Governor Tom Vilsack has acted on all but two of the more than two-hundred bills Iowa lawmakers passed in 2004. One of those bills would make it harder for a judge to deny a divorcing parent joint custody of their children. Two child psychologists are advising the governor on the issue. University of Texas psychology professor Dr. Richard Warshak says the court has traditionally given just one parent custody of the children when parents divorce. Warshak says the idea was having a child live with just one parent promoted security. But Dr. Warshak says new research finds that’s not necessarily the case Warshak says children who’re in arrangements where their time is more evenly balanced between mom and dad prefer that arrangement and they do well in the arrangement. Dr. Warshak says kids who split their time between parents don’t act up as much and have a more positive view of their parent’s divorce. Meanwhile, Iowa City psychologist Dr. Brenda Payne says the dads benefit when both parents share custody because in the past, fathers were often shortchanged by custody arrangements. Payne says there’s a lot of research indicating fathers who don’t spend time with their kids drop out of relationships and quit paying child support. But Dr. Payne worries how the court might interpret the bill the governor’s considering because it doesn’t define what joint care means. Dr. Payne opposes the idea of mandatory, 50/50 custody arrangements. She says dividing the week between two households works better for some age groups than others, so families need the flexibility to change custody arrangements as children get older.Dr. Payne says it’s important for infants to bond with a parent, and a 50/50 time share would not be appropriate. A split time arrangement would work when kids are in elementary school, but Payne says things get dicey again when kids reach their teenage years. Payne says as kids get older and have after-school activities, a 50/50 custody arrangement becomes less practical. Dr. Warshak agrees.Warshak says his primary concern with the joint custody bill is it may suggest “one size fits all.” And Dr. Warshak adds that when one parent is badmouthing their spouse in front of the kids, joint custody probably won’t work well. Governor Vilsack has ’til Thursday to make a decision on the bill.
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