Shared parenting research (is it really best for kids?)

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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.

Quick summary:

Dr. Linda Nielsen, Wake Forest University professor, reviewed 60 studies and found that 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 found to be 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 “shared parenting.”

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.

Child custody types: Which custody arrangement is best?

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.

What is shared parenting?

Often called “joint physical custody,” or “50-50 custody,” or “equal time sharing,” 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 legal 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.

The most common child time-sharing arrangement has been: 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 equally 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, Founder, Leading Women for Shared Parenting

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

What is a good equally shared parenting schedule for shared parenting?

As long as kids spend approximately equal time with both parents, that the children benefit from bonding with both parents, a deep and larger network of loving friends and family, and the security of knowing that both their parents love and want them.

The most elegant 50/50 schedule is one that requires the least amount of back-and-forth for the kids, fewer interactions between the parents, and less chaos all around:

One parent drops kids off at school on a Friday, kids go one with second parent after school on Friday. Repeat the next week.

For kids younger than 4, parents often like to have shorter periods between hand-offs. Common arrangements include:

  • The 3-4-4-3 schedule in which the child spends 3 days with one parent, then 4 days with the other parent. Then it switches, and the child spends 4 days with the first parent, followed by 3 days with the other parent.
  • The 2-2-5-5 schedule has your child spend 2 days with each parent and then 5 days with each parent.
  • Two weeks on, two weeks off.

How co co-parent with a narcissistic or toxic ex

What is the goal of shared parenting?

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

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 anxietydepression 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.

Why is shared parenting important? 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 arrangement.”

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.”

Disadvantages 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.

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

How to advocate for more shared parenting

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

Best online parenting classes — including co-parenting programs

Benefits of equally shared parenting time

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.

13 career-level work-at-home 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.

How to date as a single mom — and why it's better than you remember

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.

Related documentary and books on shared parenting:

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

How to get equal 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.

Try OurFamilyWizard for free for 30 days now >>

Read OurFamilyWizard review on Wealthysinglemommy.com >>

Podcast transcripts

Why shared parenting is a moral, feminist, and economic issue, from Like a Mother with Emma Johnson:

Hi, today I am talking on my most, most favoritest topics: Shared parenting. This is something that is part of my own personal journey and it's really become one of my greatest passions which plays into my larger life agenda which is gender equality and feminism. But, for those of you who don't know, I'm Emma Johnson and you might know me from my blog, Wealthy Single Mommy podcast, Like A Mother. My book, the Kick Ass Single Mom. Part of my story is going from a single mom with not much involvement from my children's dad. My unique story is that he did suffer a brain injury and had some unique challenges that meant he was not able to co-parent for a long time, in an equal way, but fast forward to today and I couldn't have guessed, right? Based on our past history together as co-parents, I could not have guessed that we'd be such great co-parents and share parenting.

So, if you're not familiar, shared parenting means that after divorce or separation, it is presumed that both parents are equally good parents, that they both have equal legal rights to the kids and approximate equal time with the kids, about equally shared parenting. We're living in the real world, people have jobs and lives and kids have schedules, but it's shared. Both people have space in their homes. Both parents have space in their homes for the kids and they're shared. There is incredible research out there about they're showing and proving that this is, unequivocally, what is good for kids. Nothing. There is nothing out there that supports that one parent having primary custody of the kids, primary time with the kids, is better. It is not. Fifty-five peer review studies, including in high conflict cases. I think that is so interesting. High conflict relationships between the parents, it is still best for kids when they have equal time with their parents.

Why primary custody for moms is sexist

And one byproduct of not having equal time is that when the dads, and let's be real, we know that 80% of the time when these things go to court, the moms get the primary time. Eighty percent of the time the kids are primarily with the mom and that's sexist. That is sexist. We cannot have gender equality and government in the workplace, in our economy, if we do not have gender equality at home and home might mean a wonderful long-term marriage. Home might be a separated family, but we cannot have gender equality if we do not have gender equality at home, which brings me to the benefit of shared parenting to moms. Ladies, today, now that I have a great co-parent in my ex-husband, my kid's dad, my life is so much better. We're all stressed out. Moms are stressed out. We love to talk about how we are burdened, because we usually are disproportionately burdened with caring for kids, which can be wonderful and joyful, but it can also and often is just a grind. It is just an exhausting grind to always be responsible for kids.

Well, guess what? When you have a co-parent that has the kids 30, 40, 50, 60, 70% of the time, those are hours you are not responsible for the kids. Yes, you may miss them, but you're also not working as a mom. You can focus on your career. You can have a social life. I get all my dating done when my kids are with their dad. I'm in a wonderful relationship now for almost a year and I've been able to nurture that relationship because my kids are with their dad. In the summer, the kids are with their dad for a month and I travel around the world. It is wonderful. I'm able to have the flexibility. That is key right? All moms know that flexibility is the key. Let's say that you have a business opportunity that comes up. It requires you go into a sales meeting or a conference for a few days. You're a lot more likely to take that professional opportunity to grow your career, to grow your business, to grow your income which is great for your whole family and it's great for feminism.

Coparenting, and equally shared parenting allows women to pursue professional opportunities

You're much more likely to jump at that opportunity if you know that you can work through it with your kids' dad. If you can't count on another co-parent, you're holding yourself back. It's so hard to invest the time and the hassle and the headache and the guilt in hiring a sitter or roping in family members if you have to do those things, opposed to just frankly taking for granted that you have somebody that has your back. Because you're going to have his back, too, and it goes both ways. You know what? Recently, my ex-husband has a girlfriend. She's really sweet. The kids love her. I have had to travel for work. I had the opportunities to travel for work, which frankly I think in the past I might have turned down because of the guilt, because of the headache, because of the financial expense of hiring a sitter.

Instead, my kids' dad has taken the kids many days at a time. He has a life, too. He has to work, and so then he brings his girlfriend, who helps get the kids to school or whatever is going on and all of a sudden, I went from a few years ago being a mom who felt like I was it. It was like me and the kids and that was it, to now I have this extended web of people who care for my kids and it is wonderful. It is such a relief. It is such a relief in my mind and in my heart because I know there's other people caring for the kids and I am free to go and be a successful professional. To go and work out, have free time when I'm not managing the kids and just a live a pretty awesome life because I have this really healthy co-parenting experience.

So, that is what I want for you. You know, I know there's going to be comments, that you know, my ex is abusive and I believe you. I believe you and that is an exception or that he just doesn't want to show up. He doesn't. And what I'm trying to do here is change the culture because we know statistically that when the dads get that lousy every-other-weekend Wednesday night deal and in New York where I live we call it the Friday night special. When parents are marginalized to visiting their own children, when dads are marginalized to visiting their own kids, they are that much more likely to completely check out of their kids' lives. They are. That is a statistical fact and that is something that, culturally, you and I can work together to change, to welcoming dads into their kids lives. Not presuming that our way is the best way.

Let fathers be parents too

When those kids are with their dad, they're with their dad. Unless they're actually being harmed, he gets to parent how he wants to parent and you're welcoming him. You're inviting him in to know about the kids, what's going on, including him in medical decisions. Going to that parent-teacher conferences together, actually collaborating, and this is something that you, as a mom, you can make steps to do, right? You can make those steps. He has to meet you halfway eventually. He might not do it now, but together, I really believe that we can be changing family culture which affects the courts and that is really going to affect gender equality for the better in this whole country. So join me.

