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Shared Parenting Research

Below are some frequently asked questions on the subject of Shared Parenting Research:

Shared Parenting

Is there a country with a working and effective model of Shared Parenting?

Yes - Shared Parenting works so amazingly well in Sweden:

Here are some details from a presentation by Malin Bergström from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Malin's powerful presentation showed how Sweden has, in the space of just 20 years, transformed the landscape for shared parenting. She reported that:

  • approximately 40% of separated parents share care 50:50, higher amongst younger children
  • the majority have shared care arrangements where each parent has at least 30% of parenting time
  • shared parenting arrangements continue to grow strongly year-in-year-out
  • 14% of family disputes are resolved  through mediation and above all...
  • just 2% were resolved through courts!

Her presentation also demonstrated the considerable health benefits to children of Joint Parental Care arrangements.

Her comment on the day was "If one of my friends did not share parenting equally after separation, I would find that weird."

How quickly can we or rather the more ponderous UK government get there? We live in hope, but the writing may be on the wall.

Please view Malin Bergström's presentation:


Does shared parenting positively affect children?


There is a wealth of expert literature which repeatedly demonstrates that shared parenting benefits children in a huge variety of ways:

• ‘…children in joint custody are better adjusted, across multiple types of measures [including emotionally and behaviourally], than children in sole (primarily maternal) custody.’ (Bauserman, 2002)

• Joint legal custody is not a requirement to achieve better adjustment, but children need to spend a ‘substantial’ amount of time with their non-resident parent. (Bauserman, 2002)

• Children with non-resident fathers highly involved in their lives have lower levels of delinquent behaviour as adolescents. (Coley & Medieros, 2007)

• “Children in separated families fare best when they have close contact with each of their parents and all the important adults in their lives, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and family friends. And co-parenting by both mother and father should be the norm, except when issues of safety are involved.” (Layard & Dunn, 2009)

• “On average, children are less likely to fail at school or suffer depression the more they see their separated father.” (Layard & Dunn, 2009)

• Children who spend nights at their father’s and mother’s houses have ‘few social problems’ and ‘fewer attention... and thought problems.’ (Pruett et al, 2004)


Bauserman, R. (2002). Child Adjustment in Joint-Custody Versus Sole-Custody Arrangements: A Meta-Analytic Review.  Journal of Family Psychology. 16(1): 91-102.
Coley, R. & Medieros, B. (2007). Reciprocal Longitudinal Relations Between Nonresident Father Involvement and Adolescent Delinquency. Child Development. 78(1): 132-147.
Layard, R. & Dunn, J. (2009). A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age. London: Penguin Books.
Pruett, K., Ebling, R. & Insabella, G. (2004).  Critical Aspects of Parenting Plans for Young Children. Family Court Review, 42(1): 39–59.


Are fathers just as important as mothers in a child's life?


“Fathers are no less important than mothers in a child’s life. The closeness of fathers to their children influences the children’s later psychological well-being, even after allowing for the mother’s influence. If fathers are more closely involved with their children, other things being equal, children develop better friendships, more empathy, high self-esteem, better life satisfaction, and higher educational achievement, and they are less likely to become involved with crime or substance abuse.”


Layard, R. & Dunn, J. (2009). A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age. London: Penguin Books.


Does having a father around in the earliest years make a difference to children's development?


09 May 2017 Fathers who interact more with their children in their first few months of life could have a positive impact on their baby's cognitive development.

In this report a study, published in the Infant Mental Health Journal, researchers from Imperial College London, King’s College London and Oxford University looked at how fathers interacted with their babies at three months of age and measured the infants’ cognitive development more than a year later.

They found that babies whose fathers were more engaged and active when playing with them in their initial months performed better in cognitive tests at two years of age. The researchers say that while a number of factors are critical in a child’s development, the relatively unexplored link between quality father-infant interactions at a young age may be an important one.


Can I still be a good parent even though I am separated from my former partner?


Research shows that it is how families function, rather than family types, that affect children’s outcomes.  Some children may even benefit from their parents separating, if they have had to witness high levels of parental conflict, violence or abuse (Mooney et al, 2009).  You can still provide the support and care your child needs even if you are separated from their other parent.

It may be harder to maintain a quality relationship with your child after separation, especially if you are the non-resident parent, but it is still more than possible and will hugely benefit your child (Mooney et al, 2009).  Maintaining a co-operative, post-separation relationship with your former partner, if possible, will prove very helpful when it come to having significant and quality contact with your child.

