Shared parenting after divorce wasn’t always embraced the way it is today, or even considered as a legitimate option. As recently as a few decades ago, the norm was for children to live with their mother after their parents’ separation, only to visit their father when their mother saw fit.
Approaching the end of the 20th century, society began to see the importance of including fathers in their children’s lives on a regular basis, and the concept of visitation rights “every other weekend” became the norm. Still, little research on the benefits of shared parenting existed at that time, and the children-father contact tended to be superficial in comparison with the children-mother relationship.
Benefits of Shared Parenting After Divorce
We are no longer lacking in research. Studies utilizing various methods and surveying families internationally have shown that children who, instead of residing with one parent and visiting the other, dedicate 35% or more of their time to each:
- Have better relationships with both their father and mother.
- Perform better in school and get better grades.
- Do better socially and psychologically.
- Are less prone to smoke, get drunk, and use drugs.
- Are less likely to experience depression, anxiety, and other stress-related issues.
Critics of Shared Parenting After Divorce Still Push Back
These benefits haven’t stopped critics of shared parenting from fighting back. They argue that children of parents with shared custody do better not because of the shared custody itself, but because their parents enjoy less conflict and more money. They also insist that shared parenting will only work if both parents favor the plan.
Young children are another problem point for critics. Infants and toddlers, they maintain, ought to be with their mothers; this time of life is too significant to be entrusted to fathers. The result is that many fathers miss out on a crucial developmental period of their children’s lives.
To address these claims, one researcher reviewed numerous studies comparing the outcomes of children in shared and sole custody families independent of parental conflict and income, as well as studies comparing relationship quality and conflict levels between both types of parents. She found that:
- Less conflict isn’t the reason behind the success of joint parenting. Even children whose parents had high levels of conflict benefited from shared parenting plans. Moreover, parents who share custody do not have less conflict than those who don’t
- Income played no role in the outcomes of children of joint parental custody. In fact, the assumption that parents who share custody are significantly wealthier is baseless.
- The decision to share custody usually isn’t mutual or voluntary. Most of the time, one parent is against the idea, and only agrees because of court orders, mediation, or other legal negotiations. Nevertheless, their children still do better than those of parents who don’t share custody.
- Infants and toddlers in families with joint parenting fare just as well as those in single-parent homes. Alternating overnight time with each parent doesn’t make children’s ties to either parent weaker.
Children benefit from spending significant time with both parents, regardless of parental conflict, family income, age, or whether the decision to share custody was initially mutual.
States Strive to Make Shared Parenting After Divorce the Standard
Local governments are beginning to recognize the importance of joint parenting; and more than 20 state legislatures are considering passing bills that would make it the legal standard, or at least encourage it, even when parents don’t agree. This is largely the result of much research and the efforts of fathers’ rights activists, who are fighting to make sure that fathers are no longer pushed to the margins of parenting.
These legal steps are only half of the solution. Parents must realize that their differences are secondary to the well-being of their children, and – whether they’re happy about it or not – find a way to make joint parenting work.