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Terry Brennan, of Leading Women for Shared Parenting, discusses shared parenting:

Have a listen:


Summary:

  • There are 60 academics papers support shared parenting for children of divorced or separated parents.
  • In cases where ‘standard' visitation is awarded — every-other-weekend — fathers become depressed and non-involved, and within 3 years, one study found, 40% of children in an unequal visitation arrangement had lost complete touch with their non-custodial parents, which are nearly always the father.
  • Research finds that a minimum of 35% of kids' time with both parent is required to bond with a parent. Anything less robs children an opportunity to truly bond with the parent.
  • Extended families of both parents have the right to be part of children's lives.
  • Of course abuse and neglect cases are the exception.
  • The shared parenting movement has become mainstream, supported by as many women as men, with 20 shared parenting bills around the country, with passed laws in Utah, Missouri, South Dakota and Arizona.
  • “Fathers who get involved from the get-go are far more involved, while those who are marginalized become distant parents and are marginalized further.”
  • If courts stop asking parents to argue for their children, and start assuming that they are both competent people, parents form a more amicable and collaborative co-parenting relationship, which results in more involved fathers and happier children.
  • In Australia, after the implementation of shared parenting laws nationally, 73% fewer parents went to lawyers to resolve co-parenting issues, and just as many parents sought out counseling to resolve issues.

Full transcript of Like A Mother episode featuring guest Terry Brennan

Emma Johnson: So if you follow this podcast or follow my blog Wealthysinglemommy.com, you'll know that over the last couple years I've become increasingly passionate about the issue of absentee fathers. The numbers are simply personally alarming to me and highlighted by the fact that I realize I'm been living in a East Coast big city, progressive bubble where people here, you get divorced, people generally in my circle of friends and associates … you know, people more or less split up parenting. A lot of involved dads, a lot of pretty progressive families. And just doing my research, it's out there, there's lots and lots of information out there that shows that, that's not the story in this country.

Emma Johnson: Even amongst those East Coast liberal big city families, absenteeism among fathers who live separately from their kids is astonishing. So in doing this research, one of the big trends, one of the big areas of research that is going on out there is a real push for shared parenting in families that are divorced or separated maybe. Families where the parents live separately, what to do with the kids? So that's how I came to today's guest who is a Terry Brennan, and Terry is co-founder of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. Leading Women for Shared Parenting and their URL, I urge you to check it out, it's Lw4sp.org, and Terry, he's not gonna this because he's extremely modest, but he is single handedly doing a lot of the work that of this organization, which is working very grassroots, state by state, legislature by legislature, to push for a presumed shared parenting mandate.

Emma Johnson: So that means you go to family court and you're sorting out your custody agreement, the presumption is that both parents share custody, legal custody, right? That's the decision making about medical issues and education, healthcare. But also shared residential custody, a minimum of 40% each parent. So this is so important, and the reasons is Terry will very eloquently dig into in this interview. It's so vast and deep seeping into families, into feminism, what is good for kids, what is good for men. Keeping men involved. This is what happens when we presume that men are incompetent parents, when we presume that they are inferior fathers, when the courts, their exes, everybody at large is telling them that they stink. And if god forbid, they should push back, and fight for more time with their children and are shut down, time and time again, that's when guys check out. That's when guys check out and stop being involved parents.

Moms are not necessarily entitled to more time with their kids

Emma Johnson: So I really want you to pay attention to this episode. I will tell you that I've gone personally through a lot of different phases, a lot of different thinking about my own family. And it really … I really have to humble myself and share with you. When I first got divorced, there's a lot of going with my ex, between the two of us, there's some medical concerns, and I really fought for sole custody. I sat for 90% of the control of over what was going on with my kids. And as time goes on, I see that that was flawed, you know? There was some special circumstances where I feel justified, but just because the baby lived inside of me does not entitle to more say, more control, or more time with my kids.

Emma Johnson: And for the greater good of every in my tiny little family orbit, and then on the macro scale of things, I very, very, strongly urge, listener, whether you're a mother or a father, you know a mother or father going through these decisions, to really open your mind and consider the value of true shared parenting as we will hear from Terry Brennan, my guest today. He's the co-founder of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. Have a listen.

Terry Brennan of Leading Women for Shared Parenting

Emma Johnson: Terry, I'm so excited for our conversation today. Thank you for being here.

Terry Brennan: Oh, it's always a pleasure, Emma.

Emma Johnson: So why don't you just start of tell us a little bit about your organization leading women for shared parenting. Leading Women for Shared Parenting, what is your mission and what is your goal?

Terry Brennan: Sure. I'm happy to have the opportunity. So Leading Women for Shared Parenting is a sole cause organization, which promotes the use of shared parenting as the cornerstone of family law. We are a research based organization, so we know that there are 43 papers and growing, I might add, that support shared parenting as best for children of divorce or separation. And we wanna allow children to have the most resources that they can in their lives. Resources in every way imaginable. Certainly financial resources and things of that nature, but also the love and nurturing that are provided by both their mother and father. And both their extended families.

Terry Brennan: And we know that shared parenting … or excuse me, the lack of shared parenting, fatherlessness, is linked to every major social pathology in the United States. So we wanna see children grow up in a happy environment with a lot of people around them who love them. And we know from the science that's going on for decades now, that that's best accomplished through shared parenting.

Emma Johnson: And how are you defining shared parenting?

Terry Brennan: So that's interesting. It's on our website. And it's a great question that you ask, because that can have different definitions. But right up on our website, you'll see what our definition is. And it's based both upon the research that's been done on shared parenting, as well as the implementation of shared parenting. And we've learned as it's been implemented in some states.

What is shared parenting?

Terry Brennan: So how the research defined shared parenting is when a child has a minimum of 35% of their time with both their mother, and their father post separation or divorce. The child's remaining time, if he's got 35% with both parents, is then crafted to be what's in their best interest. And the reason, part of the reason why the research says that that's what shared parenting is defined as is they found that that is the actual amount of time that a child has to have with each of their parents just to have a chance to bond with their parent. So instances where courts have traditionally ordered what's called standard visitation, or every other weekend and a one dinner a week, what you're really doing when you award that type of visitation to a child is robbing them of a chance to actually bond with that parent.

Terry Brennan: So that's how the research defines shared parenting is am minimum of 35% to each parent. That being said, what we've found in states where it i has been been implemented, I'll use the state of Utah as an example. In 2014 Utah passed a law that upped the amount of time that they have with both parents to 40%. And the quote by an attorney who is involved in the passage of the law in the newspaper said, “Because we've defined a minimum, the minimum has became the maximum”. So what they've found was instead of just standard visitation being ordered all the time, that the minimum amount of time was being ordered all the time. And because they wanted the children to have a little bit more time with each of their parents, so they upped it up to 40%. And that's gone very well.

Terry Brennan: So how we've defined ours is that with the typical exceptions that quite frankly I've never seen not included in the shared parenting bill, things like abuse, neglect, abandonment and so on. In those circumstances, I don't think about wants to see a child put in a shared parenting situation. But in circumstances that don't have those kind of anomalies associated with them, that a judge can go to 40% without even having to write the reasons why.

Emma Johnson: Okay. And that's the difference, that's the news in this legislation which by the way, I know you personally as a co founder of this organization, are working state by state, by state across this country to implement this sort of legislation that … I think what we wanna do right now in this interview is understand the problem that you're solving, right? Because what is the big challenge or big problem that's happening and has happened for decades in this country that you're looking to remedy?

