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Custody decisions involving very young children

71234126_S.jpgThe guiding principle behind any child custody decision is the best interests of the child. Increasingly, Illinois courts are deciding that shared custody, in which each parent spends at least 35% of the time with the child, is in his or her best interest. However, there may still be some lingering reluctance on the part of the courts to award shared custody of very young children. Where the children are younger than 5, courts may be more likely to grant sole custody to the mother. 

According to the Institute for Family Studies, there is still a lingering belief that the bond between mothers and children becomes weaker when they spend overnights apart from one another. This belief seems to stem from a misleading study in 2013 which, upon evaluation, is not applicable to the general population. A review of 54 studies comparing outcomes for children in sole custody with those for children in shared custody showed that the outcomes for infants and toddlers in shared custody were just as good for those of older children and better than those in sole custody.

Stat News points out that the roles that each parent plays in the family are shifting as dual-earner households become more common. In households where married parents both work, 41% of the time that infants spend with their parents is with their father. A custody arrangement that provides young children a similar amount of time with their father can help children and fathers develop a normal relationship, which is in the child's interest. 

It is not only children that can benefit from shared custody but fathers as well. Spending time with their infants, day and night, helps fathers to recognize and respond appropriately to the signals that the baby uses to communicate his or her needs. It can be more difficult to develop this type of sensitivity when the father only "visits" with his young children. 

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