Dr. Linda Nielsen Analyzes 60 Studies of Shared vs. Sole Parenting

January 29, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Professor Linda Nielsen has just published an up-to-date summary of studies of children’s outcomes in shared parenting vs. sole parenting arrangements. She’s done this before, but, since her last effort, more studies have been completed, so she’s updating her previous findings. Her article appears in the Journal of Child Custody and analyzes 60 studies. Here is the abstract of the article.

Is joint physical custody (JPC) linked to any better or worse outcomes for children than sole physical custody (SPC) after considering family income and parental conflict? In the 60 studies published in English in academic journals or in government reports, 34 studies found that JPC children had better outcomes on all of the measures of behavioral, emotional, physical, and academic well-being and relationships with parents and grandparents. In 14 studies, JPC children had equal outcomes on some measures and better outcomes on others compared to SPC children. In 6 studies JPC and SPC children were equal on all measures. In 6 studies, JPC children were worse on one of the measures than SPC children, but equal or better on all other measures. In the 25 studies that considered family income, JPC children had better outcomes on all measures in 18 studies, equal to better outcomes in 4 studies, equal outcomes in 1 study, and worse outcomes on one measure but equal or better outcomes on other measures in 2 studies. In the 19 studies that included parental conflict, JPC children had better outcomes on all measures in 9 studies, equal to better outcomes in 5 studies, equal outcomes in 2 studies, and worse outcomes on one measure but equal or better outcomes on other measures in 3 studies. In sum, independent of family income or parental conflict, JPC is generally linked to better outcomes for children.

And here is her conclusion:

As the studies summarized in this article demonstrate, JPC is linked to better outcomes than SPC for children, independent of family income or the level of conflict between parents. This is not to say that children do not benefit in any way from living in higher income families or from having parents with low conflict, cooperative coparenting relationships. What these studies do mean is that the better outcomes for JPC children should not be attributed to higher family incomes or to low conflict between their parents. Moreover, all 30 studies that assessed children’s relationships with their parents and other relatives found better outcomes for the JPC children. Given this, it is highly likely that family income and parental conflict are less closely linked to children’s well-being than the quality of their relationships with their parents, stepparents, and grandparents. As researchers continue to explore the factors that might explain children’s better outcomes in JPC families, it is clear that shared parenting families are on the rise and that children are benefitting from this new family form.

I’ll get into her analysis in more detail next time, but for now it should be apparent that children with parental relationships that allow them to spend at least 35% of their time with each parent tend to do better on a range of emotional, psychological, physical and cognitive measures than kids in sole parental care (SPC). Now, as with so much else in social science, it’s not yet possible to conclude that shared parenting causes those better outcomes. But when variables like parental conflict and family income are considered and the results still hold, it becomes ever harder to avoid that very conclusion. At the very least, we should shift the “burden of proof” to those who oppose shared parenting to provide evidence as compelling as that in favor of shared parenting or more so. For years now, opponents of shared parenting have sniped at the science demonstrating the connection between shared parenting and better children’s welfare. That’s all very well, but they should apply the same stringent standards to that which they promote, i.e. sole maternal care. Needless to say they never produce the goods because the goods don’t exist. To my knowledge, there is not one reliable study demonstrating overall better results for kids in sole care. Certainly none of the studies analyzed by Nielsen does so.

I’ll get more specific next time.




National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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