How Does Divorce and Shared Custody Impact Children?

January 13, 2015

Just like all major life events, divorce and shared (not necessarily 50/50) custody affects children differently. The impact depends on the child’s emotional make-up, resiliency, life experiences (age-effected) and how the people around them react to and comfort them through what is almost always a very saddening experience (even when the marriage was terrible).

There is no doubt that divorce, and splitting up a child’s custody, will have a great effect on that child in many ways. Thankfully, however, these effects are not always bad.  For example, if the marriage was horrible (abusive in any of the myriad ways abuse is manifested), divorce can sometimes have a positive impact on children — it frees them from the chronic and, often, debilitating stress that comes from living in a volatile home-life situation. However, if the marriage was only bad news between the parents — but the children were thriving despite the parents’ irreconcilable differences and, perhaps, lovelessness — there will certainly be a negative impact on the children.

“There is no doubt that divorce, and splitting up a child’s custody, will have a great effect on that child in many ways. Thankfully, however, these effects are not always bad.”

I believe, however, that good co-parenting relationships between parties, who share the custodial caretaking of their children, can counter-balance the negative impacts of divorce.



(1) Children of divorce will have a greater chance (by about 15%) of getting divorced themselves.  Of course, whenever I see this statistic, I have to wonder:  “Do children who are raised in a loveless marriage have a 15% greater chance of having such a love-desolate marriage themselves?”  Or, “Do children who are raised in a family where the parents disrespect one another’s every decision also grow up to have similarly disrespectful relationships with their spouses?”

(2) Children of divorce are at risk of becoming manipulative (one parent against the other) if there is a lot of child-driven opinion (not always bad; not always good) with regard to custody arrangements.

(3) Children of divorce who have focus issues (e.g. ADD, ADHD) and other special needs (e.g. autistic spectrum disorders, down syndrome, learning disabilities, processing disorders, anxiety disorders) may have those problems exacerbated by living in two separate homes. Of course, though these children’s progress in therapeutic intervention may initially slow down, a divorce sometimes actually helps these children develop higher-level coping and life skills in the long run.

(4) Children of divorce may excessively worry about their parents if either one of them does not “heal” well and/or there are financial problems after the divorce.  These types of “grown-up” worries are often overwhelming for children and can affect them academically and, certainly, emotionally.

(5) Children of divorce may feel alienated by a parent when he or she begins dating . . . and step-siblings (or “step-significant-other-children”) come into the picture.  The addition of significant others and their “kin” always presents big, emotionally-charged challenges for families. Feeling neglected and losing ground in esteem-building is what we worry about most in these types of situations.

(6) Children may become delayed/damaged in their ability to form trusting relationships with other people and, as they get older, their desire to form romantic partnerships may be stymied.

I always counsel parents, however, in my Divorce Mediation Practice that the negative impacts of divorce can often be counter-balanced by really great parenting. For example:


(1) The historically “less involved parent” often steps up his or her involvement with the children.  As long as the kids are thriving, most experts agree that having both parents involved in a child’s life is best.  Why?  Because two parents in a child’s life creates a better opportunity for that child to develop his or her bonding and connectedness/attachment skills (yes, they are skills).  These skills form the basis from which all human beings learn to be social and develop the ability to have meaningful and loving relationships with other human beings.

Sometimes the reason for the increased involvement is less than noble-sounding (e.g. attorney advice, wanting to “show” the other parent that he/she actually cares, etc). What matters, however, is not the initial motivating factor that started the involvement in the first place. What matters is that both parents are positively involved in their child’s life and that both parents show that child how much they unconditionally love him or her.  Motivation is not always the key to determining whether a behavior is helpful or not — sometimes the act itself is what is most important and sometimes, believe it or not, the “good” motivation ends up following the act.  (Kind of like “smile and you might even end up feeling happy”.)

(2) Children can learn excellent conflict resolution skills from their divorced parents. Even if the parents “failed” at marriage, they can do a great job co-parenting the kids, which will, no question about it, require high level conflict resolution skills.  Remember: Your kids are watching everything that you do!

(3) Children tend to have more opportunity for one-on-one time with their parents post-divorce.  Most children love this special time with their mom or dad — as long as that parent actually pays attention to them (although not necessarily all 24 hours of the day).  Teens, however, may not be so thrilled with so much attention (but maybe they will appreciate it when they are older!).

(4) Parents have the opportunity for refreshing breaks from the hard work of parenting when the children are with the other parent.

