First, let's establish this right away:

Shared parenting isn't right for families where one parent struggles with addiction, there is a history of violence or abuse, or severe mental illness.

As of April, 2018 Kentucky became the first state in the country with a “legal presumption” for joint custody in divorce proceedings. That means that when you split in Kentucky, time with the kids is equally split in half — and the onus is on one parent to argue the other should have less time.

Other states including Arizona, Missouri and South Dakota also have very progressive and strong shared-custody laws, and 25 states are debating legislation that would do the same.

For the vast majority of separated and divorced families, shared parenting is what is best for children.

There are more than 60 peer-reviewed, published articles that prove this.

Child custody types 

There are two parts of child care when it comes to the legal separation of parents in divorce or family court:

Legal custody, refers to the legal rights a parent has to decision-making rights for major issues, including education (which school the child attends), religion, and medical decisions.

Visitation, or time-sharing, or residential custody are all terms that refer to the amount of time the children spend with each parent. Children live with parents who have “primary physical custody.”

These two elements can be combined into a number of parenting arrangements:

  • Sole custody: One parent has both physical and legal custody of the children. The other parent may have visitation rights, but cannot make decisions outside of the time spent with the child.
  • Joint legal custody: Both parents have equal say in decisions that impact the child. Major dispute between parents with joint legal custody, are either settled in courts, through lawyers or mediators, or, if the custody agreement stipulates, the parent who has primary residential timesharing makes the final decision.
  • Joint physical custody: When parents share approximately equal time with both parents. This is also called 50/50 parenting, shared parenting, equal time-sharing, equal care, and equal co-parenting.

This post elaborates on why equally shared joint physical parenting is best for children, according to research.

Shared parenting is best for parents and kids

It turns out that shared parenting is best for parents, both mothers and fathers.

After all, when you have a real break from your kids, a true support system in parenting, where the logistical, emotional, financial circus of childrearing is shared, the adults are free to build careers and businesses, devote important time to health, relationships and self-care.

This is not my opinion. It is fact, as outlined in the studies summarized below. This research is heeded by family courts and legislatures around the country.

In 2017, bills that would mandate that custody and visitation arrangements start at 50-50 were introduced in state 25 legislatures.

In 2018, that number is 20 states.

These are bipartisan efforts, and based on the research, and also common-sense morals: It is unethical and sexist to presume that one parent is a better parent than the other, and both parents are legally entitled to time with his or her children.

Morality aside: Research finds time and again is best for children when they have equal time with both parents.

What is shared parenting?

Shared parenting means that in the event of separation or divorce, the children spend approximately equal time with both parents.

Often called “joint physical custody,” or “50-50 custody,” courts generally consider at least 35 percent of the time spent with one or the other to be equitably shared time, for the sake of being reasonable and managing the logistics of everyday life.

Shared custody has been common for decades, and this means that both parents have joint legal decision making powers when it comes to medical care, education, religion and where the children will live.

What is new is the deviation from the most common, traditional divorced-family schedule:

Children reside with the mother, every-other-weekend and one weeknight with the father, and the father pays child support.

As research has found this time split to be detrimental to the children's well being, there has been a culture and legal shift towards shared parenting.

In Kentucky and other states leading the way on this front, the presumption is that both parents are fit, and therefore granted equal access to their children. The onus is on one or the other parent to show cause to minimize time with the children, such as in cases of addiction, severe mental health or abuse. Similar laws are commonplace throughout the world, but not the United States.

Terry Brennan, co-founder of Leading Women for Shared Parenting, which is leading this cause, said that it is not a tough campaign to convince legislators to support shared parenting bills — but that state bar associations consistently lead opposition to these laws.

“Research finds that this is a bipartisan issue, with both Democrats and Republicans supporting it equally, as well as both men and women.”

– Terry Brennan

Ginger Gentile, activist and filmmaker of Erasing Familywhich explores the epidemic issue of parental alienation, which is closely related to a lack of shared parenting, said that in her research of the leading experts on divorced families, she struggled to find any voices that opposed shared parenting.

Learn more: Parental alienation: A call to change parenting culture — and law

5 research-based reasons shared parenting is best for kids

Wake Forrest professor and shared parenting expert Linda Nielsen crunched the data of 54 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:

  1. Academic achievement
  2. Emotional health (anxiety, depression, self-esteem, life satisfaction)
  3. Behavioral problems (delinquency, school misbehavior, bullying, drugs, alcohol, smoking)
  4. Physical health and stress-related illnesses
  5. Relationships with parents, stepparents, and grandparents.

Shared parenting in high-conflict relationships

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.

Children need time with both parents

There is no reason to postpone overnight visits of infants or toddlers.

In fact, 110 international experts agree with the conclusion reached by psychologist Richard Warshak in his recent research paper:

“There is no scientific evidence that justifies limiting or postponing overnighting until children of separated parents reach the age of four.”

Read this whitepaper by bestselling author (Divorce Poison) and professor Warshak: Stemming the Tide of Misinformation: International Consensus on Shared Parenting and Overnighting.

Traditional visitation schedules can weaken father-child relationships for life

Study by Wake Forrest professor Linda Nielsen, published in the American Journal of family Law:

“Most children want to spend more time living with their fathers. Most do not like the every other weekend”

Indeed, this is one of the most consistent, most robust findings in the research on children of divorce.

