Research Supporting Shared Parenting - Joint Physical Custody

Parenting Time & Shared Residential
Custody: Ten Common Myths
by Dr. Linda Nielsen
What is the best parenting plan for most children of divorce?
Should infants and toddlers spend overnight time with their
nonresidential parent? If not, why not? If so, how much time?
Is shared residential custody better for children than living with
one parent and varying amounts of time living with their other
parent – mainly on weekends? Isn’t shared residential custody
only successful for a small group of well educated, higher income
parents who have very cooperative, conflict free relationships –
and who mutually agree to share without mediation, litigation
or lawyers’ negotiations? Since most married mothers do 80%
of the childcare, after a divorce shouldn’t the children live that
same proportion of time with her?

Article continues and linked here:

Shared Parenting After Divorce: A
Review of Shared Residential Parenting
Linda Nielsen a
a Department of Education, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem,
North Carolina, USA

Journal of Divorce & Remarriage
Publication details, including instructions for authors and
subscription information: or

Conclusion of Study:
Given the growing popularity of shared residential parenting, policymakers
and professionals who work in family court, as well as parents, should
find the research compelling. As demonstrated in this review, overall these
studies have reached four general conclusions. First and foremost, most of
these children fare as well or better than those in maternal residence—
especially in terms of the quality and endurance of their relationships with
their fathers. Second, parents do not have to be exceptionally cooperative,
without conflict, wealthy, and well educated, or mutually enthusiastic about
sharing the residential parenting for the children to benefit. Third, young
adults who have lived in these families say this arrangement was in their best
interest—in contrast to those who lived with their mothers after their parents’
divorce. And fourth, our country, like most other industrialized countries, is
undergoing a shift in custody laws, public opinion, and parents’ decisions—
a shift toward more shared residential parenting. With the research serving
to inform us, we can work together more effectively and more knowledgeably
to enhance the well-being of children whose parents are no longer
living together.


Association Date: March 24, 2002 Contact: Pam Willenz Public Affairs Office (202) 336-5707

Living Situation Not As Influential As Time Spent With Parent
WASHINGTON - Children from divorced families who either live with both parents at different times or spend certain amounts of time with each parent are better adjusted in most cases than children who live and interact with just one parent, according to new research on custody arrangements and children's adjustment.

Psychologist Robert Bauserman, Ph.D., of AIDS Administration/Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, Maryland conducted a meta-analysis of 33 studies between 1982 to 1999 that examined 1,846 sole-custody and 814 joint-custody children. The studies compared child adjustment in joint physical or joint legal custody with sole-custody settings and 251 intact families. Joint custody was defined as either physical custody - where a child spends equal or substantial amounts of time with both parents or shared legal custody - where a child lives with primarily one parent but both parents are involved in all aspects of the child's life. This article will appear in the March issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Children in joint custody arrangements had less behavior and emotional problems, had higher self-esteem, better family relations and school performance than children in sole custody arrangements. And these children were as well-adjusted as intact family children on the same measures, said Bauserman, "probably because joint custody provides the child with an opportunity to have ongoing contact with both parents."

These findings indicate that children do not actually need to be in a joint physical custody to show better adjustment but just need to spend substantial time with both parents, especially with their fathers, said Bauserman. Also, joint custody couples reported less conflict, possibly because both parents could participate in their children's lives equally and not spend the time arguing over childcare decisions. Unfortunately a perception exists that joint custody is more harmful because it exposes children to ongoing parental conflict. In fact, the studies in this review found that sole-custody parents reported higher levels of conflict.

It is important to recognize that the results do not support joint custody in all situations. When one parent is abusive or neglectful or has a serious mental or physical health problem, sole-custody with the other parent would clearly be preferable, said Bauserman. The judges, lawyers, social workers, psychologists and other professionals involved in divorce counseling and litigation should be aware of these findings to make informed decisions of what environment is best for a child in a custody situation.

Furthermore, to address the question of how much the parents' emotional health compared with the custody arrangement influenced the children's adjustment, Bauserman explained that custody arrangement seemed to have more influence. By statistically controlling for past parental conflict (which indicates parental maladjustment), the joint custody children still were significantly better adjusted. This result was also found in other studies cited in Bauserman's review. More primary research is needed, said Bauserman, "on the past and current adjustment of joint custody and sole custody parents before this question can be completely answered."

Article: "Child Adjustment in Joint-Custody Versus Sole-Custody Arrangements: A Meta-Analytic Review," Robert Bauserman, Ph.D., AIDS Administration/Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Journal of Family Psychology, Vol 16, No. 1.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at

Robert Bauserman, PhD can be reached by telephone at 410-767-4322

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 155,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.