The problem with court-ordered standard visitation

Terry Brennan: Yeah, for decades what courts have ordered, it's called standard visitation for a reason. The have ordered a visitation of every other weekend, and one dinner a week. And that's really not giving children the chance to bond with each parent. And in fact what it does more often than not, is it … the fathers become depressed, they become removed from their children, and within three years, 40% of children who go through this type of a circumstance, have lost complete touch with one of their parents, the non-custodial parent, which is typically the father.

Terry Brennan: So we've created a fatherless generation of children and that is something that we're looking to get rid off. We're looking to increase fathers' participation in the lives of their children. And this is backed up by study after study. In Nebraska, they completed a 10 year study of how much time children were awarded with their non-custodial parent. And the 10 year study found that the average time a child got was five days a month. Now, it's hard to have a relationship with one of your parents when you're seeing your parent for five days a month.

Terry Brennan: We've seen similar studies repeated multiple times in fact, in Massachusetts and elsewhere. So that's what we're looking to address. We're looking to keep both parents involved in their children's life after separation and divorce.

Emma Johnson: Okay. And you guys have been very successful, I mean talk to me about what's going on nationwide. Where are we in this change that you're initiating?

Terry Brennan: This is a movement that's been going on for several decades now. And when it first started, like all social movements, it was seen as an extreme movement and not part of the mainstream and so on. And it's the people who are involved early on certainly plowed ground that people who are advocates or attorneys don't have to plow now. So very thankful for all their efforts, but it really has become a mainstream movement. And let me quantify that with a few numbers.

Terry Brennan: Two years ago the Wall Street Journal reported that there were 20 shared parenting bills in states around the country. So you've got 40% of the United States actually considering shared parenting bills. And these bills vary from state to state, as you would expect. But it's really becoming the norm, I think 2017 will actually be another year we're already seeing an awful lot of activity including some bills already being filed. I know we'll have a bill in Texas, I know we'll have a bill in Wisconsin, I know we'll have a bill in Alabama, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and so on. So you're already seeing a lot of activity.

Terry Brennan: And in addition to that, we're starting to see states flip over into shared parenting. And bills passing legislatures. So this past year Missouri passed a shared parenting bill. Previously, as I've mentioned it was Utah, but also South Dakota passed a shared parenting bill-

Which states have passed shared parenting bills?

Emma Johnson: So how many states currently have shared parenting that's enacted?

Terry Brennan: In addition to those states, the state of Arizona probably has the best parenting bill in the country. Which is actually it's kind of an interesting and different approach, it doesn't mandate a minimum time with each parent, but what it instructs the courts to do is maximize the time with both parents. And that we recently had an article in Newsweek magazine which included the interview of a sitting judge in Arizona. And everybody agrees that law is working very well, and it's been in place since 2012. So certainly enough time to see the impact of that legislation.

Terry Brennan: So there are now, I think it's five states who have moved to a full shared parenting arrangement, and we're expecting a significant amount of legislation in 2017.

Emma Johnson: Let's dig a little bit more into the problem though. Let's talk about that for a second. Because my audience and my blogging is largely women. It is the moms in this equation. And their argument or what their reaction is often in these conversations is, “Well, he just doesn't show up. I tried to facilitate it, he doesn't show up”. Or, “He doesn't want to be an equal parent, he doesn't even wanna do 5% much less 40%”. Or, “He's abusive”. Or, “He's narcissistic”. Or, “I'm the better parent. They simply should be with me because I do X, Y, and Z, and I'm the better parent”.

Emma Johnson: They recognize that this absentee father is an issue, but they also believe in all those things that I just said, so I imagine you hear those comments and more. What's your reaction? What's the answer?

Terry Brennan: Sure, yeah. And I don't think anything you've said in that statement is new to me. And I don't think about involved with Leading Women for Shared Parenting or any group that are involved with would say that there is no such as a father who didn't wanna be involved with their child. There certainly are. Just like there are mothers who, you know, aren't good moms. There are dads who don't wanna be involved with their children. And again, in those types of circumstances, I don't know of about who's looking for the best that we can have for society that is pushing those type of circumstances should have shared parenting.

Fathers who are active in their kids’ lives from the beginning tend to stay involved

Terry Brennan: But what we find is that fathers who get involved really from the get go tend to stay much more involved and those fathers who are marginalized, again, from the get go tend to become not only distant parents but get marginalized even further.

Terry Brennan: There's research to show that 40% of the kids who go through separation or divorce lose contact with one parent within three years, and this doesn't happen over night, it happens over time. Where, you know, a dad is supposed to have the kids on the weekend but for example, he gets the flu. And now he's put in a position where he can't have the kids and expose them to the flu or skip time with the children and basically not see them for any length of time other than a dinner or a month at a time. And then he feels distant, the relationship feels awkward, maybe he has to travel for work.

Terry Brennan: And instead of the parents working something out where the kids still get the amount of time that they have been ordered with their father, things just drift apart. And that's certainly not good for the dad, but it's also much more importantly not good for the children. And so what we find is if you take the argument where what courts are frequently doing is putting the children in between the two parents and asking them to argue for their children. If you take out of the argument, if you give each parent a minimum of 35% time with their children, the argument lessens, the parents can get along better, and they actually can craft a parenting plan that is better for both themselves and for the children. So, you know, that's part of how I'd answer your question.

Emma Johnson: Right. Because I think that like often as a mom, and look, I have not had the easiest relationship with my ex-husband, my kid's dad, and I think I cycled through all kinds of relationships with him. Very contentious, very amicable, and I know, it resonates with me when these moms say, “Well, he should just show the F up. It doesn't matter if I'm a bitch, it doesn't matter if he owes child support, it doesn't matter if we're it through the court. He's the dad, he has a moral obligation, and he should just show up”. And I've said those things myself.

Emma Johnson: But what I'm hearing you say is that it really doesn't matter what you think, and that might be right, but sometimes you could be so right, you're wrong. And he's just not gonna show up if it's a contentious situation. It's just not working. The current … that moralizing is simply not work and we need a new system.

When the parenting responsibility falls to the “better parent”

Terry Brennan: Well, I think it comes back to what you were saying before, I mean another one of your questions was, and I'll paraphrase it, I'm the better parent so the children should be with me. This is a circumstance that really we already know isn't good for the children. As long as you're dealing with an engaged and capable parent, and it's not, it shouldn't be a competition between mom and dad for who's the better parent. It should be a situation where are both of you parents who are ready, willing, and able to contribute to the social and emotional, and learning development of your children, and if so, then you should both have a significant amount of time with them.

Terry Brennan: And if you say that it doesn't matter how I'm treating the other parent or things of that nature, that parent should show up, the other side of that argument is well then they should have an equal amount of time with the children. Or more time with the children. If you want them to show up, it should be showing up every other weekend, or 35%, 45%, 50% of the time. Because believe it or not, Emma, I've had a multitude of conversations with parents who were divorced, and this is really interesting subject. Where they were divorced and initially they got a standard visitation of every other weekend and one dinner a week. And over time, through the court system, they were able to move that into a shared parenting situation.

Terry Brennan: And to a person, what I've been told is that the relationship with their former spouse got better in a shared parenting situation than it was in an every other weekend situation.

Emma Johnson: Oh, I totally believe that.

Terry Brennan: Because they now looked at the children and the responsibilities of the children as a partnership and they worked things out.

Emma Johnson: That's right. You know what and the other thing I always tell people, especially if you're new to this whole separated family situation, it's very hard to see the long picture, the long story, and you're gonna feel different, you're gonna calm down, you may learn to trust the other person again, maybe you don't initially for a whole bunch of reasons. Set your anger aside, and you might be begging that parent to take the kids more. Because your life goes on, you understand that you're not gonna die if you're not with them seven days a week. You might wanna work more. You might have a romantic relationship. Any number of things, and you just want somebody to be there to pick the kids up after school when you have to work late.

