Shared parenting research

50-50 custody research

The shared parenting debate cannot be reduced to: “Every family is different — each couple should work it out, case-by-case.”

That is the current system, in which attorneys, judges and courts are financially incentivized to promote fighting over custody and visitation time. The more ambiguous the law, the more room the legal industry has to help everyday people navigate it — all while billing $300 per hour.

One family attorney reported that average divorce retainers in Arizona fell by half after legislation promoting “maximum time with each parent” was passed in that state. It is no wonder that state bar associations are consistently the opponent to shared parenting laws are introduced.

Thankfully, this can end now that there is access to excellent and extensive academic research on what is best for children in separated families.

A TIME magazine article on how children of divorce fared best when they equally split time between both mom and dad’s house has a great quote from a study author:

“We think that having everyday contact with both parents seems to be more important, in terms of stress, than living in two different homes,” says Bergström. “It may be difficult to keep up on engaged parenting if you only see your child every second weekend.” Having two parents also tends to double the number of resources a kid is exposed to, including social circles, family and material goods like money. “Only having access to half of that may make children more vulnerable or stressed than having it from both parents, even though they don’t live together,” she says.

Here are the highlights of studies on 50-50 parenting time:

Meta study on shared parenting

Dr. Linda Nielsen, Wake Forrest University: Are the outcomes any better or worse for children who live with each parent at least 35% of the time compared to children who live primarily with their mother and spend less than 35% of the time living with their father? This article addresses this question by summarizing the 54 studies that have compared children in these two types of families during the past 25 years. Overall the children in shared parenting families had better outcomes on measures of emotional, behavioral, and psychological well-being, as well as better physical health and better relationships with their fathers and their mothers, benefits that remained even when there were high levels of conflict between their parents.

Shared parenting benefits:Children in shared-parenting families had better outcomes than children in sole physical custody families.

These measures include:

  • Academic achievement
  • Emotional health
  • Behavioral problems
  • Physical health and stress-related illnesses
  • Relationships with parents, stepparents, and grandparents

Shared parenting for newborns, babies and toddlers

Dr. Richard Warshak, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law:There is no scientific evidence that justifies limiting or postponing overnighting until children of separated parents reach the age of four.

Shared parenting in high-conflict situations

Linda Neilsen’s research found that, despite the assumption that conflict with parents was more damaging that minimized time with a parent (father), that was not the case, after reviewing 54 studies. You can read more in this article on shared parenting in high-conflict situations, which in summary:

  • Families with higher income were not more likely to have shared parenting arrangements.
  • Parents with equally shared parenting agreements did not have better co-parenting relationships or less conflict than those with sole-custody arrangements. “The benefits linked to JPC cannot be attributed to better co-parenting or to lower conflict.”
  • Most parents with joint physical custody did not originally agree to the arrangement — but was agreed to under pressure or order from courts or legal negotiations.
  • Exposure to high, ongoing conflict is no more damaging to children in 50-50 arrangements than in sole physical custody families.
  • Most parents with equal parenting agreements have distant and attached relationships — not warm co-parenting.

Parenting Schedules and Single-Mom Income


Mothers overall suffer a pay gap of 29%, earning an average of 71 cents for every $1 earned by a dad — or an average of $16,000 less per year, according to the National Women’s Law Center. 

This motherhood penalty is dramatically worse for single mothers at 35%. According to Pew Research, single moms with a household of three earn just $26,000 per year on average, compared with $40,000 per year for single dads.

The Single Mom Income and Parenting-Time Survey polled 2,279 U.S. single moms.

The big takeaway: More equality in time-sharing means higher earning for single moms

See the full results:

Single-mom survey highlights

More equality in time-sharing single mothers have with their children’s father correlates with higher income and more reports of feeling proud of their parenting.

A few survey highlights include:

  • Moms with a 50/50 parenting schedule are 54% more likely to earn at least $100,000 annually than moms whose kids are with them most of the time (with “visits” with the dad). 
  • Moms with a 50/50 parenting schedule are more than three times (325%) more likely to earn $100,000 than single moms with 100% time with their kids.
  • Moms with 50/50 parenting schedules are more than twice as likely to earn $65,000+, and nearly three-times as likely to earn that sum than moms with 100% parenting time.  
  • 13%, or 1 in 8, single moms have a 50/50 arrangement — and 98% of them are content with it.
  • 51% of single moms surveyed have their children 100% of the time.
  • Equally shared parenting is popular with single moms: The majority of single moms, 53%, either already enjoy a 50/50 schedule or wish they had it. 
  • 9 in 10 single moms say they could earn more money if they had more equality in their parenting time
  • Moms with 50/50 parenting time are 34% more likely (23% vs. 15%) to say they feel “awesome and proud” of being a mom compared with moms who care for their kids 100% of the time.
  • About 70% of moms who have their kids 100% or majority time feel parenting gets in the way of self-care, vs just 50% of moms with 50/50 schedules.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America said this about the work:

“Emma Johnson is focusing on an important and almost completely overlooked piece of the complex gender equality puzzle. She is absolutely right to point out that while social norms around equal parenting may be slow to change, reforming laws and practices governing divorced couples could make a big and beneficial difference for single mothers and fathers relatively quickly.”

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