For Full Report
Edward Kruk, M.S.W., Ph.D.
The University of British Columbia
December, 2008
This paper was commissioned by the Father Involvement Research Alliance (FIRA) based at the University of Guelph. Funding support forFIRA and this paper was provided through a Community University Research Alliance grant from the Social Sciences and HumanitiesResearch Council of Canada.
The intent of this paper is to promoteinformed dialogue and debate.The views expressed are those ofthe author and do not necessarilyreflect the views of FIRA or of otherresearchers/collaborators associatedwith FIRA. Communications canbe addressed to the author.
About the Author Dr. Edward Kruk,Associate Professor of Social Work atthe University of British Columbia, hasbeen extensively involved in researchin the area of child and family policy,particularly child custody, childcare, and child protection policy.His research has focused on noncustodialfathers, women strugglingwith addiction, the working methodsof divorce professionals, and harmreduction. Dr. Kruk has been theAcademic Leader of the Cluster onSeparated and Divorced Dads, acomponent of the Father InvolvementResearch Alliance, conducting researchand working in partnership witha variety of programs dedicated tosupporting fathers and their children.
You can contact Professor Kruk
Edward Kruk, M.S.W., Ph.D. i

Child custody and access law and policy remain among the most contentiousareas of family law and family practice. A rights-based discourse dominatesthe field; as Mason (1994) has argued, the “best interests of the child” standardhas historically reflected a struggle between mothers’ and fathers’ rights, withchildren’s needs considered to be commensurate with either position. Childrenare viewed at different times as fathers’ property, as requiring the “tender care”of mothers, and as rightfully “belonging” to one or the other parent.
In recent years, however, with increasing scrutiny of the indeterminacy of the“best interests of the child” standard (Bala, 2000), a new ethic has emerged,one that recognizes the fact that children’s needs and interests are separatefrom (although related to) the rights of their parents. Thus a new “parentalresponsibility” discourse is gradually being introduced into legal statutes,public policy and, at the level of practice, mainly outside of Canada. Anyanalysis of child custody and access policy, then, must take into account boththe limitations of the dominant “parental rights” discourse and the emergenceof the new “parental responsibility” framework.
Unlike previous examinations of child custody and access in Canada, thispaper proceeds from the perspective that the “best interests of the child”during and after parental separation are, essentially, a matter of recognizingand addressing the child’s most fundamental needs in this time of familytransition. These needs are, according to child development experts such asPenelope Leach and Gordon Neufeld, best addressed by supporting parentsin the fulfillment of their parental responsibilities, a goal to which socialinstitutions such as legislatures and the judiciary are bound. Such a focus onchildren’s needs, parental responsibilities, and the responsibilities of socialinstitutions to support parents in meeting their parental obligations is largelyabsent in current Canadian socio-legal discourse. This paper aims to shift thecurrent rights-based discourse of Canadian feminist and fathers’ rights groupsto a responsibility-based framework focused on children’s needs.
A child-focused perspective on the socio-legal issues of child custody and
access, informed by child development and family systems theory, will
go against the grain of analyses that focus on the competing perspectives
of women’s groups and fathers’ rights organizations. Children’s needs are

... a new ethic hasemerged, one thatrecognizes the factthat children’sneeds and interestsare separate from(although relatedto) the rights oftheir parents.

Edward Kruk, M.S.W., Ph.D.



Considered paramount within such a perspective, and the vast literature on
children’s adjustment to the consequences of parental separation is used
as a foundation for the development of a new approach to child custody
determination. Research is clear that children fare best in post-separation
relationships in which they maintain meaningful routine parental relationships
with both of their parents beyond the constraints of a “visiting” or “access”
relationship, in which they are shielded from destructive parental conflict,
and in which they are protected, to the highest degree possible, from a
marked decline in their standard of living. Contrary to current practice and
dominant socio-legal discourse in Canada, when parents disagree over the
living arrangements of their children after separation, new evidence suggests
that these conditions are best achieved by means of a legal shared parental
responsibility presumption, defined as children spending at least 40 per cent
of their time with each parent, rebuttable only when a child is in need of
protection from a parent. The current framework of sole physical custody in
contested cases is associated with high rates of father (and sometimes mother)
absence, increased inter-parental conflict, and a marked reduction in children’s
standard of living.
A child-focused analysis of child custody determination must also include a
careful consideration of the issues of child abuse and family violence, which
warrants against a “one shoe fits all” approach, even though the majority of
contested cases of child custody, including high-conflict cases, do not involve
the type of “intimate terrorism” necessitating the removal of a parent (as a
routine parent) from a child’s life via sole custody. Contrary to current practice
and dominant socio-legal discourse, children are not shielded from postseparation
violence and abuse by means of sole custody. Although it is clear
that shared parental responsibility is contraindicated in cases of established
family violence, research shows that inter-parental conflict increases with
court-mandated sole physical custody in cases with no previous violence, as
fully half of first-time battering occurs after separation. New research evidence
makes clear that inter-parental conflict decreases within a shared parental
responsibility custody arrangement, as neither parent is threatened by the
loss of the children and parental identity. The current framework of primary
residential custody in disputed custody cases, contrary to dominant discourse,
exposes both parents and children to violence.

