Many people assume that both parents have rights to equal time with their kids should they divorce or separate. This is mostly false. In the majority of cases, kids spend the majority of time with the mom, and dads have visits with their children.
Do kids need both parents equally?
Dr. Linda Nielsen, Wake Forest University professor, reviewed 60 studies and found that equally shared parenting is best for children in separated and divorced families. Kids who share time between both parents' homes approximately equally have better outcomes related to:
- Academic achievement
- Drug, alcohol and cigarette use
- Mental and physical health
- Less early sexual activity and teen pregnancy
- Higher employment and earnings later in life
- Greater likelihood of family stability in their own adulthoods
- Better relationships with parents, step-parents and grandparents.
These outcomes were true even in cases where there is high conflict between the parents, or one is richer than the other.
Why are the outcomes so dramatically better for kids with equal parenting time, when compared with minimum time with the non-custodial parent (dad)?
- When parenting time is presumed equal, dads are less likely to feel marginalized and drop out of kids' lives.
- Boys and girls both benefit from bonding and time with their dads.
- When kids don't see their dad, that creates a sense of abandonment and general anxiety.
- Parents who share parenting time have less to fight over, and there is less conflict between parents — which benefits everyone.
- Dads who are more involved are more likely to pay child support and/or contribute financially.
- Kids who have relationships with both parents benefit from an extended network of family, grandparents, friends and neighbors.
Benefits to women, men and gender equality when parenting time is shared equally:
- My survey of nearly 2,300 single moms found a direct correlation between equality in time-sharing and single mothers' income and wellbeing. Also: The majority of single moms are in favor of equally shared parenting.
- Less bickering over percentage times, and defaulting to equal time-sharing, means less time, energy and money spent on lawyers and court filings.
- When parents share parenting time, moms are freer to build careers and earn more — which benefits children, mothers, gender equality and co-parenting relationships.
- Divorced men who are legally separated from their children are more likely to suffer depression and attempt suicide.
- Divorced dads statistically are eight-times more likely to commit suicide than divorced women, and this is especially so for men who have been legally removed or marginalized in their kids' lives.
- When parenting time is split equally, parenting means both parents now have equal rights and equal responsibility for child-rearing — exactly what gender equality activists dream of!
Shared parenting can be called many things:
- Equally shared parenting
- Equal care time
- 50/50 parenting schedule
- Joint physical custody
- Shared residential custody
- Shared physical custody
- Equal legal custody
It is possible to have equal parenting while parallel parenting.
Pros of equally shared parenting
As outlined below, there are zillions of ways that women benefit when we equally share parenting time with our kids' fathers. If you are wondering what the benefits of equally shared parenting are, here’s a list of 9 benefits:
Benefit #1: Stem gender inequality
When we equalize parenting time, we equalize the genders. Today, when the vast majority of parents separate, courts dictate that kids stay with the mom, dads get visits with their own children, dads pay child support.
This just reinforces dated, sexist gender norms: Moms are the default caregivers financially dependent on men, dads are the default breadwinner for whom parenting is optional.
Split parenting time in half, with both parents equally responsible for the time, logistics and mental load of parenting, and gender inequality will be stemmed.
Benefit #2: Decrease fatherlessness
Bring up equally shared time in a room of single parents, and dads scream their rights as parents have been violated, while mothers scream that dads don't show up and do their share.
Both are equally correct.
We cannot expect men to be active, engaged fathers when they have been told since birth that they are the lesser parent, that they should defer to the mothers, and that once they no longer live in the same home as their children, they are relegated to a visitor and a paycheck.
Similarly, we cannot expect women to be financially independent if courts and cultural norms dictate we be primary caretakers.
Surveys find that men do want to be involved fathers. Let's create a world where they can be.
Benefit #3: Increased financial support for kids
A study published in a 2015 issues of Journal of Marriage and Family, finds that about half of fathers who were cash-poor and unable to make child support payments, nevertheless make a significant contribution in kind—providing baby products, clothing, school expenses and food—worth an average of $60 a month.
Fathers who did not visit their kids gave only about half as much in-kind support as those who spent at least 10 hours a month with them.
“The child support system weakens the child/father bond by separating the act of love from the act of providing,” said the study author Kathryn Edin, a sociologist and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Distinguished Professor.
