Pediatric Journal: Shared Parenting Post-Divorce Best for Children's Health of All Ages



A recently published research paper from Sweden refutes the claim that shared parenting after parents separate or divorce is harmful to very young children. 

The study shows that the mental health of children ages three to five with shared parenting is better on average than the mental health of those in the care of a single parent. With about one-third of all children in the United States in the sole custody of one parent, National Parents Organization alerts lawmakers to these critical findings.

The fourth in a series of research papers from Swedish researcher Malin Bergstrom, the study is titled “Preschool children living in joint physical custody arrangements show less psychological symptoms than those living mostly or only with one parent.” It was published this fall in Acta Paediatrica, a peer-reviewed medical journal in the field of pediatrics. Dr. Bergstrom is affiliated with the internationally respected Karolinska Institute.

In 2013, Bergstrom’s team showed that 12 and 15 year olds with shared parenting did better on 11 dimensions of health-related quality of life than did those in sole custody. In 2014, they demonstrated that 12 and 15 year olds with shared parenting had fewer psychosomatic problems. Also in 2014, they showed that 15 year olds with shared parenting had better subjective health.

Still, some researchers have claimed that shared parenting is harmful to preschool children. Now, in the study just published, researchers studied psychological symptoms in 3,656 three-to-five year old Swedish children in different living arrangements. The study concluded: “Children in joint physical custody showed less psychological problems than those living mostly or only with one parent.”

“The research evidence is now overwhelming that children of all ages do better with shared parenting, including better health,” said Ned Holstein, MD, Founder and Board Chair of National Parents Organization. (See the section “Recent Research: Shared Parenting Versus Single Parenting” below for details on additional studies.) “Those who still obstruct shared parenting reform will need to answer why they continue to put the health of one-third of the children in America at risk. Lawmakers need to step forward and act, since family court judges are not doing it on their own.” 

While shared parenting – where children spend as close to equal time as possible with each parent following divorce or separation – is the norm in some parts of the world, including Sweden, it remains unusual in the United States; according to U. S. Census data, sole custody, usually with the mother, is in place in more than 80 percent of cases. At the same time, efforts to turn shared parenting from the exception to the norm within the U.S. family courts are growing. Several states have recently implemented the reform, and about 25 states have considered shared parenting legislation this year. States including Kentucky and Missouri have passed shared parenting reforms in the past year. Additionally, citizen support for the arrangement remains strong. For instance, in a 2016 professional poll of 580 Maryland voters, only 17% of women opposed this reform.


Shared Parenting Data

  • 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.”
  • In 2016, Dr. Warshak wrote, “Two years after its publication, the conclusions and recommendations of the Warshak consensus report remain supported by science.” He also wrote, “The paper has been translated into at least eighteen languages and has informed legislative deliberations throughout the U.S. and parliamentary deliberations in several countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, Finland, Romania, Croatia, and Sweden. Two years after its publication, the consensus report continues to be one of the most downloaded papers from the journal’s website.” He added, “The list of endorsers and their stature and accomplishments reflect the field’s general acceptance of the consensus report’s findings as rooted in settled science from more than four decades of research directly relevant to this topic, including seminal studies by many of the endorsers.”
  • 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 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.”
  • In December, 2016, The American Psychological Association published research by William V. Fabricius of Arizona State University in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law entitled, “Should Infants and Toddlers Have Frequent Overnight Parenting Time With Fathers? The Policy Debate and New Data.” Prof Fabricius’ findings provide “… strong support for policies to encourage frequent overnight parenting time [up to and including 50/50 overnights –Ed] for infants and toddlers [even younger than one year –Ed], because the benefits [for children-Ed] associated with overnights also held for parents who initially agreed about overnights as well as for those who disagreed and had the overnight parenting plan imposed over 1 parent’s objections.” Fabricius shared details on his findings during the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017, a May 29-30, 2017 event in Boston, Massachusetts hosted by National Parents Organization and the International Council on Shared Parenting.

Single Parenting Data

According to federal statistics from sources including the U.S. Centers 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
  • 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