The most recentresearch stronglysupports a shiftaway from the“one size fits all,”“winner takeall” sole custodyframeworktoward the notionof shared parentalresponsibility.



Edward Kruk, M.S.W., Ph.D. iii

The most recent research strongly supports a shift away from the “one size fits
all,” “winner take all” sole custody framework toward the notion of shared
parental responsibility. This report highlights the following research findings
in this regard:
1. Sole maternal custody often leads to parental alienation and father absence,
and father absence is associated with negative child outcomes. Eightyfive
per cent of youth in prison are fatherless; 71 per cent of high school
dropouts are fatherless; 90 per cent of runaway children are fatherless;
and fatherless youth exhibit higher levels of depression and suicide,
delinquency, promiscuity and teen pregnancy, behavioural problems
and illicit and licit substance abuse (Statistics Canada, 2005; Crowder and
Teachman, 2004; Ellis et al., 2003; Ringback Weitoft et al., 2003; Jeynes, 2001;
Leonard et al., 2005; McCue Horwitz et al,, 2003; McMunn, 2001; Margolin
and Craft, 1989; Blankenhorn, 1995; Popenoe, 1996; Vitz, 2000; Alexander,
2003). These studies also found that fatherless youth are more likely to be
victims of exploitation and abuse, as father absence through divorce is
strongly associated with diminished self-concepts in children (Parish, 1987).
2. Children of divorce want equal time with their parents and consider
shared parenting to be in their best interests. Seventy per cent of
children of divorce believe that equal amounts of time with each
parent is the best living arrangement for children, and children
who have had equal time arrangements have the best relations
with each of their parents after divorce (Fabricius, 2003).
3. A recent meta-analysis of the major North American studies comparing
sole and joint physical custody arrangements has shown that children
in joint custody arrangements fare significantly better on all adjustment
measures than children who live in sole custody arrangements
(Bauserman, 2002). Bauserman compared child adjustment in joint
physical and joint legal custody settings with sole (maternal and paternal)
custody settings, and also intact family settings, examined children’s
general adjustment, family relationships, self-esteem, emotional and
behavioral adjustment, divorce-specific adjustment, as well as the

“... children injoint custodyarrangements faresignificantly betteron all adjustmentmeasures thanchildren who livein sole custodyarrangements.”(Bauserman, 2002).

Edward Kruk, M.S.W., Ph.D.




Degree and nature of ongoing conflict between parents. On every measure
of adjustment, children in joint physical custody arrangements were faring
significantly better than children in sole custody arrangements: “Children
in joint custody arrangements had fewer behavior and emotional
problems, higher self-esteem, and better family relations and school
performance than children in sole custody arrangements.” The positive
outcomes of joint custody were also evident among high-conflict couples.
4. Inter-parental conflict decreases over time in shared custody arrangements,
and increases in sole custody arrangements. Inter-parental cooperation
increases over time in shared custody arrangements, and decreases in sole
custody arrangements. One of the key findings of the Bauserman metaanalysis
was the unexpected pattern of decreasing parental conflict in
joint custody families and the increase of conflict over time in sole custody
families. The less a parent feels threatened by the loss of her or his child
and the parental role, the less the likelihood of subsequent violence.
5. Both U.S. and Canadian research indicates that mothers and fathers
working outside the home now spend comparable amounts of
time caring for their children. According to the most recent Health
Canada research (Higgins and Duxbury, 2002), on average, each
week mothers devote 11.1 hours to child care, fathers 10.5 hours.
According to Statistics Canada (Marshall, 2006), men, although still
less involved in primary child care, have significantly increased their
participation in recent years. As the gender difference in time spent
in child care has diminished, shared parenting after separation has
emerged as the norm among parents who are not involved in a legal
contest over the custody of their children (Statistics Canada, 2004).
Although recent research on Canadian child custody outcomes in contested
cases is largely lacking, court file analysis data (Department of Justice, 1990)
reveal that in 77 per cent of contested custody cases, child custody is awarded
solely to the mother, and solely to the father in only 8.6 per cent of cases.
The fact that sole maternal custody is the norm in contested custody cases
in Canada is obfuscated by the fact that the label of “joint custody” is often
applied by both judges and researchers to post-separation living arrangements

Canada lags behind
... in reforming
child custody
law and practice
in a manner
that positions
children’s need
for the responsible
involvement of
both parents in
their lives at the
forefront of child
custody legislation.



