When parents divorce, the court usually either assigns one parent sole physical custody, where the non-custodial parent receives visitation for a few days per week or month, or joint physical custody, in which the children split their time almost evenly between the two parents’ homes. Shared parenting is another name for joint custody.
Gender stereotypes about parenting have given rise to many assumptions about child custody, such that women should receive custody because they are supposedly more nurturing and men should be primary breadwinners. These gendered assumptions have given rise to many myths about shared parenting. However, the International Council on Shared Parenting explains how over 50 years of research into shared parenting has debunked the following common myths.
1. Shared parenting is not appropriate for infants or toddlers
Some psychologists are willing to acknowledge the benefits of shared parenting for older children but maintain that sleeping overnight at their father’s house is somehow damaging or unhealthy for infants or toddlers. Not only does the research not bear that out, but it shows that the more time fathers spend with their youngest children, the more sensitive they become in reading and responding to the signals that preverbal children send to their caregivers.
2. Shared parenting is only beneficial if both parents agree to it
It sometimes happens that one parent is open to the idea of sharing custody while the other opposes it, wanting sole custody for himself or herself. The myth is that if one parent opposes shared custody, the children will not benefit as much from it. However, the research shows that the positive outcomes of shared parenting for children are similar regardless of whether both parents were in favor of it or one parent opposed it.
3. Most parents who share custody are high-income, so their children start from an advantaged position
The research studied shared custody arrangements in both high-income and low-income families. The results showed that the parents’ income had no bearing on whether the children would have positive outcomes from shared parenting.
Of course, there are situations in which shared parenting is not appropriate, such as when there is a history of abuse or neglect. Nevertheless, the research shows that most children benefit from it, and arguably, the parents do too.