(5) There is a greater tendency for both parents to be involved in the day-in-day-out academic, social, extracurricular, and emotional lives of their children (versus just one parent being the “CEO and COO of Kids” as is often the case in intact marriage situations).

(6) In good co-parenting situations, children have the opportunity to absorb the fact that big changes, though scary, are not always bad.  Children of divorce know that life is full of surprises. Those children whose parents do a good job at co-parenting (which often means that they do not prolong the bad feelings brought about with the divorce) can also absorb and learn through their parent’s role modeling that the ability to handle change and an undesired/unplanned rearrangement of one’s life is what makes, in many ways, for a successful and happy life!

Related Blogs:

How Divorce Affects Adolescent Children

November 18, 2014

Getting divorced is difficult. Getting divorced when you have teenagers… Well, it can feel impossible. Luckily, a lot of very smart people have said a lot of incredibly useful things to help you navigate these tricky situations. A must-read is by Carl Pickhardt, a psychologist and writer, entitled “Surviving Your (Child’s) Adolescence.”unhappy teen

He starts by describing the difference between the way a child who is under 9-years-old and a child who is 9 or older reacts to the divorce of their parents. While the younger child will tend to cling and show anxiety, the older child begins manifesting signs of independence and pulling away. Since it is already typical for an adolescent to test their independence, this confluence can be destructive, rather than developmentally beneficial for the child.

Pickhardt runs down the ways in which a divorce can affect the adolescent. They can put off committing to their own relationships, or keep things overly casual, in order to forego the same pain they saw in their parents’ relationship. It can make them uncertain about their own feelings toward a romantic partner, if their new frame of reference becomes, “Well, I thought my parents loved each other, but now I’m not sure.”

To avoid these mires and pitfalls, Pickhardt suggests what he calls “The Ten Articles of Consideration;” a list of ways that parents can interact positively with their adolescent children and assure them of their continued love, devotion, and foster trust. I highly recommend you check it out for yourself, especially if these problems sound all too familiar. As always, Fairfax Divorce Blog will be here to continue giving our own advice and pointing out helpful articles whenever we find them!

Posted by Jane Baber, Mediation Assistant

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

Child Support Calculation in Virginia – Rebutting the Guideline’s Amount

April 8, 2014

moneyIn Virginia, the Child Support Guideline amounts come from a table which is set forth in the Virginia Code §20-108.2. That Guideline’s Table dictates the “presumptive amount” of child support to be paid in various situations. (See That child support obligation (a single dollar amount that Virginia says your child will need in order to “make it” in the world based on his/her parents’ financial status) is then divided up between the parents, based on their percentage share of income produced and, in certain situations (see last bullet point below), the amount of time that the child spends with each parent. The parent that earns the most money is usually the parent who ends up actually paying child support to the other parent (though not always, depending on the custody share arrangements).

To calculate the presumptive amount of child support, you need the following information (which become the variables for the calculation):

  • gross monthly income for both parents (usually pretty simple except in cases of small business owners and sales professionals);
  • the actual cost of health insurance for the child (not the entire family);
  • the costs of work related childcare (though this is often factored outside of the calculation);
  • and, in cases where the child spends greater than 90 days (24 hour periods) with the non-primary parent (which also includes 50/50 custody cases), the number of days the child spends with each parent per year;
  • and, in cases where there is also a spousal support obligation, that amount, too, is usually put into the calculation.

The best way to calculate child support is with a professional – a divorce mediator or attorney. Unfortunately, most clients leave out key information or miss a variable when they try and figure their own child support amount with online calculators. At least, that has been my experience. It’s never a bad idea to get some preliminary numbers, but a professional should really assist before you get committed to (or get upset by!) a child support amount.

Once the parties agree/the judge determines what the correct variables are to run a Virginia Child Support Calculation (i.e. gross incomes, cost of health insurance, etc.), the amount calculated is presumed to be correct. However, in certain situations, a parent(s) does not agree with that number – and therein lies a big problem.

A battle over whether or not to apply the presumed child support amount in a Virginia divorce – whether in terms of ratcheting that number above guidelines or pushing it below guidelines – is one of the areas where the flexibility and low cost of divorce mediation should be considered. The “legalese” for this modification of the presumed guideline’s child support number is “deviation.”