There is also evidence demonstrating that where parents can maintain a good relationship with their child and with each other, any potential negative effects of separation are outweighed (Neale et al, 2007).


Mooney, A., Oliver, C. & Smith, M. (2009). Impact of family breakdown on children’s well-being: Evidence review. London: Department of Children, Schools and Families (RB113).
Neale, G. and Flowerdew, J. (2007). New structures, new agency: The dynamics of child-parent relationships after divorce. International Journal of Children’s Rights. 51: 25-42.

Does shared parenting mean equal contact time?


Shared parenting does not mean the child has to spend equal time with both parents, although this can work well for some families.

The quality of parent-child relationship should not be measured in quantity of time, but in quality of relationship.

However, for a high quality relationship between parents and child a minimum amount of contact is required. This must include standard daily activities, such as homework and cooking, as well as weekend and holiday time.

A study over 2 years in the UK found that ‘more frequent and regular contact (which included communication by telephone) was associated with closer, more intense relationships with non-resident fathers… and fewer adjustment problems in the children’ (Dunn et al, 2004).

A child’s best interest must remain priority when considering contact time and, as demonstrated in the previous question on positive impacts of shared parenting, children benefit from maintaining a significant relationship with both of their parents after separation.  However, each case needs to be assessed individually and contact time can vary; it is dependent on many factors, including the non-resident parent’s proximity to the resident parent’s home and the child’s school.  No two cases are the same and it is in the best interest of your child to work with your former partner to arrange out a system that suits you all.  If this is not possible mediation sessions can be arranged, or as a last case scenario a decision can be made by the court.

For more information on mediation and court orders please click here.

Dunn, J. Cheng, H., O’Connor, T. and Bridges, L (2004). Children’s perspectives on their relationships with their non-resident fathers; influences, outcomes and implications. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 45(3): 553-566.

How much time do children spend with their non-resident parent?

The latest ONS Survey indicated that:

Direct Contact:
• 6% from resident parent’s response (RP) and 12% from non-resident parent’s response (NRP) of children had daily contact with non-resident parent;
• 30% (RP) and 38% (NRP) of children had contact once a week with non-resident parent;
• 12% (NRP) and 18% (RP) of children saw non-resident parent at least once a month;
• 5 (RP) and 9% (NRP) of children saw non-resident parent only in school holidays or once every three months.

Indirect Contact:
• 24% of children had daily indirect contact with non-resident parent;
• 43% of children had indirect contact at least once a week;
• 6% of children had indirect contact once a month;
• 12% of children had indirect contact less than once a month;
    o Of these, 15% had no indirect contact with non-resident parent.

Source: Non-resident parental contact, 2007/8: A report on research using the National Statistics Omnibus Survey produced on behalf of the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Omnibus Survey Report No. 38.

Find the full report here.

Is the traditional 'weekend parent' contact outdated?


Families Need Fathers believes that traditional visiting patterns and guidelines where parents are divorced or separated are, for the majority of children, outdated, unnecessarily rigid, and restrictive. They fail, in both the short and long term, to address the child’s best interests. 

Parenting plan models that offer multiple options for living arrangements following separation and divorce more appropriately serve children’s diverse developmental and psychological needs (Kelly, 2006).

Arranging a parenting plan without the intervention of the court, if possible, will be hugely beneficial to your child and will mean neither parent is restricted to an 80/20 contact time or something else as inflexible that will not be in the best interest of you child.

For more information on parenting plans click here.

Kelly, J. (2006). Children’s Living Arrangements Following Separation and Divorce: Insights from Empirical and Clinical Research. Family Process. 46(1).

What happens in other countries?

There are a number of different countries that have already implemented shared parenting legislation successfully.  Please read our summaries below.


• ‘When making a parenting order in relation to a child, the court must apply a presumption that it is in the best interests of the child for the child's parents to have equal shared parental responsibility for the child.
• [Note: It does not provide for a presumption about the amount of time the child spends with each of the parents]
• A child will be taken to spend substantial and significant time with a parent only if: 
    o the time the child spends with the parent includes both: 
         days that fall on weekends and holidays; and 
         days that do not fall on weekends or holidays; and 
    o the time the child spends with the parent allows the parent to be involved in: 
         the child's daily routine; and 
         occasions and events that are of particular significance to the child; and 
    o the time the child spends with the parent allows the child to be involved in occasions and events that are of special significance to the parent.’


