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Study shows joint custody may not be in infants' best interests

Joint custody arrangements have been gaining popularity among parents who split up in Florida. Florida parenting plan laws encourage both parents to be involved in their children's lives by requiring time-sharing agreements to be part of parenting plans. However, those with very young children should think carefully about the way they share their time with their children. A study published in the August 2013 issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family showed that joint custody arrangements for very young children may not be best for the children in the long run.  

Researchers looked at data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a national study of about 5,000 children born between 1998 and 2000, and discovered that infants who spent at least one night per week away from their primary caregivers developed less secure attachments to their primary caregivers than babies who spent less time away from their primary caregivers. 

Psychologists define attachments as the deep emotional connections that develop between infants and their primary caregivers during the first year of babies' lives. Experts note that it is critical for babies to develop secure attachments to caregivers in order to be able to form healthy relationships later on in life. 

The study's results do not mean that children with parents who are no longer together should see only one parent. Instead, parents of infants should consider making long-term time-sharing arrangements, where the parent who is not the primary caregiver sees the child frequently during the daytime but lets the child sleep in the primary caregiver's home most of the time. As the child grows, parents can agree to revisit the time-sharing arrangement to include more overnights with the other parent. 

Handling child custody matters can be difficult. Parents want what is best for their children, but sometimes they do not agree on what that is. Those with child custody questions should speak with an experienced child custody attorney who can help parents dissolve disputes.

Source: Science Daily, "Joint Custody? Overnights Away From Home Affect Children's Attachments," July 19, 2013

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