Anyone considering deviating from the Virginia child support guidelines amount (especially if that parent is seeking a below-guideline’s number) needs to be aware that courts tend to like formulas. That means that if you do not think that the Virginia guideline’s calculation suits your family’s needs best, you will need to prove it. That means evidence. And that means lawyers and big money (if you choose to litigate instead of mediate).

Further, judges who follow the letter of the law must be very particular about the details of the evidence presented. Child-related matters are highly sensitive – and no judge wants to deny a child the basic support that is presumed needed (at least as far as the Virginia General Assembly is concerned) for anything less than a very, very good reason. (It is notable that the receipt of child support is the child’s right and not the custodial parent’s right. So, technically, even the custodial parent does not have the right to waive child support/agree to a below guideline’s amount of child support on his/her own since it is not that parent’s right to waive the child’s right to financial support!)

Courts are required to abide by the following protocol and criteria if and when there is a request by a parent to deviate from the Virginia Child Support Guideline’s Presumed Amount (pursuant to §20-108.1 of the Virginia Code):

The Court must make written findings that:

A. The application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case; and

B. There is justification as to why the child support obligation ordered by the court varies from the presumed guideline amount based on relevant evidence pertaining to: The ability of each party to provide child support and the best interests of the child, as follows:

1. Actual monetary support for other family members or former family members;

2. Arrangements regarding custody of the children, including the cost of visitation travel;

3. Imputed income to a party who is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily under-employed; provided that income may not be imputed to a custodial parent when a child is not in school, child care services are not available and the cost of such child care services are not included in the computation and provided further, that any consideration of imputed income based on a change in a party’s employment shall be evaluated with consideration of the good faith and reasonableness of employment decisions made by the party, including to attend and complete an educational or vocational program likely to maintain or increase the party’s earning potential;

4. Any child care costs incurred on behalf of the child or children due to the attendance of a custodial parent in an educational or vocational program likely to maintain or increase the party’s earning potential;

5. Debts of either party arising during the marriage for the benefit of the child;

6. Direct payments ordered by the court for maintaining life insurance coverage pursuant to subsection D, education expenses, or other court-ordered direct payments for the benefit of the child;

7. Extraordinary capital gains such as capital gains resulting from the sale of the marital abode;

8. Any special needs of a child resulting from any physical, emotional, or medical condition;

9. Independent financial resources of the child or children;

10. Standard of living for the child or children established during the marriage;

11. Earning capacity, obligations, financial resources, and special needs of each parent;

12. Provisions made with regard to the marital property under § 20-107.3, where said property earns income or has an income-earning potential;

13. Tax consequences to the parties including claims for exemptions, child tax credit, and child care credit for dependent children;

14. A written agreement, stipulation, consent order, or decree between the parties which includes the amount of child support; and

15. Such other factors as are necessary to consider the equities for the parents and children.

At Graine Mediation, we follow similar protocol to the courts when clients are considering a deviation from the Virginia Child Support Guidelines. However, in the Fairfax and Northern Virginia area – where lifestyles tend be quite expensive in terms of the stepped-up extracurricular activities, tutoring, overnight camps, etc. that children are involved in – there is rarely a case where a below-guideline’s child support obligation is agreed to by parents in mediation. (Remember: The guidelines were developed by the Virginia General Assembly for state-wide application – and most Fairfax/Northern Virginia families do not live the lifestyle or raise their children, in terms of dollars spent, like most of the families in other parts of Virginia.) Thus, below-guidelines agreements are rare in my mediation practice. However, above-guidelines deviations are often discussed but, even then, obligating parents to above-guidelines monthly child support amounts are often disregarded in favor of other more practical and creative solutions to award the support necessary while, at the same time, satisfying (as much as possible) each parents’ need for financial stability and control.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

How To Tell Your Children About Divorce

January 28, 2014

Father comforts a sad childThere is no easy way to tell your children about divorce.  At some time, though, most divorcing parents need to have this uncomfortable and heartbreaking conversation.  When preparing to have that talk, experts recommend that you consider the following:

(1) Parents should aim to be together when the children are told about the divorce. 

(2) Children need the truth, but not all of the details.  Answer your children’s questions truthfully, but there is no need to respond with absolute precision or to share the sordid details (if there are any) of your break-up.

(3) Children need to be prepared for how their lives will look – in tangible terms.  Tell them about the schedule.  Tell them about their new room(s). Tell them about their new neighborhood(s).  Talk with them about which one of you will be taking them to their activities, etc.