Terry Brennan: Look, you as a single mom and your audience as single moms know that being a single parent can be exhausting. Especially when you're trying to also hold down a job, have a social life, have a romantic life, excreta excreta. So giving a simple parent some more time off, having the other parent take some with the children, actually leads to a more robust life and lifestyle for everyone involved.

Emma Johnson: Oh, yeah. Right.

Shared parenting when the parents are angry with each other

Terry Brennan: But you mentioned something else which was really interesting and that is around the anger. One of the very interesting things, findings of Dr. Edward Crook who is a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia, he studied the implantation of shared parenting when it was put in place in Australia. And one of the things that he found is something that I think is a flaw in our current system. People generally speaking who are separating or going through divorce, in part because it isn't working and in part because they are angry with their partner.

Terry Brennan: And you take people, if you think about this from a societal wellbeing perspective, you take people who are upset with each other, and you put them in so contentious environment designed to fight with each other over money, or their children, or their belongings, or whatever. Of course the anger is not only going to stick around, but it's probably going to get worse. What Dr. Crook found in the implantation of shared parenting Australia, was that people really didn't go to the legal community nearly as much. In fact there was a drop of 73%. People stopped going to lawyers and they started going to community health centers, mental health professionals, licensed therapists, and so on in order to work through those emotions.

Terry Brennan: So instead of battling out in the court system, they work through the emotions, they figured out what their triggers were with the help of mental health counselors, and then they were able to work out parenting plans that work better for everyone involved, and you're seeing-

Divorce lawyers have a vested interest in your dysfunctional custody dispute

Emma Johnson: Yeah, but it's like lemme just drive home the point I believe you're trying to make which is that, I mean not to vilify lawyers, there's lots of good lawyers out there, but the lawyers have a vested interest in your life being high conflict. And they are getting you at the worst time of your life going through a divorce or a custody dispute is the lowest point of your life. And they step in and charge you 300 dollars an hour to ramp up that conflict. So what I'm hearing you say is when the government and Australia's case, the federal, national government steps in and says, “Okay we're gonna take a lot of that conflict right out of the equation”, what did you say? 73% of the cases didn't even make it to court anymore?

Terry Brennan: That's correct. That's correct and for the drop in use of lawyers, there was a corresponding increase in the use of mental health centers. So what the society did was it took it out of the contentious aspect of the court system and put it into the therapeutic aspect of the mental health system to help people work through those emotions. So you're exactly right, I mean when you think about attorneys and I'll say-

Terry Brennan: So you're exactly right. When you think about attorneys, and I'll say right up front, there are plenty of good attorneys out there. In fact, there's a number of them that have joined Leading Women for Shared Parenting. And even in instances where you have shared parenting, there still is a need for attorneys. You have plenty of other issues to work through, as far as finances and property and things of that nature.

Terry Brennan: But to work jointly with the mental health community in order to work through those issues, and to take the children … That's the main thing that we like to do. Take the children out of the issue, or out of the realm of things to be argued about. When it comes to attorneys, attorneys really only make money in two ways. They make money to draft documents, and they make money to argue. And so they do have a financial incentive to continue the case on and to continue and heighten the argument.

Terry Brennan: That's not good for families or society, or certainly for children.

Taking the conflict out of custody and shared parenting

Emma Johnson: No. I was just reading about another less formal study, but it was a family therapist who just, for a while, did his own study. And it was a flip of a coin whether … These couples would come to him and they were ending their marriages, families with kids. And they said, “Flip of a coin,” and half of them went to lawyers and half of them went to mediation, which is, for those that don't know, low conflict.

Emma Johnson: Often, they're lawyers, but it's low conflict. There's one. It's just, the goal is for everybody to keep legal fees and conflict to a minimum. Anyways, and what's the results? You're familiar with this, right? And it was something like long-term, the fathers were involved four or five times more for the families that went to mediation.

Terry Brennan: Right. It's non-contentious, the fathers aren't sidelined, that doesn't create further acrimony between the parents. Which, of course, bleeds over into the life once the case is settled. And it just leads to a certainly healthier, but I think more importantly, much happier relationship for everyone going forward.

Emma Johnson: Right. So it's really rethinking. I mean, I've been writing a lot about shared parenting and equal custody. And it melts people's minds. If they haven't gone through it and challenged the status quo themselves, their brains melt. Because it is so ingrained in us. Women and men that a marriage ends, the kids go with the mom, and it's like you described. That Friday night … That's what we call it in New York: the Friday night special, which is the every other weekend deal.

Emma Johnson: And the notion that dads are just as equal as moms, just as important, is a new and wondrous thing for most people. And I think it's extremely upsetting to many women, when they realize that that is not going to be their story.

Terry Brennan: Well, again, I like to keep the focus on the child. So when parents look at what “they” are getting out of a situation where they go through a separation or divorce, that's the wrong mentality. And what we really need to focus on as a society is, what are the kids getting? And it's difficult to argue that when the kids can have a meaningful relationship with both their parents, that they don't have a fuller life with more resources.

Shared parenting and extended families

Terry Brennan: And let's not forget, we're really talking not just about mom and dad splitting up; we're talking about extended families. We've all heard the situation that when you get married, you married into the family as well. Well, that's the case for these children. So when we set up a Friday night special, as you call it, or a standard visitation every other weekend, what we're really doing is not only creating an every-other-weekend dad, but also an every-other-weekend paternal grandma, paternal grandpa, paternal cousins, aunts, uncles, and so on.

Terry Brennan: We're removing half of the child's family from their life. It's just difficult to argue that that's the best that we can do for both our children and our society. So we're looking to change all that, and I think we're having some great success.

Emma Johnson: I know you are. And this is how all social change happens. First, you need the policy, and then it has to be implemented, and then culture changes. And what you're doing is so important, because I could, over here on my blog, can lecture people all day long to change their attitudes. But when it's coming a judge that is deciding what your family's gonna look like, that trickles down. It trickles down to families that haven't even thought about divorce. And it infiltrates their thinking about how they're gonna manage their families and their marriages and their parenting.

Emma Johnson: And it's such a huge movement that you're part of. So I'm grateful. Thank you.

Terry Brennan: Well, it's interesting that you mention cultural change, Emma, because that's an important part as well. And we have seen … We can all go back to the days of when fathers were considered, “I go to work and I come home and I sit and read the paper while mom and the kids run about at my feet, and that's the extent of my involvement.” And that certainly isn't the case anymore. There have been studies: I'm thinking of one done by a marketing firm in the U.K. which asked mothers. And 60% of mothers said that the fathers were co-parents, just as involved in the raising of their children as much as they were.

Terry Brennan: And it's interesting. The reason I bring this was up done by a marketing firm, is because you're starting to see that also in our advertising. Two years ago, we had the Super Bowl, which was known as the Super Bowl for “dadvertising,” where fathers were portrayed much more accurately, rather than the Homer Simpson-esque fathers that we've all come so used to, where mom is the super-parent and dad is the dolt and uses the staple gun to put a diaper on.

Terry Brennan: Not only is that not an accurate reflection of the fathers that you see as you look down your street, your block, your apartment building and so on, but it's not an accurate reflection of dads in America. And the millennial generation has certainly come along, and those fathers are very interested in shared parenting. And so all of our culture is changing about the time when we're realizing from the decades of studies that kids do best when they've got mom and dad equally involved.

