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Divorce Study Shows Infants' Attachment To Caregivers Affected By Joint Custody

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Can joint custody inhibit an infant's attachment to his or her parents?

According to a new study from researchers at the University of Virginia, infants who spent at least one night a week apart from their mothers formed less secure attachments to them, compared to babies who had fewer overnights away from home or stayed with their father only during the day.

The researchers looked at data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a national longitudinal study of about 5,000 children born in large U.S. cities from 1998 to 2000. The data consisted of interviews with the children's parents at the time of birth and at ages 1 and 3.

Samantha Tornello, the study’s lead author, said that the attachments that babies form during their first year of life serve as the foundation for healthy attachments and relationships into adulthood. Because increasing numbers of parents are living apart from one another due to separation, divorce and children being born out of wedlock, kids are frequently raised in more than one home -- a custody arrangement that is likely determined by the legal system.

“Judges often find themselves making decisions regarding custody without knowing what actually may be in the best interest of the child, based on psychology research,” Tornello said in a press release. “Our study raises the question, ‘Would babies be better off spending their overnights with a single caregiver, or at least less frequently in another home?’”

According to Tornello, ideally the child would be in the care of the same consistent caregiver each night -- whether that's the father or the mother.

“We would want a child to be attached to both parents, but in the case of separation a child should have at least one good secure attachment,” she said. “It’s about having constant caregivers that’s important.”

This isn't the first study to find a link between parental divorce and childhood development. A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Affairs found that compulsive buying behavior in adulthood can be a result of parental divorce in childhood. And a July 2013 study by the University College London found that children of divorce have significantly higher levels of C-reactive protein -- a blood marker of inflammation that's associated with greater risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Click through the slideshow below to see more findings from recent divorce studies.

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