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Shared or sole child custody: which is best for development?

When parents are no longer cohabiting, people may assume that one or the other will take over primary custody of the children. But is this really the best scenario for most families in Ontario? Research seems to suggest that shared parenting and child custody is the best option, although historically some people have assumed the opposite to be true.

One expert in the field has identified three "waves" of thinking that contributed to a current trend toward sole child custody. The first was the idea that children would become confused and unhappy in the care of two different households. This belief asserted that children have a primary attachment with one parent, which should not be broken in favour of shared custody, and that two different parenting styles would confuse the children.

The second wave of arguments was that parents would be in conflict and thereby affect the children. It suggested that high-conflict divorces would continue into co-parenting situations and disrupt the children's development. Finally, the third wave acknowledged that, while most of these aforementioned arguments had been discredited by research, sole custody was still the easiest pathway from a family law perspective.

The expert who identified these waves noted that each were part of approximately 40 years of debate, culminating in the current perception that shared custody tends to be the best way to go in most cases. Research and empirical evidence has, time and time again, reasserted that shared child custody and co-parenting can be a good scenario for many children. However, each situation is unique, and it is important to discuss the family law aspects of each individual case and concern with an Ontario family lawyer.

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