• ‘The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy, except where the contact would not be in the best interest of the child.
• If a child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to custody or visitation, the court shall consider, and give due weight to, the wishes of the child in making an order granting or modifying custody or visitation.’


• ‘It is the public policy of this state that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.’

Are involved fathers more likely to financially support their children?


A US study that explored recent changes to joint child custody legislation found that states which have implemented joint custody reforms have an increased probability of single mothers receiving child support (Allen et al, 2011).

This disproves a belief some people hold that shared parenting can be used as a bargaining counter to reduce the non-resident parent’s payments to the other parent.  Instead it demonstrates that, once again, having both a mother and father involved in a child’s life, if possible, is in the child’s best interest.

Allen, B., Nunley, J. & Seals, A. (2011). The Effect of Joint-Child-Custody Legislation on the Child-Support Receipt of Single Mothers. Journal of Family and Economic Issues. 32(1): 124-139.


Family life today

What is family life like today?

Two changes in the ways in which families live in Britain today stand out:

‘Firstly, most women now work outside the home and have careers as well as being mothers. In Britain 70 per cent of mothers of 9 to 12-month-old babies now do some paid work. This compares with only 25 per cent twenty-five years ago – a massive change in our way of life.

‘The second change is the rise in family break-up… As a result of increased break-ups, a third of our 16-year-olds now live apart from their biological father (Layard & Dunn, 2009).’

‘Of dependent children, 92% lived in a couple relationship in 1972; by 2008 this had dropped to 77%. Much of this change can be explained in terms of lone parents. One in four dependent children lived in a lone-parent family in 2008, an increase from 1 in 14 in 1972 (Hunt, 2009).’

Hunt, S. (2009). Family Trends: British Families since the 1950's. Family and Parenting Institute, London.
Layard, R. & Dunn, J. (2009). A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age. London: Penguin Books

Have fathers' roles changed?


• There was a 200 per cent increase in the time that fathers are actively engaging with children between 1974 and 2000 (Hunt, 2009).

• British fathers now undertake approximately nearly half of all childcare (EOC).

• According to a 2007 Equal Opportunities Commission study, mothers recorded an average of 2 hours 32 minutes per day looking after their children, compared with 2 hours 16 minutes by fathers (EOC).

• That is only a 16 minute difference (EOC).

Hunt, S. (2009). Family Trends: British Families since the 1950's. Family and Parenting Institute, London.
Completing the Revolution: The Leading Indicators, EOC, London, 2007.


Parental Conflict and the Effect of Separation on Children

Does parental separation and conflict have an effect on children?

Parental separation can have a negative affect on children and this is exacerbated by high levels of parental conflict.

However, there is evidence to suggest that where parents can maintain a good relationship with each other and with their child, any potential negative effects of separation are outweighed (Neale & Flowerdew, 2007).

Therefore, to reduce or eradicate any potentially negative effects to your child when separating from their other parent, conflict should be kept to a minimum.  If a parenting plan agreement cannot be made mediation sessions should be arranged.  Taking the case to court should only be used as a last resort as it can often exacerbate conflict and lead to further feelings of hostility.  For more information on mediation and court orders, please click here.

Neale, G. and Flowerdew, J. (2007). New structures, new agency: The dynamics of child-parent relationships after divorce. International Journal of Children’s Rights. 51: 25-42.

Examining the research on the effect of parental conflict on shared parenting

There are a lot of misleading fake truths out there about this. Here is an article that examines the wider biases.

Six salient messages emerge. First, the level of conflict and the quality of the coparenting relationship are often not as closely correlated with children’s well-being as the quality of the parent–child relationship. Second, the connection between conflict and children’s well-being is mediated by the quality of the children’s relationships with their parents. Third, parents’ settling their custody disputes in court or through protracted legal negotiations has not been linked to worse outcomes for children. Fourth, JPC is associated with better outcomes for children than SPC even when their parents do not initially both agree to the parenting plan and even when the conflict at the time of separation or in subsequent years is not low. Fifth, most JPC parents do not have substantially less conflict or more collaborative coparenting relationships than SPC parents. And sixth, limiting the time that children spend with one of their parents through SPC is not correlated with better outcomes for children, even when there is considerable conflict and a poor coparenting relationship.

Is it better if parents can get along?


Some of the emotions children can feel about parental separation are “confusion, sadness and betrayal”. However, if parents get along children are far less likely to feel this way (Layard & Dunn, 2009).

