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Studies show joint custody beneficial for children

For parents in Massachusetts who divorce, shared parenting might be the solution that is best for the child. Several decades of both national and international studies support this view. "Shared parenting," or joint physical custody, is generally defined as children spending more than 35 percent of their time with each parent. This is in contrast to one parent, usually the mother, having primary physical custody and the child visiting the other parent, often the father, only occasionally. Increasingly, experts believe that this intermittent contact is damaging to the parent-child relationship.

This is a shift in attitudes from the 1970s, when fathers often saw little of their children after a divorce. Studies show that children who live with both parents rather than merely visiting one tend to do better in school and are healthier psychologically and socially. They are also less likely to smoke or abuse drugs and alcohol.

Critics of joint custody say that it can be bad if one parent opposes it, and that when it succeeds, it is because of the parents' income and not the arrangement. However, one study examined the research and found that even in high-conflict divorces and cases where one parent initially opposed joint custody, outcomes were better. These positive outcomes also did not correlate to income.

Despite the severity of a divorce dispute, parents should aim for a functional coparenting relationship with or without shared custody. Mediation through an attorney might be one way to work out a parenting agreement and resolve conflict. This agreement may cover a number of issues ranging from extracurricular activities to vacations, meeting significant others and more. Exceptions to striving for joint custody may be if there is domestic abuse or substance abuse or concerns about a parental abduction.

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