Terry Brennan: And that's because mom and dad bring different and equal skills to the table for child development. Again, we've gotta see that reflected in our courts, when separation does happen. But it's gonna lead to a much healthier society.

Emma Johnson: You and I talked before, and there's this presumption that the dad is the inferior parent. And that is really the nucleus of the change that we're trying to see. I know, I just remember this time earlier this year. And my kids are not with their dad half the time. They see him a couple times a week, but it's the majority of the time with me. And it was during the middle of the week, and I had a big work event. And they were gonna spend the night with their dad in the middle of the school week.

Emma Johnson: And I was telling them the plan, and my son, who was five or six at the time, he's like, “Well, why are we spending the night at daddy's on a Tuesday, and why is the babysitter not coming over?” And without even thinking about it, I said, “Because daddies are as important as mommies.” He hadn't gotten that message yet. He was like, “Oh,” like that was news to him. And I was like, “Okay, maybe he's not gonna see that reflected in the time he spends with his parents, but I have to drill that into him and his sister somehow.”

Emma Johnson: And I'm still working that out. Maybe you can give me some advice. But it's not just about even our kids today; it's about gender equality. It's about raising our children and our daughters to expect different things from their partners and from the world moving forward.

Shared parenting and gender equality

Terry Brennan: Absolutely. And that will play into not only their beliefs about the world, but their own relationships as they mature and become adults themselves. If what we're teaching children is that dads don't matter, then any mother who has a son can relate that they know what their son is gonna grow up to believe when he enters his own adult relationships and has children of his own.

Terry Brennan: So dads do matter. We know that. It's proven again and again in the research. And they matter to sons and daughters alike. So you're exactly right, and good for you, Emma, for establishing that kind of a foundation with your own children, where dads matter just as much as moms. You're absolutely correct.

Terry Brennan: You know, it's interesting, though, because it is, I think, a generational thing. I remember last year when we were pushing a shared parenting bill in Florida. And when I was talking with attorneys there, what they would tell me is, “In part, it depends upon the age of the judge that you see.” Some of the older judges who were brought up in the environment of the “Leave it to Beaver” kind of a family, where dad wasn't as involved with the children, were often warding a every-other-weekend kind of visitation schedule.

Terry Brennan: But some of the younger judges, who were more involved and saw what was going on in society, were more apt to order a shared parenting type of arrangement. So it's something that is becoming outdated, certainly, and it's something that … The every-other-weekend schedule is certainly not backed up by the research, as to what's best for kids.

Emma Johnson: Right. Yeah, I mean you're really just torpedoing generations of ideas about family and gender and sexuality. And it's big. It runs very, very deep.

Terry Brennan: It does run deep. You're exactly right. And it's more than just for the mental health of the children; it is about gender equality. And it is about their expectations of what their relationships are gonna be like as adults.

Emma Johnson: Right. I always come at things from money. I think it's just another lens with which to examine things. And I'm always talking about ladies. Give up some of the time, because then you can earn. You're not spending on child care, you're not … The days that my kids go with their dad after school are long, wonderful days. I get so much done. And why shouldn't I? Why shouldn't I have equal opportunity to earn, advance my career, and close the pay gap for women everywhere in the world?

Emma Johnson: Feminists have been saying this for generations: if we want equality at work, in the public sector, then we have to have equality at home. And in a separated family, that just means the equality between two homes, right? Two households.

If women want equality at work, we need equality at home through shared parenting

Terry Brennan: So it's interesting. You see that certainly in some places. One very interesting story about Leading Women for Shared Parenting was that until her passing, Karen DeCrow was a member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. And Karen was the former president of the National Organization for Women. And we have a video on our website saying exactly what you just said. That we aren't going to achieve for women equality in the workplace until we achieve equality for fathers in the home.

Terry Brennan: And it's something that you're seeing from time to time within feminist groups. In fact, the Women's Equality Party in the U.K. has, as a part of their platform, making sure that children have an active involvement with both their parents post-separation or divorce. So it's something that you're starting to see some of the purely women's groups focus on.

Emma Johnson: Right. Well, initially your movement … I think you still get a lot of pushback. I mean, it was National Organization of Women that sat down with some of the leading early voices of the shared parenting movement. And their official stance was against shared parenting. Am I right?

Terry Brennan: Well, initially, actually, they started out in favor of shared parenting, though again, this was back in the 60s. And that's in part, when Karen DeCrow left the National Organization for Women. Warren Farrell was also involved in that movement at that time, and he was on the board of National Organization for Women in New York City. And they went through a decision point where they had to be involved with getting shared parenting for children and families post-divorce or not.

Terry Brennan: And the decision was made at that point in time to not advocate for shared parenting from the National Organization for Women. So we actually run into them from time to time as we're advocating for bills in different states. We did run into them; they opposed us in Florida last year. But there's plenty of reasons and plenty of research to support shared parenting. And actually, the National Organization for Women and women's groups, we don't find to be our primary opposition.

Terry Brennan: The primary opposition actually comes from the groups who are currently profiting from the existing system. And on top of that list, I would put the state bar associations.

Emma Johnson: Oh, interesting. What's their position? What's their argument?

Terry Brennan: They're against shared parenting. Of course, they don't come out and say, “We're against shared parenting because our profits depend upon conflict.”

Emma Johnson: Yeah, but what is the argument that they make?

Terry Brennan: Well, the arguments that they make are, “It depends on a case-by-case basis. Every case is different.” Any time I hear a negative name involved, I certainly become suspicious, because that's certainly one way to get people to feel poorly about a situation. But they call them “ping pong kids,” bouncing back and forth between two homes and things of that nature. And they say that they're currently ordering shared parenting when it's appropriate.

Terry Brennan: But again, the research shows that in some states, that certainly, shared parenting is growing. But in other states, as I mentioned before, in Nebraska and Massachusetts and elsewhere, credible studies have shown that it's anything but.

Emma Johnson: Okay. Let's go through the arguments again, Sid, because the state bar might say it, but now saying it too, the “ping pong.” Let's talk about that. Debunk why that's not a viable argument against shared parenting.

Arguments against shared parenting

Terry Brennan: Yeah, so one of our Canadian members, Chris Titus, actually has a wonderful article in the Toronto newspaper that talks about her situation. In fact, it actually talks about her children and interviews her children. And her children couldn't more plainly state that it's really not a big deal for them. They live with their mom in the city at some points in time, and they have XBox and this and that and the other, and then the other part of the time, they live with their father out in a more rural community, and they play outside and so on.

Terry Brennan: And they have friends in both places. Again, we're talking about expanding the resources available to children. And in the unusual circumstance where, for example, they forget a book or a musical instrument at mom's house and they're supposed to be at dad's house, then the parents just work it out. They find a way to deliver the book or the musical instrument to the child. And the research actually shows that kids who are in shared parenting do better than in a primary home type situation.

Terry Brennan: So the situation, the argument is always made that, well, kids need stability. And what it comes down to, Emma, is how do you define stability? Those who oppose shared parenting think that stability is defined by living in a single home. Other people, if you define stability as maintaining a relationship with both your parents, would define stability that way. But what we're finding, and what decades of research has found, is that keeping the stability of both your parents involved in your life, far outweighs the benefits of keeping a stability of a room in one home.

Emma Johnson: Right. Yes. Very well said.

Terry Brennan: Now that being said, that being said, there is some advice, and I remember you when I talked about this the last time, that I would give to fathers, having spoken with children whose parents got divorced and they're now adults. And when you speak with kids like that, you find certain themes, one of which is, every noncustodial parent should always have a room, a separate bedroom for their children in their house, really no matter their financial circumstances.

