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Stress and its impact on children an important consideration in child custody cases

In child custody proceedings, when both parents cannot agree on an appropriate arrangement, the task of a family court is to step in and make a decision in the best interests of the child. In making this decision, family court judges take into account a variety of factors, including the needs of the child, the ability of the parents to provide for the child’s needs, and certainly things like history of abuse, neglect, and domestic violence.

There is now a fair amount of research out there highlighting the harmful effects of stress on the developing brain. These effects include inability to appropriately respond to stress, weakened immune system, destructive behavioral adaptations, and long-term health problems. 

Various negative effects can stem from a number of stressful circumstances, including: physical, sexual or emotional abuse and neglect; domestic violence; caregiver separation or divorce; and caregiver mental illness, substance abuse, or incarceration; financial struggles; and neighborhood violence. Children who experience several or more of these circumstances are more likely to have conditions likely to have conditions like conditions like heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Judges who are carefully considering the best interests of the child will take into account not only major sources of stress like abuse, but also lesser sources of stress that come with any given custody arrangement, as these too can cause adverse consequences for children. For parents, it is important to work with an experienced attorney in child custody proceedings to ensure that judges have all the information they need to make the best possible decision for the child, and to prevent the other party from mischaracterizing information the court takes into consideration in best interest determinations. 

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