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  • 50/50 shared parenting boosts the chances that fathers will not be relegated to a part-time parent and slip out of their children’s lives. Tweet This
  • Research shows that for children whose parents do not stay together, 50/50 timesharing is best. Tweet This
  • A 50/50 schedule communicates to the child that his dad will not abandon him. Tweet This

It is a fact that children who grow up with married parents do better than any other family structure. However, nearly half of U.S. children will not be raised by their own married parents. So how do we best improve the outcomes for these children?  

Research shows that for children whose parents do not stay together, 50/50 timesharing is best. A 2023 analysis of existing research found that on many measures, children in shared parenting arrangements “do equally well compared to children in nuclear families.” The studies measured the kids’ academic, cognitive, emotional, and psychological outcomes, behavioral problems, overall physical health or stress-related physical problems, and the parent–child relationship quality. Further, researchers have found that it is not just shared parenting for two-household families, but that those outcomes improve the closer the schedule moves to a 50/50 schedule.

The large and growing body of research that supports this arrangement flies in the face of the status-quo divorce or breakup, in which today the majority of children spend primary time with one parent (nearly always the mother) with weekend and holiday “visits” with the non-custodial parent (nearly always the child’s own biological father). 

This emerging culture shift to 50/50 parenting norms has also been a challenge for me, a lifelong feminist and journalist, who has devoted the heart of my career to celebrating single-mother families—and started my own post-divorce journey fighting for majority time with my two children, then babies. Like many of my contemporaries, I assumed I was the superior parent because I am the mother, and misunderstood attachment theory to mean that ­­­­babies only primarily bond with one adult, and that relationship should be prioritized above all others.

Today, I advocate in my work and life for equal time sharing when possible if parents live apart—frequently citing research that upholds equal importance of fathers and mothers in child development, the benefits of which are maximized with equal time.

The value of these schedules is largely obvious: Kids are given an opportunity to spend quality time with not only their mothers but also their fathers, who now have sufficient time to develop their parenting skills. The parent-child relationship is strengthened, boosting the chances that fathers will not be discouraged by being relegated to a part-time parent and slip out of their children’s lives. This very real threat is a source of anxiety for children whose parents are not married. 

But there is a unique benefit when parenting time is split 50/50—vs 20% or ­­­30% with dads. Research by child psychologist William Fabricius at Arizona State University finds that outcomes for these kids of divorce and separation improves the closer the parenting schedule gets to 50/50. 

“There are two sources of emotional insecurity for children in divorcing families: ongoing parent conflict, and emotional security with each parent—the mom and the dad,” Fabricius told me. 

If one parent is absent from the child’s life except for every other weekend, the child is at risk of thinking, 'That parent doesn’t really want to spend more time with me and maybe I don’t matter that much to that parent.’ Even if there’s conflict between parents, kids [with 50/50 schedules] don’t have all those extra hours and hours away from Dad to worry that he is going to slip out … What we find time and again is the amount of parenting time a child spends with a parent after a divorce is highly related to how secure that child feels and reassured that they matter to a parent.

In other words: A 50/50 schedule communicates to the child that his dad will not abandon him. It also improves the chances that the father will not actually abandon him, as that dad has been given the opportunity to bond with the child—and is recognized by way of the family calendar, a judge’s ruling, or by the law in Arizona, Kentucky. Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, and West Virginia.

Proposed and enacted laws calling for a rebuttable presumption of equal time always and wisely include caveats for the cases where equal parenting is not safe: abuse, neglect, active addiction. Interestingly, equal parenting policies are correlated with lower rates of family violence. In the five years after the Kentucky legislature passed the country’s first rebuttable presumption of equally shared parenting time in 2016, the number of domestic violence claims filed alongside family court filings fell by half—continuing a downward trend that predated the new law. 

Family court filings in Kentucky overall also dropped during this period, as have divorce rates nationally. Some observers speculate that by neutralizing the power struggle between divorcing parents, not only is there less reason to go to court (parents just work out custody arrangements on their own or with a mediator), there is less incentive for women—who initiate divorce the majority of the time—to file for divorce.

The benefits of equal schedules reverberate outward: 50/50 single moms tend to have higher employm­­­­­­­­ent­­­­­­ and incomes, according to one study in Spain. And involved fathers are found to be healthier mentally and physically, which benefits the children they parent. These kids are also gifted increased spheres of social capital that come with now two sets of grandparents, cousins, friends, and neighbors. Children growing up with 50/50 schedules also stand to benefit from gender-neutral modeling of moms who work and earn, and dads who caretake—which stands to break down gender inequalities for all of us.

Emma Johnson is author of The 50/50 Solution: The Surprisingly Simple Choice that Makes Moms, Dads, and Kids Happier and Healthier after a Split (Sourcebooks, March, 2024), a gender equality activist, and founder of Wealthysinglemommy.com.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.