The Science

The Essential problem

The essential problem we are facing is that the few studies which point against the value of shared time still have influence on decision makers despite the fact that the scientific community have overwhelmingly agreed that their methodology and, by extension, their conclusions are fundamentally flawed.

The Emery study[1] solely focussed on the effects of shared parenting of children who had never at any time lived with the non-resident parent. The McIntosh  pre-schooler study[2] which stated that young children should not be apart from their prime carer was dismantled completely by a cohort of social scientists led by Professor Linda Nielsen in her ‘woozle’ analysis of McIntosh’s pseudo-science.[3]

Lamentably, the McIntosh study gained such traction in Australia that barristers there who could not secure overnights with their clients (usually the father) in the family court stated that they had been ‘McIntoshed’! In the UK, Penelope Leach drew heavily on the McIntosh study in her book Family Breakdown which gained publicity in the press, namely The Guardian in 2014. The book discussed the ‘harm’ caused to young children by being away from their ‘primary carer’ and advocated a ‘resident parent’ and ‘contact parent’ model of child arrangements post separation. As late as March 2020, a full six years after the McIntosh study had been roundly taken apart by her fellow social scientists and deemed to be riddled with mythological flaws, it was still referenced in an article by Sonia Sodha (‘The idea that family courts are biased against men is a dangerous Fallacy’) which appeared in The Guardian online. Despite numerous attempts by charities promoting shared parenting to ask Ms Sodha to retract her remarks and to present her with the overwhelming evidence that they were unsupported by science, there was not even the courtesy of a reply. Journalism at its shoddiest.

Paradoxically, although these studies are the exceptions and not the rule, they have gained more influence and publicity than the overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that comes to a diametrically opposed conclusion to the lone voices of Emery and McIntosh. That is that shared time post parental separation is better for children of any age on all levels; emotionally, academically, socially, behaviourally and psychologically. Remarkably, this ground-breaking research has hardly been heard of in the British media.

Moreover, and most disturbingly for the promotion of shared parenting, this consensus is still denied by Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory Services) and the judiciary remain largely ignorant of it. If shared parenting is to be normalized in law and in society, this is a key obstacle to overcome.

The Consensus

Let us be very clear, we are not talking about individual studies, but a meta-analysis of 60 studies in the last four decades that all point to this conclusion:- Shared parenting, in most cases, is best for children of any age on all measurable criteria. To the best of our knowledge, there is no counter-consensus pointing in the opposite direction.

This consensus best encapsulated by leading social scientists such as Professor Richard Warshak[4] and Professor Linda Nielsen[5], the former being endorsed by 110 leading social scientists from across the globe.

The samples in the studies are huge Swedish researcher Malin Bergstrom found in her 150,000-cohort study of the children of divorce, shared parenting is second only to married parenting when it comes to children’s mental well-being.[6] Crucially, in a debate which rightly has the best interests of the child as the mantra on both sides,  William Fabricius in a 2000 study of college students who has experienced shared care arrangements as children found 93% stated that they were happy with that arrangement.[7]

Writing in the Oxford Handbook of Children and the Law in a 2019 paper entitled’ Equal Parenting time the Case for a Legal Presumption’, the same academic states ‘that failure to act on initiating a presumption of shared care in the courts causes ‘unnecessary harm to children’s emotional security’ and ‘unnecessary harm to public health in the form of long term stress-related mental and physical health problems among children of divorce’[8]

Dr Edward Kruk, writing in Psychology today in 2018 references the conclusions of , leading divorce scholar Sanford Braver who asserts, “To my mind, we’re over the hump. We’ve reached the watershed. On the basis of this evidence, social scientists can now cautiously recommend presumptive shared parenting to policymakers … shared parenting has enough evidence [that] the burden of proof should now fall to those who oppose it rather than those who promote it.”[9]

In other words, all this shows is that those who cling to the notion that the best interests of the child are synonymous with having a ‘main resident parent’ and a ‘secondary contact parent’ post parental separation are akin to those who clung to the believe that the earth was flat after the Renaissance. It is that simple.

[1]  Overnight custody arrangements, attachment, and adjustment among very young children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 75, 871-885.2013.

[2] Post-separation parenting arrangements and developmental outcomes for infants and children. Collected reports McIntosh et al 2010

[3] Nielsen, L. (2014). Woozles: Their role in custody law reform, parenting plans, and family court. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 20(2), 164–180

[4] Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report (Warshak Consensus Report) published in the American Psychological Association’s journal, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, that is edited by Cambridge University Professor Michael Lamb, a prominent child development scholar. 2014

[5] Joint Versus Sole Physical Custody: Children’s Outcomes Independent of Parent–Child Relationships, Income, and Conflict in 60 Studies. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 2018

[6] Bergström M, Modin B, Fransson E, Rajmil L, Berlin M, Gustafsson PA, Hjern A. Living in two homes-a Swedish national survey of wellbeing in 12 and 15 year olds with joint physical custody. BMC Public Health. 2013

[7] Fabricius, W. V., Young Adults Perspectives on Divorce Living Arrangements 2000,

[8] Fabricius, W V Oxford Handbook of Children and the Law 2019 paper entitled’ Equal Parenting time the Case for a Legal Presumption’

[9] Braver S, Third International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017