Edward Kruk, M.S.W., Ph.D. v

in which children remain in the primary care of one parent. From the
perspective of children, such de facto sole custody arrangements are woefully
inadequate, often resulting in the loss of one of their primary caregivers. From
the perspective of both international conventions (U.N. Convention on the Rights
of the Child) and reports such as that of the Special Joint House of Commons-
Senate Committee on Child Custody and Access (1998), such arrangements
undermine children’s fundamental need for both parents actively and
responsibly involved in their lives. Canada lags behind several U.S. jurisdictions,
Australia, France, Sweden and other countries in reforming child custody law
and practice in a manner that positions children’s need for the responsible
involvement of both parents in their lives at the forefront of child custody
legislation. Children and other family members remain at risk of abuse, parental
alienation, and depression within the dominant sole custody framework.
The shared parental responsibility approach to child custody determination
is presented here as a viable alternative to sole custody in contested cases, and
as the arrangement most compatible with the stated objectives of Canadian
legislative family law reform, as outlined in the Special Joint Committee on
Child Custody and Access report, the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Family Law
Committee report, and the Child-centred Family Justice Strategy: to promote
meaningful relationships between children and their parents following
separation and divorce, to encourage parental cooperation, and to reduce
parental conflict and litigation.
The shared parental responsibility model of child custody determination for
the Canadian context is detailed herein as “A Four Pillar Approach to Child
Custody Determination In Canada,” as follows:
1. Legal Presumption of Shared Parental Responsibility (Rebuttable Presumption of Joint
Physical Custody in Family Law): the first pillar establishes a legal expectation
that existing parent-child relationships will continue after separation; in
cases of dispute, shared parenting, defined as children spending equal
time with each of their parents, would be the legal presumption in the
absence of established family violence or child abuse. This expectation
provides judges with a clear guideline and will avoid placing judges, in the
absence of expertise in this area, in the position of adjudicating children’s
“best interests” in non-violence cases. It will preserve meaningful parental

The shared parental
approach to
child custody
determination is
presented here as a
viable alternative
to sole custody in
contested cases.

Edward Kruk, M.S.W., Ph.D.




relationships between children and both of their parents, maximize
parental cooperation and reduce conflict, and prevent serious family
violence and child abuse. It will divert parents from a destructive court
battle over their children’s care, and will provide an incentive for parents
to engage in therapeutic family mediation focused on the development of
cooperative parenting plans. Shared parental responsibility is in keeping
with current caregiving patterns, as the majority of mothers and fathers
are now sharing responsibility for child care in two-parent families.
2. Parenting Plans, Mediation, and Support/Intervention in High Conflict Cases: the
second pillar establishes a legal expectation that parents jointly develop
a parenting plan before any court hearing is held on matters related to
post-separation parenting. The court’s role would then be to ratify the
negotiated plan. Through direct negotiation, parent education programs,
court-based or independent mediation, or lawyer negotiation, a detailed
parenting plan that delineates the parental responsibilities that will meet
the needs of the children would be developed before any court hearing
is held. With a legal presumption of shared parental responsibility as the
cornerstone, mediation could become the instrument whereby parents
could be assisted in the development of a child-focused parenting plan.
High conflict couples would be helped, with therapeutic intervention, to
achieve more amicable shared parenting arrangements over the long term.
3. Shared Parenting Education: shared parenting education within the
high school system, in marriage preparation courses, and upon
divorce, is an essential element of a much-needed program of
parent education and support. Public education about various
models of shared parenting, including models for “high conflict”
couples, would replace the current focus on seeking partisan legal
representation in an effort to “win” the custody of one’s children.
4. Judicial Determination in Cases of Established Abuse; Enforcement of Shared
Parental Responsibility Orders: a rebuttable presumption of shared parental
responsibility means that proven cases of family violence would be
exempt, and those cases involving either a criminal conviction, such as
assault, in a matter directly related to the parenting of the children, or a

Shared parental
responsibility is
in keeping with
current caregiving
patterns, as
the majority
of mothers and
fathers are
now sharing
responsibility for
child care in twoparent



Edward Kruk, M.S.W., Ph.D. vii

finding that a child is in need of protection from a parent by a statutory
child welfare authority, would be followed by judicial determination of
child custody. It may be appropriate in such cases, argue Jaffe et al. (2006),
for one or both parents to have limited or no contact with the children
because of potential harm. In child custody situations in which assault
is alleged, a thorough, informed and expeditious comprehensive child
welfare assessment is required. The criminal prosecution of those family
members who are alleged to have been violent toward any other member
of the family would hold accountable perpetrators of violence as well as
those who are found to have alleged abuse falsely. In such cases the family
court would retain its traditional role in the determination of custody.