May 21, 2018
VIRGINIA MAKES FAMILY COURT REFORM HISTORY
Governor Northam Supports Shared Parenting Bill; Ceremonial Signing Expected
RICHMOND, VA. – National Parents Organization is excited to announce another historic event: As of midnight, May 18, 2018, Virginia’s House Bill 1351 became law (effective date July 1, 2018).
This opens the door to a more robust shared parenting law in the future.
Delegate Glenn Davis, R-House District 84, sponsored the bill (HB 1351) and stated, “I am proud to have led the first successful passing of any kind of shared parenting bill in the history of the Commonwealth. This bill represented all Virginian families and children and was supported by both political parties, as well as The Family Foundation and the Family Law Coalition.”
This law is the first step in a longer journey and both the House and Senate unanimously passed it, which is a testament to its bipartisan nature. Importantly, this law leaves in place existing provisions that account for histories of domestic violence or other abuse.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled for the families of Virginia. We want to thank our legislators, especially Delegate Glenn Davis whose collaborative leadership is unmatched, and Governor Northam for acting unanimously on the overwhelming research that shows children do best when the time they spend with each of their loving parents is maximized,” said Christian Paasch, Chair of National Parents Organization of Virginia. “I am proud to now be able to say that the Commonwealth has started to align its child custody laws with decades of child development research. We still have work to do and we look forward to continuing this important work with our legislators, but we are heartened by the passing of HB 1351.”
As The Washington Post reported, more than 20 states have recently considered legislation supportive of shared parenting – a flexible, collaborative, and safe child custody arrangement that seeks to maximize a child’s time with each parent. Virginia’s passage of HB 1351 comes on the heels of Kentucky signing a much stronger, rebuttable presumption of shared parenting into law last month.
Virginia’s new law requires the court to formally consider joint/shared custody on par with sole custody. While some might argue that Virginia’s statutes already allow for such a consideration, the truth is that approximately 85% of the time, sole or primary custody is still awarded. Unfortunately, children in sole custody arrangements are exposed to a multitude of risks, such as teen suicide, school dropouts, and behavioral disorders. Approximately 60 studies from numerous states and countries, and spanning several decades, have shown that on every metric of well-being, children do better in shared parenting situations than in sole custody situations (see “Recent Research” below).
A trend toward shared parenting has gained steam in recent years. It has been the usual arrangement for several years in Sweden, Belgium, and Australia, and research there has shown much better outcomes for children. A handful of states have had similar laws for several years, and each year, a few more states follow suit and join the modern world in doing what is best for children: shared parenting. A soon-to-be-published study on Arizona’s law found that judges, attorneys, conciliation court staff, and mental health professionals evaluated its shared custody law positively overall, and positively in terms of its effects on children.
“Because of this new law in Virginia, the Commonwealth has taken an important first step to improve children’s educational achievements, decrease their use of drugs, give them a greater sense of security, and improve their overall health and adjustment. We look forward to seeing Virginia continue down the path toward true shared parenting, which is good for mothers, good for fathers, and best for children and families.” Paasch said. “Please join us in celebrating this landmark action!”
RECENT RESEARCH: SHARED PARENTING VERSUS SINGLE PARENTING
Shared Parenting Data
- In January 2018, The Journal of Child Custody published an update on child development research surrounding what’s best for kids when parents divorce or separate. In the update, Linda Nielsen, a Wake Forest University professor of adolescent and educational psychology, analyzed 60 studies spanning multiple decades and numerous countries. She concluded that shared parenting is better for children than single parenting on almost every measure of wellbeing.
- In September 2017, Acta Paediatrica, a peer-reviewed medical journal in the field of pediatrics, published a paper by Swedish researcher Malin Bergstrom of the Karolinska Institute titled “Preschool children living in joint physical custody arrangements show less psychological symptoms than those living mostly or only with one parent” – it concluded the mental health of children ages three to five with shared parenting is better on average than the mental health of those in the care of a single parent.
- The Journal of the American Psychological Association published a paper titled “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report” in 2014, and the conclusions were endorsed by 110 eminent authorities around the world. Authored by Dr. Richard Warshak at the University of Texas, the paper concluded, “... shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children.
- In 2016, Dr. Warshak wrote, “Two years after its publication, the conclusions and recommendations of the Warshak consensus report remain supported by science.” He also wrote, “The paper has been translated into at least eighteen languages and has informed legislative deliberations throughout the U.S. and parliamentary deliberations in several countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, Finland, Romania, Croatia, and Sweden. Two years after its publication, the consensus report continues to be one of the most downloaded papers from the journal’s website.” He added, “The list of endorsers and their stature and accomplishments reflect the field’s general acceptance of the consensus report’s findings as rooted in settled science from more than four decades of research directly relevant to this topic, including seminal studies by many of the endorsers."
- The Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health published a 150,000-person study titled “Fifty moves a year: Is there an association between joint physical custody and psychosomatic problems in children?” in May 2015 that concluded shared parenting after divorce or separation is in the best interest of children’s health because the arrangement lowers their stress levels.
- The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) published the recommendations of 32 family law experts in 2014, and the group concluded, “Children’s best interests are furthered by parenting plans that provide for continuing and shared parenting relationships that are safe, secure, and developmentally responsive and that also avoid a template calling for a specific division of time imposed on all families.”
- In December, 2016, The American Psychological Association published research by William V. Fabricius of Arizona State University in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law entitled, “Should Infants and Toddlers Have Frequent Overnight Parenting Time With Fathers? The Policy Debate and New Data.” Prof Fabricius’ findings provide “… strong support for policies to encourage frequent overnight parenting time [up to and including 50/50 overnights –Ed] for infants and toddlers [even younger than one year –Ed], because the benefits [for children-Ed] associated with overnights also held for parents who initially agreed about overnights as well as for those who disagreed and had the overnight parenting plan imposed over 1 parent’s objections.” Fabricius shared details on his findings during the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017, a May 29-30, 2017 event in Boston, Massachusetts hosted by National Parents Organization and the International Council on Shared Parenting.
According to federal statistics from sources including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Census Bureau, children raised by single parents account for:
- 63% of teen suicides;
- 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions;
- 71% of high school drop-outs;
- 75% of children in chemical abuse centers;
- 85% of those in prison;
- 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders; and
- 90% of homeless and runaway children.
National Parents Organization, a charitable and educational 501 (c)(3) organization, seeks better lives for children through family law reform that establishes equal rights and responsibilities for fathers and mothers after divorce or separation. The organization is focused on promoting shared parenting and preserving a child’s strong bonds with both parents, which is critically important to their emotional, mental, and physical health. National Parents Organization released the Shared Parenting Report Card, the first study to rank the states on child custody laws, and in 2017, National Parents Organization hosted the International Conference on Shared Parenting, bringing in research scholars from 18 countries to share their results on shared parenting. Visit the National Parents Organization website at www.nationalparentsorganization.org