Terry Brennan: Because what adult children of divorce will tell you, is the fact that I always had a room at dad's house made me feel like I belonged there.

Emma Johnson: Right. Because it was symbolic of the space that he kept in his life for the child.

Terry Brennan: Absolutely accurate. Absolutely accurate.

The importance dads making room in their lives for your kids

Emma Johnson: Yeah. And I'll repeat the story that I told earlier this year. I dated for a few months, a guy, a total New York City guy who took me to all these super fancy places and was always talking about how successful he was, and he spent gobs of money on clothes and dinners. And he's this fancy guy. And he was divorced, and he seemed like he really had a lovely relationship with his teenage daughter. And he talked about her a lot, and it did seem like a very sweet relationship, genuinely.

Emma Johnson: But despite all his bragging about his success and the fact he lived in a very, very fancy high-rise, new construction Manhattan building, that apartment had one bedroom in it. He didn't have a second bedroom for his daughter. And that bugged the heck out of me, and that was one of the major reasons I couldn't date him. And it was not just … It was that part of the fact that he fought bitterly with his ex over money, but not for shared parenting. He was happy to have the every-other-weekend special, et cetera.

Emma Johnson: But it was that bedroom. So dudes listening, it matters to your kids, but it also matters to women that you're trying to get into bed. So that's my two cents on that.

Terry Brennan: You know though, Emma, one of those thing … Because you mentioned what are the arguments against shared parenting? And one of the things that I said is that the attorneys will say, “Well every case is different.” And when you work with people who are really advocating and pushing to try and get more time with their children because they've been minimized … Frankly, in many cases, because of their gender, what you'll hear is, “Every case is different, in many instances, in a very negative way.”

The discrepancy between what we tell men about competency as parents and what our actions say

Terry Brennan: I'll tell a quick story. Molly Olson, who's actually the President of Leading Women for Shared Parenting … I was talking with her not long ago. And she said that she went through a case where the guardian who was involved, decided that the father should be minimized in the life of his children because he didn't get the children a cat. And the children wanted a cat, and he didn't get it for them, and that was selfish of him and so on and so forth.

Terry Brennan: And so he was minimized. And Molly said, “I knew it was gonna happen, I knew it was gonna happen.” And sure enough, two weeks later, she had another case where the father was minimized because he got the children a cat. And they thought that was, he was trying to bribe the children to get them to wanna spend more time with him. And that's why he got the cat, so he ought to be minimized.

Emma Johnson: But here's the thing. I don't wanna have these conversations about cats. I don't want my tax dollars to be spent arguing about the cat or the no cat. I want to be able to say, “You know what?” This is the thing where I think that moms … because okay. On one hand, we're telling men and boys in this country that they're incompetent parents, which is really saying they're incompetent men and incompetent people. They're the Homer Simpsons.

Emma Johnson: But we're also putting … The flip side is that we disproportionately put pressure on women to be the perfect omnipotent mother.

Terry Brennan: Absolutely.

Emma Johnson: So there's two sides to that, which are equally toxic. Okay, so the family split. An otherwise reasonable, loving woman has a lot of guilt that she is not now the primary parent. And I will be very honest. I totally felt that my kids were basically being born when I was going through my divorce. And I was nursing them, and I just felt this … I was a new mother feeling this huge connection with my children. My mind was being blown by this new motherhood in a really wonderful way.

Emma Johnson: And the thought that I would somehow be diminished in their lives and therefore in the eyes of society, was a very, very real pressure.

Terry Brennan: Yes. Yeah, no, I understand that completely. But part of … Again, you gotta keep the focus on the children in my eyes, Emma. One of the things that was really interesting for us when we formed Leading Women for Shared Parenting, was to understand the amount of support that it had from the public. And we got involved with some early research done by Dr. William Fabricius, who studied exactly that. And he did it by tapping into the jury pool in the state of Arizona.

Terry Brennan: So he got a random selection of people from the jury pool, and was able to ask them about their feelings for shared parenting and so on. And since we got involved with that research, our interest grew in that. We then consolidated every single poll that was out there that was reliable. And when I say “reliable,” I'm not talking about something that was put in the newspaper or where you can go online and click a box and one advocacy group can skew the results.

Terry Brennan: I'm talking about something that was done by a professional polling firm with a professional methodology and so on. And what you'll find is two things that may be surprising to a lot of people. One is that shared parenting is consistently gotten very strong support with the public, to the tune of 70% or higher. The highest that we saw was in Massachusetts, where they actually had a nonbinding ballot initiative. Over 600,000 people voted. And it received 86% favorability.

Terry Brennan: So an interesting thing in a state where the research shows that fathers are consistently given a minimum amount of time with their children, and 86% of the population endorses shared parenting. That tells you what kind of a stranglehold the various bar associations have over the judiciary committees in Massachusetts.

Fighting against the trend of shared parenting in the courts is an uphill battle

Emma Johnson: So what I'm hearing you say is that … People listening, it doesn't really matter what your opinion is. This is just a trend. This is like where it is a snowballing, positive trend. You and I, Terry, agree, it's a positive trend in the courts. And so you're facing an increasingly uphill battle if you want to fight against it.

Terry Brennan: Well, the point of the studies and so on, is that obviously when you have 70-plus-percent of the population support it, you not only have … Even if every man on the face of the earth supported it, which we know isn't the case, you've also got a majority of women who support it. So when we dug deeper into the numbers, what we actually found, and this is backed up in poll after poll, is that men and women support shared parenting in equal numbers.

Emma Johnson: That's beautiful. That makes me so happy.

Terry Brennan: It is. I mean, everybody says, “You know what? We've got a situation where a child is a child of two parents. And as long as they're engaged and capable parents, then they oughta be able to spend time with them.” Because people do appreciate the value that fatherhood brings. So it is something that is an extremely important point. And another point that we find that unfortunately draws contention is, you brought up before, to look at it through the lens of money. But you brought it up as a way of building your own business, building your own career, et cetera, et cetera.

Terry Brennan: And that's fine. Women should be looking to do that, certainly. But the way that the court looks at money is a little bit different. And of course, it's set up to create contention between the parents. In many states, what you have is a situation where the amount of child support that is ordered is ordered based upon the amount of time that you spend with the child.

Emma Johnson: Right. Let's talk about that, because I know New Jersey, which is close to me … and the number of states.

Terry Brennan: Absolutely. And what you see … In fact, I would dare say it's in a majority of the states. And what you see is that actually creates negative incentives, quite frankly, for both parents, okay?

Financial incentives for shared parenting: good or bad?

Terry Brennan: It creates negative incentives, quite frankly for both parents. It creates a negative incentive for mom because she wants to then maximize the amount of time that she has with the child, in other words minimize the child's father, because she has a financial incentive to do so. She gets paid more to minimize dad, okay? And it creates a negative incentive for dads, dads that don't want to be involved with their child's life, to actually argue for more time with their child because it lowers their child support payments.

Emma Johnson: Right. And then everybody's in court right, because he argues for more time but then doesn't show up then they're back in court or just everybody just split up. Go earn your own money, you've got plenty of time now ladies, go earn. Be responsible for your own lifestyle. Everybody has to have the same real estate, everybody needs approximately the same number of bedrooms in the house, the same amount of whatever bikes the kids are going to ride, or clothes they're going to wear at your house. There's not an unequal financial situation.

Terry Brennan: Yeah, Leading Women for Shared Parenting doesn't take an official position on child support, but we are not fans of the times when these states actually set up something to provide a financial incentive to parents to minimize the life of the other parent and their child. We know that's not good for children.

