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Divorce Can Leave Parents With a Premature Empty Nest: Shared Parenting Offers a Commonsense Solution for Parents and Children




September 14, 2016

As the school year begins, many parents of college-age kids are watching their children leave home for the first time. For many parents, this exciting occasion can also be tinged with sadness.Known as empty nest syndrome, this experience is often characterized by depression and anxiety for parents. Nevertheless, grown children leaving home is a normal human transition and one to which most parents eventually adjust.

But what happens when children are removed from their parents’ homes too soon, before either parent or child is ready – when the child is 7 instead of 17? This is the sad reality for many parents following a divorce.

“Due to antiquated sole custody laws, the parent who ‘loses’ the custody battle can experience a premature empty nest, thrust into the unfortunate role of ‘visitor’ in their children’s lives,” says Ned Holstein, MD, founder of National Parents Organization. “In these cases, the feelings of loneliness, heartache, and grief that can accompany a child leaving home are often amplified.”

Children also suffer when they’re prevented from seeing one of their parents frequently. Federal statistics show that children raised by single parents are significantly more likely to drop out of school, wind up in prison, abuse alcohol and drugs, develop psychological problems or commit suicide.

Shared parenting – a flexible arrangement in which children spend as close to equal time as possible with each parent after a divorce, if both parents are fit – decreases parental conflict and domestic violence while increasing child support payments, as well as voluntary payments for college. Studies have also shown that it leads to better grades in school, happier children, less substance abuse, less delinquency and even less teen pregnancy.

“Despite the strong public support for shared parenting, sole custody remains the norm in most of the country, with shared parenting being awarded less than ten percent of the time,” Holstein says. “Shifting the norm to shared parenting would prevent either parent from being marginalized, giving equal weight and respect to the valuable roles both mother and father play in a child’s life.”


Shared Parenting Data

·      The Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health published a 150,000-person study titled “Fifty moves a year: Is there an association between joint physical custody and psychosomatic problems in children?” in May 2015 that concluded shared parenting after divorce or separation is in the best interest of children’s health because the arrangement lowers their stress levels.

·      The Journal of the American Psychological Association published a paper titled “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report” in 2014, and the conclusions were endorsed by 110 eminent authorities around the world. Authored by Dr. Richard Warshak at the University of Texas, the paper concluded, “… shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children.”

·      The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) published the recommendations of 32 family law experts in 2014, and the group concluded, “Children’s best interests are furthered by parenting plans that provide for continuing and shared parenting relationships that are safe, secure, and developmentally responsive and that also avoid a template calling for a specific division of time imposed on all families.”

Single Parenting Data

According to federal statistics from sources including the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Census Bureau, children raised by single parents account for:

·      63% of teen suicides;

·      70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions;

·      71% of high school drop-outs;

·      75% of children in chemical abuse centers;

·      85% of those in prison;

·      85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders; and

·      90% of homeless and runaway children.


Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.

A regular contributor to local and national media, Dr. Holstein is Founder and Chair of the Board of National Parents Organization. Dr. Holstein was appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts to the Massachusetts Working Group on Child-Centered Family Law, and he was previously appointed by a Massachusetts Chief Justice to a task force charged with reviewing and revising the state’s child support guidelines.

A graduate of Harvard College, Holstein also earned a Master’s degree in psychology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His medical degree is from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he later served on the faculty as a teacher and researcher. 


National Parents Organization, a charitable and educational 501 (c)(3) organization, seeks better lives for children through family law reform that establishes equal rights and responsibilities for fathers and mothers after divorce or separation. The organization is focused on promoting shared parenting and preserving a child’s strong bond with both parents, which is critically important to their emotional, mental, and physical health. In 2014, National Parents Organization released the Shared Parenting Report Card, the first study to rank the states on child custody laws. Visit the National Parents Organization website at

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