Most children say they wanted more time with their fathers and that the most long lasting, most negative impact of their parents’ divorce was the weakened or lost relationship with their fathers.

The majority who had lived with their mothers said that shared parenting would have been in their best interests.

Not surprisingly, when fathers try to rebuild their relationships during the children’s early adult years, the relationship is often too strained or too damaged to be reconstructed.

As one of the most highly respected researchers on children of divorce, Joan Kelly, states,

“[f]or four decades children have reported the loss of the father as the most negative aspect of divorce. Even when they continued to see each other, most relationships declined in closeness over time. This has been primarily a result of the traditional visiting patterns of every other weekend which has been slow to change even in the face of mounting research evidence and a reluctance to order overnights for your children.”

How you can become a successful co-parenting while advocating for shared parenting:

What to tell your kid when their dad is not involved

The real reason your ex doesn’t see the kids

Research, studies and articles about shared parenting:

List of 20 published articles about benefits of shared parenting from Leading Women for Shared Parenting

Institute for Family Studies: 10 Surprising Findings on Shared Parenting After Divorce or Separation

Women's Equality Day: Shared parenting benefits working moms

TIME magazine: This Divorce Arrangement Stresses Children Out Most

Shared Parenting: Why Modern Families Are Choosing Equality

Washington Post: More than 20 states in 2017 considered laws to promote shared custody of children after divorce

Pew Trusts: More Time for Dads? States Weigh Changes to Custody Laws

Related documentary and books on shared parenting:

Recommended shared parenting documentary: Divorce Corp

Kickass Single Mom, Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children, By: Emma Johnson

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: 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

About Emma Johnson founder  Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.


  1. Amanda Boser on July 22, 2018 at 6:35 pm

    I don’t think this is the case for everyone. My sons dad is selfish. And only comes around convenient for him. He would use the 50/50 to basically take Kyler whenever he wanted bathing in having no schedule what so ever conflicting my work life, and also my childcare. Because his work is so all over the place if we did 50/50 I would either have to pay full time childcare just to r serve a spot or quit work. As well we live in separate cities. When he kicked us out to be with another woman and her kids I tried to stay in the same City for a year. However it was filled with drama stress no support and actually my house was vandalized my vehicle was vandalized, and I was harassed and stocked someone was writing me letters with bad things.

    I don’t think shared custody is the greatest for a child emotional well being. They won’t ever have a sense of “home” they’ll have constant changing schedules that can be overwhelming, two sets of rules to remember and if a child is grounded the day before they go to the other parents than what ?

    I’m not saying that this shouldn’t exist I just don’t think it should be automatically assumed that way. I think that it should be granted that way based on some form of background :( I couldn’t imagine my son going with his dad for a week at a time.

    • Terri for fathers on October 6, 2019 at 7:25 pm

      Having a sense of “home”, is not s important as having a sense of their “father”. Shared custody is the best, also feel there are always two sides to every story.

      • Father who hates this equal parenting crap IT HURTS THE KIDS on December 15, 2019 at 10:19 am

        Terri for fathers, with all due respect it is that kind of BS that caused these laws in the first place. The fact is “a sense of ‘home'” is the cornerstone of LIFE LONG friendships and relationships, a lack of this bedrock value is what causes foster kids to be backpack people and hoard food in their foster parents’ room afraid of the next shift. No matter how stable the environment because of this trama they are never “safe” in their minds. There are now emerging studies that show this whole push for “equal parenting” is causing like this, just not as strong, damage to the kids who are forced to suffer this lack of a home. The implication is they also tend to end up poorer, and less educated because of this disruption being turned in to little more than luggage causes in the developmental years.

        Here is my situation:
        *April 2019 Mom LEFT, and other than the odd weekend or day here and there the kids were with Dad. To the tune of 90%+ Dad, less than 10% Mom
        *And she is still not stable…
        *One time she tried to cause damage to their hearing
        *Mom forgot their birthday, or internally planned to be unavailable for it, but no big deal to here she can just have a 2nd party a week later.
        *Mom decided the kid’s medical needs did not need to be met and caused a needless 3-month delay in them receiving a medical developmental evaluation.

        I could keep going all-day: $20K+ in because of these laws and the default “equal/shared parenting” assumptions to fight the uphill battle to protect the children from that neglect and instability. What these laws do: is let a parent “abandon” their kids, and then use the court to force taking them from the one who never would leave them.

        • Sharlee on January 15, 2020 at 4:21 pm

          Typically these laws have a rebuttal option so that if it can be proven that equal parenting is not in the best interest of the children, the judge can deny it.

    • Matt on May 13, 2020 at 1:52 pm

      You setup a schedule if he doesn’t go by it then that’s on him. That’s your reason to go back to court and get it changed. But 50 50 is what is best for the kids. As parents we have to stop thinking about our needs and wants but what is best for our kids future. Some parents want money, power, or just to hurt the other parent. That’s not healthy for the kids. Let the kids have equal time with both parents. Remember its about what a kid needs not want. We don’t give a child candy all the time cause he asked for it. We give a good meal cause its what is best for the child. The child doesn’t know that but later in life he will find it out. Its the same as 50 50 custody the kids get what is best and later in life they realize it was good for them.

  2. Vanessa on May 12, 2018 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks for clarifying all of this, I have been thinking about it quite a bit and needed to have the perspective of researchers to add to my thoughts.

Leave a Comment