WITH THE TRANSITION into fall, a new political season heats up — the legislative pre-game. Virginia’s lawmakers are starting to map out plans for what they hope to accomplish when the state legislature reconvenes. Given this timing, we would like to call attention to critical facts on child well being:
During child custody battles in Virginia, and in nearly every other state, judges hold the “best interests of the child” as the standard when assessing parents’ claims. But all too often, courts use old-fashioned and outdated gender roles when interpreting these “best interests of the child” standards and ultimately determining custody.
The result: Roughly 80 percent of the time, courts award sole custody to mothers. Aside from the increased risk factors to which children raised by just one parent are subjected (school dropouts, teen pregnancy, teen suicides, etc.), there is clearly an imbalance when it comes to custody decisions. Mounting, undeniable and empirical evidence proves that shared parenting — a flexible arrangement where children spend as much time as possible with each parent after a divorce or separation — better serves children.
Without shared custody, court battles for sole or primary custody will continue to place stress on children, tie up the legal system and bankrupt families that face enormous legal bills. The courts create winners and losers, creating a disincentive to pursue mediation. Social science researchers have conclusively established that, barring the verified presence of abuse, children are better off when both parents play a meaningful role in their lives through equitable custody and visitation. Such arrangements are ardently desired by children, make children happier, improve their school performance and decrease delinquency.
With this data in mind, we urge all state lawmakers to use the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 10, as a time to heed the research and prioritize passage of shared parenting in Virginia. In doing so, Virginia would join a national trend, as 25 states have considered shared parenting legislation within the past year. States…
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