Plus, when each parent has the kids equal time, that means that each parent has to pick up expenses like food, replacing outgrown clothes, random school fees and birthday gifts.
Our Family Wizard is the most-used, and most court-mandated co-parenting app. Track expenses, chat, share a calendar and contact and schedule information about the kids. With a free 30-day trial, discounts for military, and fee waivers for low-income families. Check out Our Family Wizard now >>
Benefit #4: Decrease domestic violence
Family law practitioners and mental health professionals have long noted the increase in high conflict and violent incidences spike at the time of separation and divorce, including false reports designed to gain an upper hand in custody disputes.
Take the inherent dispute out of separating, and domestic violence cases drop.
That is what is happening in Kentucky, which in 2017 became the first state in the country with a presumption of equally shared parenting time. A year later, family court filings had dropped by 11 percent, and domestic violence reports were down 4 percent.
Benefit #5: Moms have more time to build a business/career
My co-parenting relationship has improved gradually in my 10-year career as a single mom, and today we have approximately equal time sharing.
I am here to tell you: It is a hell of a lot easier to travel to conferences, go to evening work events, take on the extra project or start a second income stream if you do not have to juggle those professional tasks with parenting.
Benefit #6: Moms have more time to date
Guaranteed free time, including overnights, means moms have more time to be women — without the burden of paying for child care.
Take the guilt and stress of time away from kids, and arranging a sitter, now mothers can date in a healthier way, and not resort to sneaking out, or sneaking men in (pro tip: please don't do that).
Benefit #7: Moms have more time to exercise
Hate to break it to you: The more free time you have, the fewer excuses!
Benefit #8: Kids enjoy more love
Aside from all proven benefits of bonding with both their mother and father, children who enjoy the broader circles of extended family, friends and community: grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors — all support and care that benefits all children — and adults!
This new network of caregiving opens up all kinds of benefits, including more flexible schedules for the parents (more access to loving and free childcare — thanks grandma!), as well as one-on-one time with each parent — something any single mom or single dad can tell you is hard to come by.
In a two-parent home, one kid may spontaneously join a parent on a grocery-store run. One child might join her dad washing dishes while the other plays games with his mom. Spontaneous one-on-one interactions have their own dynamic between two people, parents and their children included. These episodes are rare in single-parent homes. In a single-parent house — especially when kids are little and usually clamoring for attention — there is one overriding dynamic: Everyone, all together.
A few years ago, my kids and I would arrange “mommy days” by skipping out on day care one at a time. On our “mommy day” my son Lucas giddily sat on his big sister's booster seat as we ran errands around Manhattan (he later recounted this as a highlight: “And then I told Helena and her cried!”).
We went shopping for a new car, my son strapped in the middle back seat, his chunky little legs sticking straight out, patiently looking out the windows on the test drive. At the local diner, Lucas insisted on sitting next to me in the booth and popping catsup'ed fries in my mouth. Without his outgoing big sister present, I see the assured, confident part of my son shine brighter than usual.
Benefit #9: Both parents have time to rest and recharge
Half my social media feed is crowded by selfies from moms who have sequestered themselves in a pantry and are 911-ing for an emergency wine delivery to relieve them from the overwhelm of full-time parenting.
Give her a break. Give the dad a break. Share the kids. Use your newfound free time to go on a hike. Binge Fleabag. Hook up with your cute neighbor. Take a spin class. Or go out for a glass of wine at a bar with your girlfriend like a grown-ass woman.
Mothers argue that their nursing babies should not be apart from them overnight, even though those babies were toddlers — a position my divorce lawyer friend says a judge would laugh at, especially if an enthusiastic father was pushing for more access to his kids. She's seen judges order babies as young as 3 months stay overnight with their fathers.
Mothers who aim to keep the father's time with his children to every-other-weekend on claims he is unsafe due to mental health issues, or substance abuse issues, or unstable employment — twisting logic justify the kids are indeed safe on alternating weekends, but any more hours would put their lives in danger.
When I hear about these cases, I sympathize with the women. After all, I was there myself! But I also see how easy it is to get sucked into thinking of ourselves as mothers beyond everything else — be it professionals, citizens, friends, artists, lovers, partners, or even women.
