Hot Topic: Mandated 50/50 placement legislature – Is it in the child’s best interest?

Legislating and mandating a 50/50 placement is flat out a bad idea, particularly for young children and especially for infants. I think the idea is well intentioned, but a friend once told me that the “road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  Each situation is unique and there are a myriad of factors involved.

First, early on attachments are developed uniquely with each individual  and attachment relationships are lifelong. The word attachment is often used and misused by professionals and non-professionals alike with many misconceptions surrounding it. Mary Main, Hesse, and Hesse in Family Court Review (July 2011) states “an attachment is one of a sub-set of bonds which tie one individual to another specific individual, binding them together in space and enduring over time….for young children, an attachment may be described as a bond which serves to focus attention on the physical whereabouts or accessibility of one or a few selected, non-interchangeable older individual(s),  whose proximity can then be  sought in times of danger or fright. Separations from the selected attachment figures and unfamiliar or otherwise threatening environments is therefore expected to arouse distress, anxiety, or fear (Bowlby, 1969/1982). ”

Therefore, when we measure attachment security,  what we are looking to measure and a non complex form is essentially, “how confident is a child in the caregivers ability to meet his/her needs and the child’s adaptation to the caregiver’s past history of attempting to meet those needs.”

Alan Sroufe,  professor of child development at the University of Minnesota M lead researcher on the Minnesota longitudinal study of childhood, which is a 30 year research program that has set out to explore the development of children by providing an organizational perspective on early attachment and ecological map of the child’s growing ability to cope with chronic environmental and family straight across lifetime (abbreviated from Sroufe and McIntosh, Family Court Review, July 2011).

Sroufe states the following:  “The major thing I think the judge would do well to know is that attached relationships are lifetime thing. The major  thing I want divorcing noncustodial parents now is that they can have the most full relationship with this child that any parent on this planet will ever have, if they had no overnights for the 1st 2 years. Depending on your age, you have the next 50 or 60 years for a relationship at this child. And they’re going to need you all the time. He will not be displaced: attached relationships aren’t interchangeable. The relationship with any parent is as much as they make of it. The step parent comes along, they can also be a really useful figure in a child’s life. But they’ll never replace that other parent. ….. It is true on the one hand that probabilistically, the attachment you have an infant is a predictor of important aspects of later development. But is also the case that is changeable. One reason is predictive is because often times, the circumstances of children  who have no secure attachments do not change, and  their lives go on being full of stress, the lack of social support from the families, and the general chaos does not change. As we have documented, if the family does experience significant changes, the attached relationship of the baby may change. His social and family support increases between 18 months and 5 years, those children who are insecure at 12 or 18 months,  are not so likely to have behavior problems at 5 years….. I do not like arbitrary guidelines about child ages and overnights, for example because you need to consider number factors and child, like language development in representational capacity to understand what they can handle. Okay, say, the child is 3, but his language is delayed. That makes a huge difference. The child can fully understand, “you can be here and moms at home, are going to take you there tomorrow, and then when you wake up in the morning, we’ll go see mom,” then we have something we can work with. Well 1st of all, 12 month old cannot understand that,., And had no concept of time like we adults do.  You might as well be saying, “you’re going to be here forever.” What would they understand about that? If for some reason the child is 5 days with mom and 2 days overnight with dad, which I’ll get used to it, can they survive? Yes, but you’re making their job harder.”

“You cannot form attachment without regular ongoing interaction. Attachment is built on the history of interaction. There is nothing about this work about the need to put a baby to bed and get them up…..”

He states in his opinion, ” informed by long years of research, is the infant better off having one base until that is completely consolidated, organized, and the bank, and they (the infant) know it. What secure attachment means is the child takes forward and abiding belief that things are okay, and will be okay. If something happens that things are okay, they will be okay again. I’m alright, I know I can get what I need from other people. That is what you want them to have, you do not want them to have doubts about that, uncertainty, ambiguity. So once they have that in the bank, which they can usually get in the 1st 2 or 3 years, then it is not the same type of a problem to start going back and forth.”

And, as such, I hope that all parents do not want to put their children at risk.



  1. I think most parents want the certainty that their child will feel as emotionally bonded to them as to the custodial parent. Regular, quality involvement with the child is necessary for forming that emotional bond. In general, the courts mandating any child sharing arrangement is not a good idea: children and their relationships with their parents need to be evaluated when parents cannot agree to a reasonable division of time sharing that would allow for the development of an emotional bond between child and parent. In the situation you reference, a default principle, rather than a mandate, should probably be that the non-custodial parent has equal access to the young child during his normal, waking hours, rather than there be an equal sharing of placement.

  2. Agreed. The leading researchers in attachment (Sroufe, Main, George, Solomon, etc) all discuss for young children, esp with underdeveloped language expression and comprehension, a primary caregiver is most ideal with the non-custodial parent having regular, briefer, visits early the focus on quality – and that overnight care is not an essential ingredient for developing a healthy attachment from child to caregiver. Often, parents can lose sight of the fact that they have the rest of their natural lives for a relationship with their child and that the child’s development be taken into account when deciding on these arrangements.