Family law judges in California and around the country base their child custody decisions on what they consider to be in the best interests of the child involved, but the evidence suggests that they may not be relying on the latest scientific research and data. Shared custody arrangements are still seen as the exception rather than the norm despite clear evidence showing that children fare better when they spend time with both of their parents, and some experts say that this is because judges base their decisions on assumptions that are not supported by the data.
Sole physical custody is sometimes ordered to avoid upheaval and minimize the impact of divorce, but polls have revealed that children will happily accept more demanding routines if it means having relationships with both of their parents. Judges may be reluctant to order shared custody when the parents involved have an acrimonious relationship and future conflict is likely, but researchers say that shared parenting nurtures responsible behavior and will generally reduce conflict even when grievances run deep.
It is widely believed that shared parenting approaches are only successful when both of the parents involved are committed. This belief may influence judges who are often asked to decide these matters when tensions are still running high, but the data suggests that these arrangements can improve the lives of children and reduce conflict between their parents even when they were originally mandated by a court.
Experienced family law attorneys may seek to avoid the need for involving judges by settling child custody disputes amicably at the negotiating table, and they could suggest alternative approaches like divorce mediation when discussions fail to produce an agreement that both parties can accept. In addition to being expensive and unpredictable, protracted court battles take place in public and could expose the children involved to unnecessary and unwelcome scrutiny.