Check out this podcast interview I did on equally shared parenting:
Cons of equally shared parenting
You may consider some of these points as negatives of equally shared parenting time:
- One parent who prefers to have the kids most of the time may now miss them.
- A parent who prefers to be an every-other weekend parent may resent equal parenting responsibilities, and the sacrifices they must make to care for the kids.
- Depending on where you live, equal parenting time may mean you are not entitled to child support, or less child support, or no alimony. Or, you may find yourself paying child support when you would not have had the children the majority of the time.
Does shared parenting work? Research finds equal shared parenting is best for kids
Wake Forest professor and shared parenting expert Linda Nielsen crunched the data of 60 studies and found that absent situations in which children needed protection from an abusive or negligent parent even before their parents separated—children in shared-parenting families had better outcomes than children in sole physical custody families.
This includes high-conflict divorces in which the fighting continues long-term. The measures of well-being included:
- Diminished sense of physical and emotional security (children consistently report feeling abandoned when their fathers are not involved in their lives)
- Behavioral and social problems, including with friendships
- Poor academic performance. 71% of high school dropouts are fatherless
- High crime, as 85% of youth in prison have an absent father
- Fatherless children are more likely to have sex before age 16, not use contraception during first intercourse, and become teenage parents, and transmit STDs.
- More likely to use and abuse alcohol and other drugs.
- 90% of runaway kids have an absent father.
- Mental health disorders (father absent children are consistently overrepresented on a wide range of mental health problems, particularly anxiety, depression and suicide)
- As adults, fatherless children are more likely to experience unemployment, have low incomes, remain on social assistance, and experience homelessness)
- Poor future relationships (father absent children tend to enter partnerships earlier, are more likely to divorce or dissolve their cohabiting unions, and are more likely to have children outside marriage or outside any partnership)
- Higher mortality rates (fatherless children are more likely to die as children, and live an average of four years less over the lifespan)
When is equally shared parenting not a good idea?
Shared parenting may not be a fit for families where one parent struggles with addiction, there is a history of violence or abuse, or severe mental illness. However, many of these families can successfully parent equally after a period of healing.
From an article in Psychology, Public Policy and Law:
“The best research currently available suggests that the quality of the parent-child relationship is more closely linked than parental conflict or the quality of the co-parenting relationship to children’s outcomes, with the exception of the most extreme forms of conflict to which some children are exposed.”
Conflict, coparenting, and the quality of the children’s relationships with each parent are all connected to children’s well-being.
This is not an “either-or” issue that ignores the role that parental conflict or co-parenting play in children’s lives.
Still, the data strongly supports the idea that the quality of the parent-child relationship is the best predictor of future outcomes for the children.
In other words, the role of conflict has too often been exaggerated and should not be the determining factor in child custody decisions or in regard to JPC arrangements except in those situations where the children need protection from an abusive or negligent parent.
How to get equally shared parenting time
There is no single formula that guarantees joint physical custody. However, I have seen the following be helpful in establishing equally shared parenting:
1. Focus on a goal of a low-conflict, amicable, and equal process
Even if your ex has taken winner-takes-all tactics, you are more likely to appeal to them if you seek cooperation, opposed to winning. Likewise, a judge is more likely to be sympathetic to a parent who has behaved in a spirit of low-conflict and fairness, while a combative spouse can be seen negatively by a court.
2. Start custody negotiations at 50/50
If you are at the beginning of your divorce, separation or family court process, do not agree to anything less than equal time sharing. Doing so establishes a precedent that is hard to change later.
You and your child's other parent can always create your own parenting plan, for free, and file it in your local courts:
3. Hire the right family / custody attorney
Find a family law attorney with a track record of winning fair and equal divorce settlements. However, in some cases a skilled litigator may be called for.
What is a child custody lawyer?
A child custody attorney is a family or divorce lawyer that helps parents in a custody dispute resolve their differences — either through negotiation outside the court, or in trial. Typically one parent hires a custody attorney to secure more parenting time, and prove they are the better parent.
Who can benefit from child custody lawyers?
A parent who is at risk, or in a situation where their child is being taken away from them by way of unequal parenting time, relocation or kidnapping by the other parent may benefit from a child custody attorney. Likewise, a parent who genuinely fears his or her child is at risk of abuse or abduction should hire a relevant attorney.
