What would you do if your child, who had been getting a D- on report cards, brought one home with a C- instead? Would you rejoice and say that’s good enough? Or would you view it as a decent start with plenty of opportunity for improvement?

That is exactly the kind of improved position Virginia is in, thanks to a legislative push from the Virginia affiliate of the National Parents Organization.

As a result of the landmark 2018 HB 1351, which simply requires courts to consider joint physical custody and joint legal custody on par with or equal to sole custody, Virginia has just received a C- in NPO’s 2019 Shared Parenting Report Card. While this is certainly not outstanding, it does put Virginia on the right path toward doing not only what’s been proven best for children and families, but what its neighboring state of Kentucky has already done: Make shared parenting the norm and de facto starting point.

Recently, NPO released its 2019 Shared Parenting Report Card — the latest study to issue each state’s child custody statutes a grade, A through F. This report card provides a comprehensive ranking of states on their child custody statutes, assessing them primarily on the degree to which they promote shared parenting versus sole custody, after divorce or separation.

Thanks to Del. Glenn Davis, Virginia passed its first ever “shared parenting friendly” bill in 2018 — and Virginia’s children and families can thank him for being better off for it. This bill’s success is further underscored by its unanimous, bipartisan passing and Gov. Ralph Northam’s support via a formal signing ceremony for the bill.

The Virginia legislature had another chance in 2019 to further improve its child custody statutes with HB 2127 — which provided that, while considering the best interests of a child in determining custody or visitation arrangements, the court should, as appropriate, assure frequent and continuing contact with each parent. This bill passed the House and also the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on a bipartisan basis, but, unfortunately, it did not make it to the Senate floor for an actual vote.

We anticipate and encourage the legislature to fully pass this bill in 2020 and bring Virginia much more into the 21st century of modern, realistic family dynamics — while obviously still protecting victims of domestic violence as they appropriately should be. The Virginia affiliate of the NPO stands in agreement with protecting victims of all abuse (be it physical, sexual, emotional, drug or alcohol) and stands behind the volumes of research that conclusively show shared parenting fully protects victims of domestic violence.

Unfortunately, the 2019 report card highlighted that Virginia has no statutory preference for, or presumption of, shared parenting, which is defined as joint legal custody and shared physical custody. Also, Virginia continues to have no explicit language encouraging shared parenting.

We know children with two active, loving parents involved in their lives to the greatest extent possible do much better on all metrics of child well-being, regardless of whether those parents are living together or apart. What’s more, the implementation of true shared parenting reduces the very parental conflict that is so damaging to children, as well as the high cost of divorce for families — not only in dollars but also in emotional turmoil and stress, especially for the children.

We can do better. Virginia can do better by its children. It is starting to, but it has much more work left to do. There is literally no substantive reason to oppose shared parenting: It improves children’s lives, decreases stress for children and parents, and can do so without putting anyone at risk of domestic abuse.

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Christian Paasch is a member of National Parents Organization of Virginia and has been appointed to the Trauma-Informed Care Working Group of the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet.

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