For those divorced fathers who are currently in the process of creating or re-negotiating your parenting plans (“visitation” schedule) for your children, consider the benefits of shared residential custody. By this, I mean having your children live with you 35%-50% of the time. Many states have revised or are in the process of revising their custody laws so that both parents are guaranteed a minimum of 35% time. Why consider this option? First because three decades of research have shown that children who live in shared parenting families are better off than kids who only see their fathers every other weekend in terms of : academics, stress related illness, aggressive or delinquent behavior, drug and alcohol use and mental health. More important still, these children have more enduring and more meaningful relationships with their fathers even years after their parents divorce. Men whose parenting time is restricted to alternate weekends and mid week visits generally become “uncles” rather than retaining their role as fathers. Mothers who hoard most of the parenting time for themselves might also take note of research showing that that adult children often resent their mothers for restricting their time with their fathers. Moreover, the research also shows that even when the parents continue to have ongoing verbal conflicts and disagreements,shared residential parenting still benefits their children. Although dragging kids into the middle of adult conflicts generally increases their stress and depression, living with both parents at least 35% of the time generally offsets the negative impact of parents’ conflicts.
Shared residential custody also has benefits for fathers. These fathers are more satisfied with their relationships with their children and their roles as fathers. This, in turn, means they are less likely to be depressed, stressed, suicidal – and less likely to turn to drugs or alcohol. Moreover, even when they initially do not agree on sharing the residential custody, the verbal conflicts between these parents declines more rapidly than the conflicts for parents with sole residential custody. Consequently, these children and their parents are less likely to be stressed by high levels of ongoing conflict than children who live primarily or exclusively with their mothers.
Fathers can also rest assured that a number of myths about shared parenting have not been upheld in the research. First, the vast majority of these children say that the inconvenience of living in two homes is worth the hassle. In other words, even kids recognize that living with both parents is the best way to maintain the quality of their relationship. Second, these children do not feel “homeless”, insecure, or shuffled around. They adapt well as long as there is a clearly established schedule – especially when it minimizes the parents’ need to constantly communicate or negotiate with one another. Third, couples who succeed at shared parenting do not have to be good friends who have a communicative, conflict free relationship. In fact the majority of these parents are not significantly different from other divorced couples in these regards – with the exception of their having no history of physical abuse, drug and alcohol abuse or violence in their relationship.