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Shared custody may be best for the kids

Tennessee parents who are approaching divorce may be interested in the results of a study that indicates joint parenting gives children the greatest likelihood of success. Meanwhile, statistics show that the mother is awarded physical custody in 80 percent of cases decided by the courts. Critics of shared physical custody argue that conflict between estranged parents has too detrimental an effect on children.

According to a professor of educational and adolescent psychology at Wake Forest University, though, the role of parental conflict has been exaggerated and should not determine child custody outcomes. She examined the data and results of 44 previous studies on divorce conflict and its impact on children and did not find strong support that conflict necessarily means a poor outcome for the kids. Rather, she found that the quality of the relationships between each of the parents and the child is the most important factor.

Conflict is difficult for children of married parents as well, and the professor says it is not parental conflict, but the parent-child relationships that most impact the life of the child. Going forward, the professor believes the courts should focus on developing policies and programs to strengthen the child's relationships with each of his or her parents and reducing the child's exposure to conflict. It should not be assumed, according to the professor, that joint custody is not a viable option.

A founder of the National Parents Organization and public health doctor said children whose parents share custody do better on every measure of development. Parents who have questions about child custody options might want to speak with a lawyer who may be able to help develop a custody arrangement that works for the children and the parents and which can be submitted to the court for its approval.

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