Emma Johnson: And what about situations where the dad or one parent owes the other parent a ton of child support, is there ever a reason to tie visitation to money?

Terry Brennan: No, again if you're looking at what's best for the child, then time with each parent is what's best for the child, not to say that people shouldn't pay their child support, they certainly should. And in fact what you'll find, and again this is backed up in paper, after paper after paper. Parents who have more time with their children actually pay more of their child support, so it's actually better. Again, this is all about, it depends upon what you're interested in, if you're interested in the legal system and generating as much money as you can for the legal system, then you set up policies to generate the most conflict. If you're interested in what's best for society then you look at the research and so on, and you set up policies based upon what's best for society. And shared parenting, as we've shown is not only best for children but it actually results in paying more child support. It's something that we know is coming, we can see the momentum building for it and we're really looking forward to 2017.

Why the National Organization of Women does not support shared parenting legislation

Emma Johnson: Yeah, that's awesome. Well I want to bring up one more thing and I can tell you're avoiding it but it's part of the equation, and it is the push back which I think, correct me if I'm wrong, is the official position of the National Organization of Women, which is they don't support shared parenting legislation because they say that it facilitates domestic violence.

Terry Brennan: Yeah, and I actually, I'm not avoiding that in fact I always look forward to that question.

Emma Johnson: Oh good. You're welcome.

Terry Brennan: And the reason I do, is because of the membership of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. So one of the things that people will notice when they take a look at the membership of Leading Women for Shared Parenting, we got thousands of members, we're in all 50 states, we're in something like 50 countries across the globe, when I say that I mean our members are from, but we've got some women who are prominent and who are the leaders of our organization, and they include a number of elected officials, both senators and representatives, they include journalists, researchers, lawyers, but we have a team of domestic violence practitioners that is literally world class. These are women who have made it their profession to study and interface with domestic violence cases, victims, perpetrators and so on.

Terry Brennan: When it comes to me, Emma. I'll talk about things that I know quite a bit about that I want to share with my voice of what I've learned with the community, and shared parenting is certainly one of those things. When it comes to domestic violence, I have a cursory knowledge of it but I always tend to turn around and say, why should you talk with me when you could be talking with some of the leading experts in the world on it, and oh by the way, they're members of Leading Women for Shared Parenting.

Emma Johnson: Yeah.

Terry Brennan: Just by the fact that we've got a number and it's probably five or so, of the women who have worked on the largest domestic violence study ever conducted is a real statement that they think that we can have shared parenting in our society, and that we can find the cases when there's domestic violence involved.

Does default shared parenting increase the risk of domestic violence?

Emma Johnson: Okay, just give me like a 20-second argument against it, against that argument, that we should not have a default shared parenting because it increases the risk of domestic violence because, why is that wrong?

Terry Brennan: Well, some people would say that we can't spot domestic violence, some people would say that domestic violence, and I agree with this by the way, isn't always a matter of physical violence, that there can be control issues, mental or emotional abuse, things of that nature as well. But again, I point to the states where we already have shared parenting, and you don't see a big spike in domestic violence happening in those circumstances. The judges, the court conciliatory people, the attorneys, mental health practitioners, everybody who's involved with it seems to feel as though the new laws are working well.

Emma Johnson: Well I would think a constitutional expert would find some way to show that that is, it's presuming that every father is an abuser, I mean that's the presumption, which is, I'm going to say it, that's fucked up.

Terry Brennan: Well it's funny because actually, again the presumption that we have from the media, which has a very powerful impact on all of our lives, is that domestic violence, what that really is, is men abusing women. And if you read that research, that isn't so. Again, I point people to the PASK study P-A-S-K, which is the largest study of domestic violence that's ever been conducted, and what they will tell you is, that by and large men and women perpetrate domestic violence in equal numbers.

Emma Johnson: Oh that's interesting, that is very under reported.

Terry Brennan: It is, now what they will also tell you, and I'm just repeating what I've heard from people who I do consider experts on the subject, is that we need to also state when we state that, that women are more prone to be injured or killed in domestic violence circumstances than men are, but that the perpetration of domestic violence is not a gendered issue.

Emma Johnson: Interesting, that's so interesting, so many issues. Yeah you know, one thing that you had told me in the past, because I said this whole issue of fatherlessness I feel like it's a very under reported media, very under reported in the media but you track this very closely of course, what did you say in smaller publications from smaller communities across the country, that's not necessarily the case?

Fatherlessness as the number one social problem in the U.S.

Terry Brennan: Yeah, it's interesting because there are many people out there who believe that fatherlessness is the number one social problem in the United States today. And that is back up by the research, we have about 40% of our children now who grow up in a fatherless home. It is tied to every single social pathology that is major in our country, whether it would be drug use, cigarette use, alcohol use, teen pregnancy, runaway. They have a higher percentage of dropping out of school, growing up to be future criminals et cetera, et cetera, every major pathology is linked to fatherlessness. And we do, on our web page we actually have a tracking mechanism called ‘Fatherlessness in the News', and there's a couple of things that we found very interesting about that.

Terry Brennan: First of all, it is the local or regional papers who seem to be writing about this, not the national media. And the thing that I found interesting about that is, if you think about the local papers these are the editors who are living in their communities, they are in the trenches so to speak, of America. They're not in an ivory tower, journalistic tower removed from the everyday living and dying of Americans. And they actually write about fatherlessness quite often and all of the things that I brought up, so you'll see that.

Terry Brennan: The other surprising thing that we found when we went through this is, it would be one thing if I said to the average American, are you surprised that we've got a fatherlessness problem in inner-city Detroit for example? And the answer that I would get back would be, no I'm not surprised at that at all. But you'll see papers in there, in Connecticut, in Florida, basically all over the country talking about fatherlessness, encouraging elected officials to get involved on a much more significant level and address the issue of fatherlessness, because they know it's really hurting our society. So those were the two major findings that we had in putting that together.

Emma Johnson: So it is not a poor brown person's problem, that's the presumption. It's the presumption that it's a poor brown person problem. Because it's the same dynamic, right if you tell somebody that you are an incompetent parent, that the person you love the most, that you cannot serve them, and that really the best way you can serve them is by giving them money and seeing them occasionally, and to change that you have to go through this incredibly painful expensive high conflict process. I don't care what color you are, you're not going to want to participate in that.

The false perception of African-American fathers as less involved

Terry Brennan: You know, it comes down to two things, Emma. First of all, yes it is, this perception, it is an issue in the community of African Americans for example, and you'll see statistics that say anywhere between 70% and 90%, depending upon the study that you'll look at, of African American children come from a ‘fatherless home'. That being said, if you define fatherlessness as they're living with a single mom and dad has every other weekend visitation, that's not an uninvolved dad. It might be a dad who wants to be involved more, but it's not an uninvolved dad. And there are studies out there that actually show African American fathers are amongst the most involved fathers.

Emma Johnson: Yes, yes. The most, more than white men and more than Hispanic, Asian men. That is very interesting and how do you explain that?

Terry Brennan: Well, let me just finish with one other point, and that is that while the percentage of fatherlessness in the African American community is higher, actually because they're a smaller segment of the overall population, the number of fatherless white children, just the pure number, outnumbers the fatherlessness African American children by a factor of 2:1.

Emma Johnson: Hm.

Terry Brennan: Okay, so this isn't a problem specific to the African American community, this is a problem with American society that we really need to address.

Emma Johnson: Okay, so we are closing in on an hour here, but I want you to share a little about your story and what motivated you to co-found Leading Women for Shared Parenting?

