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11 surprising facts about 50/50 parenting after divorce

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When parents break up — whether by divorce, or separation or even if they never were a couple — typically kids stay mostly withe mom and spend part-time with dads. Often, physical custody is a painfully contentious and expensive legal battle.

Here is what shocked me most about 50/50 schedules:

In my new book The 50/5o Solution: The Surprisingly Simple Choice that Makes Moms, Dads, and Kids Happier and Healthier after a Split (Sourcebooks), I explain how studies find that kids do best when parenting schedules are equal. I spent more than eight years researching this topic, and my assumptions were challenged many times!

1. When parenting time is shared equally, kids’ outcomes are the same as those who grow up with two married parents.

The closer the schedule is to 50/50, the better the kids fare in social, emotional, academic, and physical health outcomes—not just immediately but for the rest of their lives.

Researchers at University of Lausanne in Switzerland published in 2023 a meta-analysis of thirty-nine studies on shared parenting with a sample size of 1.5 million. They found that while children raised in nuclear families fared better than those in separated families, 75 percent of the time separated-family kids did just as well as those who grew up in homes with married biological mothers and fathers, but also much better than those raised by just one parent.

The Lausanne study factored in income and the presence of stepparents.

“Maintaining connection with both parents outweighs any potential drawbacks of moving between households and supports many countries’ policies around preference [shared-custody parenting] over [lone-custody parenting],” researchers concluded.

2. Child outcomes improve the closer to 50/50 the schedule is.

Arizona State University child psychologist William Fabricius has been studying custody outcomes for three decades. “If a child from a divorced family has equal parenting time, they can have relationships with both their parents that are as good as those in intact families,” Fabricius said. On the other hand, “If one parent is absent from the child’s life until every other weekend, for example, the child is at risk of thinking that that parent doesn’t really want to spend more time with me and…maybe I don’t matter that much to that parent.”

Even if there’s conflict, kids don’t have all those extra hours and hours away from Dad to worry that he is going to slip out. “We know from lots of research that these doubts set up chronic stress reactions that can damage long-term mental and physical health.”

3. Single dads are more engaged fathers in shared parenting schedules.

Middle aged black dad helping his teen kids with homework, low angle, close up

This is easy to understand, but underscores the most powerful part of equal-parenting: Children benefit from the bonding that happens when they have significant time with their dads, know they have a home at both mom and dad's house, and deeply feel the security that neither parent will leave them.

4. Single moms with equal parenting earn more than those with sole or majority-time schedules.

In my survey of 2,270 single moms, 86 percent said they are not reaching their full earning potential. Of those moms, 30 percent said the key to earning more is increased childcare, and 22 percent said more child responsibility sharing with their child’s father would increase their income. A full 87 percent of single moms said that if their kids’ father took on more parenting time, they could earn more money, and 30 percent said they’d be happier.

Other highlights that shine on the money and co-parenting connection include:

A few survey highlights include:

  • Moms with a 50/50 parenting schedule are 54% more likely to earn at least $100,000 annually than moms whose kids are with them most of the time (with “visits” with the dad). 
  • Moms with a 50/50 parenting schedule are more than three times (325%) more likely to earn $100,000 than single moms with 100% time with their kids.
  • Moms with 50/50 parenting schedules are more than twice as likely to earn $65,000+ than those with majority time, and nearly three-times as likely to earn that sum than moms with 100% parenting time.  
  • 13%, or 1 in 8, single moms have a 50/50 arrangement — and 98% of them are content with it.
  • 51% of single moms surveyed have their children 100% of the time.
  • Equally shared parenting is popular with single moms: The majority of single moms, 53%, either already enjoy a 50/50 schedule or wish they had it. 
  • 9 in 10 single moms say they could earn more money if they had more equality in their parenting time.
  • Moms with 50/50 parenting time are 34% more likely (23% vs. 15%) to say they feel “awesome and proud” of being a mom compared with moms who care for their kids 100% of the time.
  • About 70% of moms who have their kids 100% or majority time feel parenting gets in the way of self-care, vs just 50% of moms with 50/50 schedules.