(4) Do everything you can to make the children feel secure and loved.  More hugs than usual might be needed when you are in the process of separating.  Realize that children don’t always express their feelings, needs, and fears “on schedule”.  Be prepared for spontaneous eruptions of emotion and, at least while the children are in transition, give them your undivided attention when it looks like they are ready to talk.

(5) Assure your children that the divorce is not their fault. Even though this may seem intuitive, lots of children make the mistake of assuming the divorce is their fault.  Sometimes the leap is not drastic, either, if the children have heard and/or seen their parents argue over matters involving them.  As always, fault (of the parents) is irrelevant here in terms of both parents assuring and reassuring their children that the divorce has nothing to do with them or anything they have done or said.

(6) Don’t give your children false hope of a reconciliation.  Many children have a secret (sometimes not so secret) dream that their parents will magically reconcile.  Though giving your children hope that you and you ex will one day get along better (if you are not presently experiencing an amicable separation) is often a good idea, leaving the door open, in terms of hope, that there will be reconciliation can, however, lead to tremendous disappointment and even disillusionment about family, love and security.

(7) Children process information in their own unique way.  Before you sit down to talk with your children about your impending divorce, think about how your particular child hears, absorbs, processes and utilizes information.  Remember: Just because a big expert in the field says that “x” is what your child needs to know, that advice may not work with your particular child.  Be sensitive and try and put yourself in your child’s shoes.

Understand that, no matter the age, children will never forget the moment that they are told that their family, as they know it, has come to an end.  Each child will react differently.  Denial, fear, regression, anger, apathy, and fear of abandonment are normal reactions.  It is these reactions that you will want to be prepared for when you tell your children about the divorce.  Their reactions may be instantaneous or delayed.  Regardless, it is your children’s reactions to the separation and divorce that you will want to be focused on in terms of finding the best ways to alleviate their anxiety and help them settle into their new lives.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator and Elizabeth Downing Revell, Mediation Assistant

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.



Shared Physical Custody: Civility and Communication Are Key to Successful Co-Parenting

January 21, 2014

Effective-Co-Parenting-TipsIt is so easy to continue being angry or in a constant state of irritation with your ex-spouse . . . but, if you have a Shared Physical Custody Arrangement, that anger and irritation will eventually get in the way of successfully co-parenting your children. The anger will seep into your everyday (and I mean everyday!) conversations with your ex-spouse and, as a result, taint your ability to raise well-adjusted and secure children in two distinct homes.    

With Shared Physical Custody, parents will need to communicate on a very regular basis in order to keep each other informed of how their children are doing (day in and day out), with regard to school, academic projects and test schedules, extracurricular activity schedules, tutoring, birthday parties, clubs, church activities and events, illnesses, doctor and dental appointments, ongoing disciplinary action, behavioral issues, emotional issues, etc. Not only that, but children forget stuff – their football helmet, their violin, their homework, their medication, their contact lens solution, their coat, their favorite jeans, etc.  Until they are old and mature enough to handle their own schedules and stuff, both parents will need to be involved, together, in the management of the children’s schedules and material possessions. 

It is hard to imagine (if you are not already parenting in a Shared Physical Custody arrangement) the amount of talking, texts, emails, etc. that are necessary in order to raise children in two separate homes.  The lines of communication must always be open and parents need to make the other parent feel welcome to share information about the children.  In other words, neither parent should ever have to feel that he just doesn’t want to “deal with the ex”.  It should not be a burden.  To limit the stress of co-parenting, both parents need to feel comfortable reaching out to the other parent on all issues related to the children’s well-being.  If you are not there yet, you will almost certainly need to work on this skill.  Sometimes, the majority of the effort only comes from one side.  In the end, however, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you find a way to get along.  

On top of the regular and civil communication necessary to co-parent effectively, it will be important, in a Shared Physical Custody Arrangement, to develop new ways of parenting together.  The old habits might have to be reborn in the form of new ways of doing things.  I say this because, as I have seen in my practice, joint decision-making and constant checking-in about children (and the endless and details of their lives!) is not the norm for many couples in intact marriages. Instead, in many families, the majority of child-related matters are handled primarily by only one of the parents and, for a variety of reasons, he or she is not historically accustomed to a high level of involvement from the other parent.  When this style of parenting has been ongoing for many years, it is often very difficult to switch gears.  But, for children to function well while living in two distinct households, both parents really need to be on equal footing when it comes to major – and sometimes not so major – decisions with regard to their children. The details will need to be discussed and follow up will be necessarily.  It’s a lot of communication.