There is evidence to suggest that parental conflict has a more negative effect on children that parental marital status does (Sarrazin, 2007).

Therefore, whether you are with you child’s other parent or separated from them, maintaining a low conflict relationship is in your child’s best interest.

Layard, R. & Dunn, J. (2009). A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age. London: Penguin Books.
Sarrazin, J. (2007). Parental Conflicts and Their Damaging Effects on Children. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage. 47(1-2): 77.


Losing Contact with One Parent after Separation or Divorce

Does this really happen?


Even when it is safe to do so, contact with the non-resident parent is often heavily restricted and sometimes lost completely.

• ‘…it is a real worry that in Britain around 28 per cent of all children whose parents have separated have no contact with their fathers three years after the separation’ (Layard & Dunn, 2009).

• 12% of children have indirect contact less than once a month with their non-resident parent (ONS)
     o Of these, 15% have no indirect contact with non-resident parent (ONS)

Layard, R. & Dunn, J. (2009). A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age. London: Penguin Books.
Non-resident parental contact, 2007/8: A report on research using the National Statistics Omnibus Survey produced on behalf of the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Omnibus Survey Report No. 38.

Does this really matter?


Children really do benefit from having two parents fully involved in their lives and usually want to retain as much contact as possible with their non-resident parent after separation.

‘Most children hate the loss of contact with their fathers and often experience substantial distress, anger or self-doubt as a result’ (Layard & Dunn, 2009).

For more information please see ‘Does Shared Parenting Positively Affect Child Outcomes?’

Layard, R. & Dunn, J. (2009). A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age. London: Penguin Books.


Key facts: what does the law say?

UN Convention on Rights of the Child

UN Convention on Rights of the Child

Recognising that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding;

Article 9

3. States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child's best interests.

Article 10

2. A child whose parents reside in different States shall have the right to maintain on a regular basis, save in exceptional circumstances, personal relations and direct contact with both parents.

Article 18

1. States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child. Parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern.

2. For the purpose of guaranteeing and promoting the rights set forth in the present Convention, States Parties shall render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities and shall ensure the development of institutions, facilities and services for the care of children. 

Every Parent Matters/ Every Child Matters

Department for Education and Skills;

Every Parent Matters 2007; 6.18

Promoting contact between children and their separated parents

Each year between 150,000 and 200,000 couples separate and many of these separations involve children. Where there is separation or divorce we want children to be able to continue to have meaningful and safe contact with both parents. A minority of separating couples (approx 10%) are unable to come to contact/residence arrangements amicably in the best interests of their children and turn to the family courts for help. Approximately 67,000 contact orders were made in England and Wales in 2004-05.

Department for Education and Skills; Every Parent Matters 2007; 7.1

Developing Parental Engagement

We have strong evidence of the beneficial impact of both good parenting and parental engagement in public services on children’s outcomes. Public services in a range of areas need to improve how they work with parents.

Engaging parents effectively means:
• engaging both fathers and mothers;
• enabling parents to access information so that they can exercise effective choice;
• giving parents the means to influence the shape of services so that they meet their family’s needs;
• practitioners providing services to the family seeking to work in equal partnership with parents to maximise the benefits to the children of the services received;
• enabling parents to find and draw down additional information and help to deal with specific issues when they need it; and
• ensuring opportunities for fathers and mothers to work in partnership with schools, taking account of the constraints on working parents.

Department for Education and Skills; Every Child Matters 2003; 3.1

Why parenting matters;

The bond between the child and their parents is the most critical influence on a child’s life. Parenting has a strong impact on a child’s life. Parenting has a strong impact on a child’s education development, behaviour, and mental health.

Department for Education and Skills; Every Child Matters 2003 3.3

• Support programmes for fathers as well as mothers so that all children but especially those who are living apart from their fathers, develop positive relationships with both parents

• Ensure better communication between parents and schools to help support children to learn. We need to look at opportunities for families, and especially fathers, to become more closely involved in school life through parents’ associations, as school governors, and as a result of home-school contracts


Here is a link to another very comprehensive and useful research site.


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FNF HSSF Kite Mark

Families Need Fathers has been awarded the Help and Support for Separated Families Kite Mark which is a new UK government accreditation scheme for organisations offering help to separated families.

Families Need Fathers work with a range of family law professionals, including Family Law Panel.

FNF are pleased to announce a partnership with MyDaddy who have built this excellent app for the significant proportion of fathers who are now newly sharing parenting after separation.

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