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Should Virginia presume shared child custody most of the time?

Recently, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published an opinion piece by Christian Paasch, the chairman of the National Parents Organization of Virginia and a member of Virginia’s Child Support Guidelines Review Panel. In the piece, which you can read here, Paasch calls for Virginia to emphasize shared parenting in child custody matters.

Readers may naturally be curious about shared parenting, how it differs from sole custody, and how divorced parents might be able to successfully share parenting responsibilities.

When the court orders sole custody, one parent gets physical and legal custody over the child. That parent will have the right to make both day-to-day decisions on how to raise the child, as well as to make important, long-term choices such as where the child will go to school.

This arrangement may make the most sense when one parent has been found to be unfit, when the parents live far apart, or when the parents cannot communicate civilly with each other. The non-custodial parent will typically retain visitation rights, but the child will spend most of his or her time with the custodial parent.

As the term implies, shared parenting is more or less the opposite. The child spends close to equal time with each parent. The parents may also share legal custody, meaning that they must make decisions on the child’s education, health care, religious upbringing, etc. together.

Many states have laws requiring family court judges to presume that shared custody is in the child’s best interests. Virginia law allows both shared and sole custody. Paasch’s article calls for the state to “order shared parenting from the outset,” which he says would improve the emotional and financial situation for children whose parents do not live together.

Of course, not every child would benefit from having both parents in their lives, such as when one parent is abusive. It is clear that the debate over the best way to handle child custody disputes is not going to end anytime soon.

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