According to Robert Emery, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of The Truth about Children and Divorce,

“ . . . joint physical custody is the best and the worst arrangement for children. It’s the best when parents can cooperate enough to make joint physical custody work for children. It’s the worst when joint physical custody leaves children in the middle of a war zone. The best research supports this conclusion. In low or controlled conflict divorces, children fare better in joint than in sole physical custody. In high conflict divorces, children do worse in joint physical custody than in other arrangements. Admittedly, existing research is imperfect and very hard to do. But this “best and worst” conclusion also is commonly held by seasoned practitioners, and it makes good common sense.”


In other words, having both parents in a child’s life, as much as reasonably possible (considering the parents’ ability to provide care and the children’s ability to handle the stress of living in two different homes), is best for kids. . . but only if the parents can get along and make child-focused decisions without the poison of anger and resentment creeping into their conversations regarding the children.

Another reason that Shared Physical Custody Arrangements demand parents that get along with one another is almost never mentioned.  I find it paramount, however, to intuitive and sensitive parenting.  Here is is: Good parents do their best to keep their head and heart on the pulse of their children’s well-being.  In other words, it is important that parents and children “be in rhythm” with each other, as much as possible (until they elbow you out, which is natural!).  However, when your children live in two different homes, this is hard to do.  It is hard to keep your finger on the pulse of your family’s rhythm when that rhythm is in a constant state of interruption. But, plenty of families succeed in doing this and, if you can befriend one those lucky parents, that would be a very good friend indeed!

Some children thrive in Shared Physical Custody Arrangements.  Some do not.  Both parents need to be willing to admit this.  They need to keep a watchful eye on their children’s stress levels and see what type of children they have.  Some kids, even in the best of co-parenting situations, simply never get comfortable with moving between two separate households.  And, of course, some kids seem to do fine even when the parents never get the hang of “civil communication”.  Best Advice: Stay tuned-in to your child (or individual children) and be open to change if necessary.

You should also know that many experts have found that Shared Physical Custody Arrangements tend to be less stable, over the child’s minority, than more traditional post-divorce parenting arrangements. Why is this?  According to Dr. Emery:

“. . . joint physical custody is less stable over time than sole physical custody. Several studies show this. And this isn’t necessarily a problem. Kids’ needs and desires change. So do parents’ needs and desires [change]. People move. New partners get involved. The changes can make a lot of sense, and changes can make things work better. So file this concern under “something for parents to consider” not under “why you don’t want joint physical custody.”

BUT joint physical custody apparently works only for a minority of families. At any one point in time, maybe 10% of children from divorced families are actually living in joint physical custody. (There really isn’t great research here, but even the highest estimates I’ve seen aren’t much bigger.) Why is the number small compared to the amount of talk about joint physical custody? I think it’s for all the reasons I’ve discussed. Joint physical custody is definitely an option to consider – it’s my preferred option for cooperative parents. But it’s only one of many options that can work for divorced parents and for children.”


There is very little good information, statistics or studies out there in terms of what the short and long term impacts of Shared Physical Custody are on the well-being of children of divorce. These children are part of a new trend in raising children and only time will tell us how this new way of raising children actually works out for these kids.  We will have to remember to ask and learn from them, as it is most definitely those children that will be the real experts!

             Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator and Elizabeth Downing Revell, Mediation Assistant

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Single Parent Dilemma: When To Introduce Your Children To Your New Boyfriend/Girlfriend

January 14, 2014

So you’ve decided to start dating again . . .


That idea, in and of itself, can make some people wild with anxiety.  Add to that the decision of when and how to introduce your children to your new love, and you have a lot on your plate to deal with.

Surprisingly, there is almost universal agreement by psychologists, social workers, and other experts who work with divorcing families, that you should not introduce your children to your new boyfriend/girlfriend until you have been in a committed long-term relationship for a minimum of 6 months to 1 year. Of course, all situations are unique, but this 6 months to 1 year standard is a good place to start.

Gary Neuman, psychotherapist, rabbi, and author of Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles’ Way, suggests waiting a year from separation from your spouse before introducing one’s children to anyone.  He feels that children need at least that much time to adjust to their new family dynamics.  That “one year” rule is pretty common, in psychology, because it allows a person who has been affected by a trauma to get through all of the major events, holidays, seasons, etc. at least once before attempting to move on to a new way of life – analogous to a period of mourning.

