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Should parents share child care equally? Here are the pros and cons.

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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.

Should parents share care 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.

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  • 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

In this post, I’ll use the term “equally shared parenting.”

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.

Equally shared parenting 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.

Equally shared parenting 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.

Equally shared parenting 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 >>

Equally shared parenting 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.

5 tips for a quick divorce

Equally shared parenting 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.

Career-level jobs for moms

Equally shared 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).

Many single moms report that dating as a single mom is the most fun, and the best sex, they've ever had.

Equally shared parenting benefit #7: Moms have more time to exercise

Hate to break it to you: The more free time you have, the fewer excuses!

Equally shared parenting 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.

Equally shared parenting 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.

Cons of equally shared parenting

You may consider some of these points as negatives of equally sahred 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 you had the children the majority of the time.

Does shared parenting work? Research finds equally 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 life span)

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 eqaul time sharing. Doing so establishes a precedent that is hard to change later.

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

(Within reason!)

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.

Play fair.

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.

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Read OurFamilyWizard review on Wealthysinglemommy.com.

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.

4 examples of 50-50 parenting schedules

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.

Must-see Documentaries on Equally shared Parenting:

Divorce Corp and Erasing Family

Books on the benefits of equally shared parenting:

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

Improving Father-Daughter Relationships: A Guide for Women and Their Dads, By Linda Nielsen

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

Does shared parenting work?

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.

What is the goal of shared parenting?

Shared parenting's goal is to have two equally involved parents in a child's life.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, 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. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

7 Comments

This is a great article, but one aspect that’s often ignored is that even with equal parenting time, a father’s time is often in jeopardy. The majority of the time, father’s pay child support, even with equal parenting time. Fathers are forced into labor they may not want or isn’t healthy for them because there’s no flexibility in “child” payments. Had there been no divorce, no court could deny a person a career change or even the desire to work less. I know the argument is that someone has to take care of the kids, but in reality, only one parent is ever required to take care of the kids. Even in equal parenting time cases, one parent is designated as the non-custodial parent for child support purposes. The other parent can decline to work and take no financial responsibility for their child(ren) with impunity. I believe this is why suicide among divorced fathers is so high, even when they have equal parenting time. No one wants to be a slave. Everyone should be free to pursue their life’s desires. As long as the kids needs are being met, no parent should be forced to a set dollar amount.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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