There is a growing trend around the country and in Virginia toward the concept of shared parenting, which is sometimes also called joint custody. This plan calls for the child to have as much time as possible with both parents. It also entails the two parents ‘sharing’ the responsibilities of parenting, which requires healthy communications between them. While this is not the standard in Virginia or most states at this time, most experts on child custody and a large number of academic studies recommend it as superior over the current system that generally awards sole custody to one parent, most often the mother.

The growing body of evidence is that children brought up in a shared parenting situation stay in school longer, make better grades, and have fewer behavioral and psychological problems. Consequently, last year the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts endorsed shared parenting in most cases, and another study published last year by the American Psychological Association titled “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children,”  endorsed shared parenting. 110 child development experts throughout the world also supported shared parenting.

Studies also indicate that shared parenting would make a great difference in normalizing the status of child support payments. If shared parenting were instituted by statutory preference in Virginia, this would help alleviate child-support issues for the majority of divorced and separated families. Those who don’t get time with their children would start to receive equal time, greatly increasing their incentive to pay child support.

One study by a professor at Arizona State University showed that shared custody would greatly relieve the administrative burden currently on the state agencies to collect back child support.  The $3.1 billion or so of back support owed in Virginia by  noncustodial parents as of June 30, 2013, would be reduced.  Studies report that child support would likely go up to a 90 percent compliance rate and higher if the shared custody preference is instituted.

Shared custody, however, could not apply in those situation where there is abuse, neglect or a history of domestic violence by the noncustodial parent. In addition, if the noncustodial parent is a habitual user of alcohol or drugs, the order would be modified accordingly. Thus, we see that even with a shared custody arrangement, the family law judge in Virginia would still have the discretion to mold a custody and visitation order to what is in the best interest of the child.

Governor McAuliffe has highlighted an interest in seeing Virginia adopt these programs for enhancing access to children by both parents. He also has highlighted the importance of supporting “fatherhood initiatives.”  The whole point of the studies, the expert opinions and the legislative movements is that children need both parents. The corollary to that is that the parents cannot provide access and simultaneously plot against the other parent. Shared parenting entails two cooperating parents who are in communication with each other regarding the welfare of the children on a regular basis.