Terry Brennan’s motivation behind Leading Women for Shared Parenting

Terry Brennan: Yeah, sure. I was a divorced father here in Massachusetts and went through the entire process and in the court documents got a finding of fact that I was an engaged and capable dad who often read to the children, bathed the children, clothed the children, put the children to sleep, played with the children et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And even with that finding of fact got every other weekend and a Tuesday dinner. And that's when you realize that this really isn't about you being a good parent, quite frankly this is about my gender.

Emma Johnson: And how did that feel? When you heard the order, what did that feel like?

Terry Brennan: Well it's a feeling that's so horrible it's beyond my ability to put into words, Emma. I've asked people before what is the bigger gender problem in America today than to having your children taken from you for all but five days a month, because of your gender. And I know we tend to look at the issues where women still need to make strides in America, and I think there's plenty there is where they do. Being somebody that has researched every single shared parenting Bill in the United States and looking at the sponsors of each of those Bills, you can't do that work without seeing the few elected officials that we have who are women. And that's something that obviously we need to address as our society.

Terry Brennan: But there are issues, and I would put on top of that list, how fathers are treated in family courts that impact men on a negative basis as well. If we really want to aim for a gender equal society then we need to do it not just based upon the needs of one gender, we need to do it for everyone.

Terry Brennan: So anyways, after my own personal story I got involved with talking with others, other prominent attorneys and elected officials and so on, and what we found was a couple of things. First of all as I already mentioned, there was broad support amongst the public for shared parenting, but we found wherever we looked, a multitude of so-called Fathers' Rights organizations who were pushing for shared parenting, but knowing that women supported shared parenting in equal numbers as men, we actually didn't see any platform set up specifically for women to join. And so wanting a platform where women could show their support for shared parenting as well. That's how we formed Leading Women for Shared Parenting.

Terry Brennan: The other thing I'll say is this, being an amateur historian, we did do some research into other successful social movements, and when you do that you'll find a pattern. What I'll tell people is, when whites got involved with the push for African American civil rights, that fight was over. And when men got involved in the push for women's suffrage, that fight was over. And when we start to have more and more women come forward and put forth their advocacy for shared parenting this fight too will be won. As we get to the point where it becomes more and more obvious that the only people who are really advocating for the current system is the people who profit from that system, that's a system that's doomed for failure.

When the only people who advocate for a system are those who profit from it, that system is doomed

Terry Brennan: So as the research continues to come in and as we have more and more women advocating and more women joining, and we've got quite frankly, a very impressive list of women who've already joined and we're seeing that momentum build and begin to snowball, so we're very pleased with how things have gone so far.

Emma Johnson: It's wonderful, and I want you to leave us with your own story. So you got the Friday Night Special, but you fought it and you shared such a tender story with me about the fruits of that so if you care to share?

Terry Brennan: Ah it's nice of you that you remember that, that touches my heart Emma. I did, so again, I mentioned that when you talk with children who are now adults, but they grew up divorced, you'll find two consistencies. One is that having a bedroom in dad's house always mattered to them, but the other is that dad never stopped fighting for me, and that really made me feel like dad wanted me in his life, and I felt important because of that. And I too, went back to court, this time representing myself, I'm now in a shared parenting situation, and it's an interesting situation to go through, because I'm being somebody who reads the research religiously.

Terry Brennan: That's a very logical understanding of why shared parenting is best for kids, because I've read paper after paper and I've talked with expert after expert, but after I got shared parenting I will never forget, I was sitting on the couch watching a movie with my daughters and my youngest at one point in time, picked up my arm, brought it up to her, just kind of gently leaned forward and kissed me on the forearm. The reason why that was such a touching moment for me, is because that had never happened before. And that goes back to the findings of the experts involved, that you have to have a minimum of 35% with each parent just to have a chance to bond with that parent.

Terry Brennan: And so after I got shared parenting, I was able to have that 35% plus time with my children, we were now able to bond in such a way where they were able to show their love for me in a way that I hadn't experienced before when I had every other weekend. You know for that dads that are marginalized in the lives of their children, I would say you've got to keep pushing to be involved with your kids, it's really not about you it's about them. And the truth of the matter is, even if you are a dad whose been completely removed from your children and you haven't seen them in some time, you need to make the effort to get back involved with your kids. Maybe even get some help with a qualified therapist or talk with an advocate about the right things to do and you can certainly reach out to us at Leading Women for Shared Parenting. Because it's the right thing to do for your children and they'll thank you for it later on in their lives.

A message to single moms about shared parenting

Emma Johnson: And, what message would you have to the moms?

Terry Brennan: Wall to the moms I would say this, shared parenting is not only for dads, it's for moms as well, and I'll say that for several reasons but one of which is really primary. And that is, it's what's best for your children. We've got decades of studies that show that, and it's interesting because some of the women who we have joined Leading Women for Shared Parenting, in fact one of our biggest demographics, is mothers of sons. You know what the divorce rate is in this country, everybody knows what it is, and they are concerned that someday their son will grow up and be divorced and that he won't be treated fairly in family court and when he does and he gets named an ‘every other weekend dad' well, that just made her an ‘every other weekend grandma', okay. So every mother who has a son should be absolutely in favor of shared parenting.

Terry Brennan: But beyond it being best for your children, it's also best I think, for women involved, because as we've already talked about being a single parent especially on full-time basis can be exhausting and if you want to go out and have the time to be able to develop your career, to be able to have friendships and romantic relationships and God forbid maybe even some personal time, you've got to have somebody to take up that slack, as far as the child care responsibilities are concerned.

Emma Johnson: Right, and you're not a lesser parent, a lesser mother-

Terry Brennan: Not at all.

Emma Johnson: I will tell you, I had a turning point where, like I said, I've had every configuration, well I've always been the primary parent, no joke about that, but I just remember a time, doing this martyr thing a little bit I think, where I was really priding myself on having no after school care and always picking my kids from the bus stop, and [inaudible 01:07:14] in the family and making all this money, doing it all, like that was my story and that's my professional story. But I had this one day when the kids were with dad after school, he dropped them off at 6.00 pm, I had dinner ready, I had a great day at work, I went to the gym, I wasn't entertaining them for those painful hours after school, and we had the best evening.

Emma Johnson: I had fulfilled myself personally, professionally. They had a good time with their dad, their dad had a great time with them, and our quality time in the evening was so much better than had I dragged out the quantity and had all these hours with them that I wasn't enjoying. I was resentful because I didn't go to the gym that day, I was resentful because I should've working and not hanging out at the stupid playground, which I hate. It was a flip for me, I'm not that important, my kids don't need me that much, and it really is quality over quantity in parenting.

Mentally and emotionally exhausted parents’ time is not always best spent with their kids

Terry Brennan: Yeah, exactly. And when you're parenting full-time and working full-time, and trying to have a full rounded life, what you're really saying to me is I am mentally and emotionally exhausted. And so the time that you're spending with your children is time with a mentally and emotionally exhausted parent. That's obviously not best for either party involved, the child or the parent, so to give mom some time in order to enjoy life a little bit, to pursue some hobbies and interest, to have some friendships and so on and to be mentally rested, emotionally rested and in a good space, then the time with the children is obviously much healthier.

Emma Johnson: Thank you. Terry, I am so happy we've connected, I'm so grateful for your work. Thank you for being on the show.

Terry Brennan: Oh Emma, it's always a pleasure to talk with you, thank you very much. Emma Johnson: Terry Brennan, he's co-founder of Leading Women for Shared Parenting.

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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