5. Communities where equal parenting is the norm experience lower rates of child abuse.

National Parents Organization (NPO), the leading U.S. nonprofit advocating for equal parenting laws, assessed parenting guidelines in each of Ohio’s 88 counties for how likely they were to provide children with equal parenting time arrangements, giving them letter grades A through F.

NPO then compared these ratings against substantiated incidents of mental, physical, and sexual child abuse. Child abuse rates in counties that had an A or A-grade were half those with a D.

Researchers surmised that with less relationship conflict, less conflict spilled over to the kids in 50/50 communities. And “where two parents are equally engaged in rearing their children, neither is as likely to feel overburdened and stressed out by childcare responsibilities and both can serve as a watchful eye over the children’s well-being.”

6. 50/50 parenting laws are correlated with lower rates of domestic violence

In 2016, the Kentucky legislature passed the country’s first rebuttable presumption of equally shared parenting time when parents separate or divorce.

Since the law was enacted in 2017, Kentucky family court filings dropped by more than 16 percent despite the population increase within the state and the nationwide increase in divorce filings. Between 2017 and 2022, the number of domestic violence claims filed alongside family court filings fell by half.

7. Equal parenting is correlated with lower conflict between the parents.

Happy family posing together at park

When states states pass laws requiring a presumption of 50/50 timesharing, the number of court filings decreases. Studies also find that when time is expected to be shared equally, and the legal system is not set up for parents to fight over days and hours of custody time, conflict goes down.

In Spain, after equal parenting laws were passed in 8 of the country's 17 regions, the divorce rate remained steady, but those breakups were less contentious, according to Daniel Fernández-Kranz, lead researcher on the study and head of the economics department at IE University Business School in Madrid.

“In regions where shared-parenting laws were passed, divorce proceedings now tend to end with voluntary agreement between the parties, ernández-Kranz told me. “That is something you'd expect because when parenting time is presumed equal, the power between the partners is more balanced, and there is more incentive to reach an agreement and no go to court and face an expensive procedure with an unforseeable end result.

8. Equal parenting benefits persist even when parents do not choose the schedule themselves.

Doesn't 50/50 parenting only work for parents who already get along and chose an equal schedule? No, says the research. Even if a judge orders equal parenting or therapist strongly recommends it against a parent's wishes, this schedule still benefits the child, studies find.

9. Equal parenting does not compromise either parent’s bond with the child.

If a child is deeply connected to a primary caregiver, and thens suddenly the child starts spending half his or her time with the other parent, doesn't that traumatize the kid? Isn't that relationship with the mother hurt?

No, studies find.

10. Equal parenting benefits apply to infants, babies and toddlers — including overnights.

Arizona State University child psychologist William Fabricius has found that more parenting time—including overnights—when kids are three years old and younger predicts a stronger, more secure father-child relationship without harming the mother-child connection.

This was true even when the overnights occurred when the child was still an infant and regardless of whether the parents had low amounts of conflict or high amounts. Most importantly, the results held true even when the court had to impose the overnights with dad despite the mother’s objections. Those brutal newborn nights of little sleep are how you learn about your child and how you learn how to take care of a child even when every fiber of your being longs for rest. And for the kid, “that’s how the child forms an attachment to that parent and starts to recognize this parent as a consistent caregiver,” Fabricius said.

11. Normalizing equal parenting for divorced families promotes gender equality in married couples.

family and people concept – portrait of happy mother, father, little daughter and baby son sitting on floor at home

Since 50/50 parenting presumptions were passed in 8 of Spain's 17 regions, gender equality in terms of work outside the home has increased when compared with communities where mothers still typically have primary care.

“We think that if mothers anticipate they might not have sole custody should she divorce, she may chose to stay in the workforce. Fathers might bond more with children knowing that in event of divorce he may retain joint-custody,” Daniel Fernández-Kranz said. “It changes the entire division of labor within household.”

More on 50/50 parenting when parents live apart:

50/50 parenting 101

Types of co-parenting

Co-parenting tips

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