Signs you definitely need a custody attorney
Cases when you should definitely seek out a professional child custody attorney include:
- Physical, sexual or extreme emotional abuse
- One parent has severe mental health issues or an addiction that interferes with the child's safety
- One parent refuses to agree to an equal parenting schedule, or a court arbitrarily orders an unequal parenting schedule.
- The other parent refuses access to the kids or otherwise adheres to a visitation order.
4. Do not try to negotiate lower child support in exchange for more parenting time
While this may be a possibility later, you never want to appear to seek more custody time in exchange for lower payments. A common pushback I hear when I advocate for shared parenting is: “Only dads who want to pay less child support ask for equal parenting time.”
5. Never miss a visit
Take your parenting time seriously. Show up for all scheduled visits, school activities, parent conferences and medical appointments — on time.
6. Never interfere with the other parent's time with the kids
7. Keep records of your visitation adherence — as well as that of your co-parent
One of the first co-parenting apps, and widely used app, OurFamilyWizard, which features chat, information storage (like pediatrician and teacher contact info, prescriptions, etc.), and financial record-keeping. 30-day free trial, discounts for military families, and a program to provide OurFamilyWizard free to low-income families. Each parent can add unlimited numbers of other people for free, including children, grandparents, step and bonus parents, as well as attorneys.
My personal story of equally shared parenting
After one meeting with my ex and our lawyers to negotiate the custody agreement of our divorce, I went home, busted out the calculator, and cried.
I freaked out at the idea of being away from my kids for extended hours or days, and I need to know how many hours each week I would spend with my son and daughter under various arrangements.
How many hours they would be sleeping, in daycare and with their dad?
How many minutes each week would they be mine? When we separated, I was pregnant and my daughter was not quite 2.
I subscribed to many tenets of attachment parenting.
I bought into the cultural message that children should be with their mother, and,
A woman's identity is tied to her motherhood.
My identity was tied to being a mom.
Plus, I was used to being with my tiny children the vast majority of the time, running errands with one or the other strapped to my chest, their tiny bodies cozied up to mine in bed, the little one would nurse at least a year like his sister.
Anything less than that seemed devastating. They needed me so, so much, I thought. And I needed them.
Fast-forward and there were years my ex would say he's skipping a visit for reasons well within his control (a party, volunteer work, a last-minute weekend trip to California), and I would lose my goddamned mind. I'd get crazy-angry at his cavalier approach to parenting and how that affects the kids. I'd steam and stew at how much he took me for granted, and had the freedom to do what he pleased without worry about child care.
I also resent that I don't get my scheduled kid-free time. Those hours are a precious commodity I fully utilize to nurture friendships, date, work, exercise and relax. When the kids come home Sunday evening from their weekly overnight, we are all so happy to see each other and I can feel in my whole body how much more energy I have for them.
Never in a bazillion years would I have imagined I'd feel like that.
Fast-forward, and today, after a long campaign, my kids share equal parenting time with their dad and me, alternating weeks, holidays and vacation time at each parent's home.
Today, I am committed to equally shared parenting as a presumption for separated and divorced families. Research finds this is what is best for children, women and men — as well as what is critical for gender equality.
Bottom line: Why shared parenting is important
Shared parenting provides an opportunity for children to build a relationship with both parents, even when they don’t live under the same roof.
Dozens of studies on solo vs. shared parenting have found that children in shared parenting relationships had better outcomes in terms of:
- Emotional stability
- Physical health
- Academic well-being
- Building relationships with extended family
These outcomes were seen regardless of income or conflict between parents.
For ways to build a beneficial shared parenting relationship, refer to the following resources:
Must-see documentaries on equally shared parenting:
Books on the benefits of equally shared parenting:
Blend, The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family, By: Mashonda Tifrere
Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex: What to Do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You, By Amy J. L. Baker, PhD and Paul R Fine, LCSW
Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing, By Dr. Richard A. Warshak
From an article in Psychology, Public Policy and Law, the best research currently available suggests that the quality of the parent-child relationship is more closely linked than parental conflict or the quality of the co-parenting relationship to children's outcomes, with the exception of the most extreme forms of conflict to which some children are exposed.
Shared parenting's goal is to have two equally involved parents in a child's life.