced families had an equal shared parenting arrangement in 1997, and in some states shared parenting has become the predominant type of custody award. (See Custody Statistics.)

Shared parenting has become popular because it works so well for children. A quarter-century of research has shown that kids do best with both parents involved in raising them, even if the parents are divorced. (See Research findings.)  Plus, new research shows that states with more joint custody have less divorce on average.

Comments from a wise judge:

"Although the dispute is symbolized by a 'versus' which signifies  two adverse parties at opposite poles of a line, there is in fact a third party whose interests and rights make of the line a  triangle. That person, the child who is not an official party to the lawsuit but whose well-being is in the eye of the controversy, has a right to shared parenting when both are equally suited to provide it. Inherent in the express public policy is a recognition of the child's right to equal access and opportunity with both parents, the right to be guided and  nurtured by both parents, the right to have major decisions made by the application of both parents' wisdom, judgement and experience. The child does not forfeit these rights when the  parents divorce."

--Presiding Judge Dorothy T. Beasley, 
Georgia Court of Appeals, 
"In the Interest of A.R.B., a Child," July 2, 2020
"Children benefit most when both parents can care for them and when they can have access to both parents." 
Governor's Task Force on Family Law
Annapolis, 1992

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