Parents, the experts counsel, should keep their dating life under wraps until, and if, their new relationship becomes serious.  There are a couple reasons for this. First, if your children tend to attach to everyone you date, and your introductions are made prematurely, your children may suffer loss and feel hurt when that person is no longer in the picture. Second, children are often not very friendly to people their parents are dating . . . and why would you want to expose your new friend to that sorry treatment any sooner than necessary? (If you are a parent, you know how kids can be when introduced to new people.  Need I say more?)

It is also a good idea for parents to self-assess why they feel the need to introduce their children to their new boyfriend or girlfriend.  Of what value will that introduction be to the kids?  What is the purpose of that introduction?  Will the children’s lives be enhanced by the inclusion of your new love into their lives? Are you preparing the children for your significant other to be a permanent fixture in your lives? (And, if so, that would probably take a while to decide anyway and, for most people, be well within the 6 month to 1 year framework).

Peter Sheras, clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, and the author of I Can’t Believe You Went Through My Stuff!: How to Give Your Teens the Privacy They Crave and the Guidance They Need, advises divorced parents to look first toward the quality of the dating relationship before worrying about how or when to introduce children. “The commitment is the most important piece because, when there’s commitment, that becomes obvious to the kids.”

Know, too, that children should not be put in the position of helping you choose/approve a mate.  That type of decision-making is strictly grown-up business.  Something as serious as choosing a partner can only be done by the person who will be having the intimate relationship with the new person. Once again, it is up to the dating parent to choose a boyfriend or girlfriend that is appropriate, kind, kid-friendly and truly loves him or her.  There is a lot to be said for children’s intuition when it comes to people, but assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your new beau is usually not a good place to test your child’s EI (emotional intelligence).

Best Advice: Take things slowly and give everyone the time they need to adjust to their new family dynamics, first.  Then, once the dust has settled, take the matter of introducing your children to your significant other slowly and thoughtfully.  After all, it won’t do your children any harm to be in the dark when it comes to knowing who you spend Saturday nights with when they are with their other parent.  Usually, they could care less and it just  won’t matter to them. . . at least until it looks like your new significant other might be coming into the family in a big way.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator and Elizabeth Downing Revell, Mediation Assistant

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Do Infants Fare Well in Shared Custody Arrangements?

December 3, 2013

sleeping-babyA recent national study from researchers at the University of Virginia found that infants who spent at least one night a week apart from their primary caretaker (almost always the mother in cases of parental separation with infants), with the non-primary caretaker, formed less secure attachments to their primary caretaker, compared to babies who had fewer overnights away from their primary caretaker and/or were cared for by their father (in this case) during the daytime, only.

Attachments are defined as an enduring, deep, emotional connection between an infant and caregiver that develops within the child’s first year of life.  According to the researchers, a child’s attachment to the primary caretaker, formed during that critical first year, will serve as the basis for that child’s ability to form healthy attachments and relationships later in life.

The researchers also clarified what most of us instinctively know:  Babies have an innate biological need to be attached to caregivers – their parents being the obvious “first choice”.  When both parents are always there, this attachment is formed, in great part, by simple consistency.  That is why, when parents split up, the baby’s instinctual drive to attach to a consistent caretaker(s) might be best met by facilitating consistent caretaking during infancy. In other words: No overnights with the non-primary custodian when the child is still an infant.  This is certainly not what many fathers argue for in court and mediation when it comes to sharing the care for an infant child.  Parents in the middle of a divorce or custody battle that involves a baby, however, should be aware of the latest research on the effect of split custody arrangements on children – whether they agree or not.

The researchers of this study advocate parenting plans (custody & visitation) “that evolve, where daytime contact with father’s occurs frequently and regularly, and overnights away from the mother’s are minimized in the early years, then are gradually increased, to perhaps become equal in the preschool years.”

The researchers were clear in that either the mother or father could be the primary caregiver, but the point would be that the child ideally would be in the care each night of a loving and attentive caregiver and that there may be something disruptive about an infant spending nights in different homes.  (Of course, the “something disruptive” is hard to put your finger on . . . but it has to do with an infant’s ability to attach – which must be consistent, and is intertwined with the home in which the infant sleeps at night.)

Journal Reference:  Samantha L. Tornello, Robert Emory, Jenna Rowen, Daniel Potter, Bailey Ocker and Yishan Xu. Overnight Custody Arrangements, Attachment, and Adjustment Among Very Young Children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 1 JUL 2013; Volume 75, Issue 4, August 2013

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


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