Separation or divorce is never ideal. Even less ideal, as it turns out, is the situation of infant children involved when it comes to joint custody.

Research carried out by The University of Virginia shows that infants who have regular overnight stays away from home (generally with their father, in a situation of separated parents) have a less secure attachment to their primary caregiver – with the term attachment in this sense referring to the “enduring, deep emotional connection between and infant and caregiver that develops within the child’s first year of life”. And these attachments matter, serving as a basis for healthy relationships later in life.

It makes sense that it would be a disruptive for an infant to be regularly moved between the homes of its parents. However it also makes sense that parents often don’t realise this, thinking instead that the best and quickest fix comes in the form of their child spending different nights with both of them from the start. Researchers did note, however, that the effects were definitely less dramatic with toddlers.

So how would be best to move ahead in this scenario? One of the research advisers put it well, advising an ever-developing approach to parenting: “If mothers and fathers can be patient, cooperate and take a long view of child development, such evolving plans can work for both children and parents.”

Obviously the best case scenario would be one in which a child had deep attachments to both parents. Where this is not possible, at least a firm attachment to the primary caregiver should be fostered. And in the end, this research is sadly just another example of how separation and divorce risk the well-being of the children involved.

Tamara El-Rahi is an associate editor of MercatorNet. A Journalism graduate from the University of Technology Sydney, she lives in Australia with her husband and two daughters.