Social Science Update: How does shared overnight care after separation interact with complex developmental or family circumstances to influence children’s psychological and emotional outcomes?

In 2011, social scientists conducted a study regarding post-separation parenting arrangements that involved ongoing parental conflict. This study looked at mediation participants with high conflict and high psychological hostility toward the other parent. The study looked at shared care arrangements in which the children spent 35% of overnights with each parent by looking at four groups: continuous primary care, continuous shared care, changed arrangements, and rare to no contact. This study involved 133 families with 260 children and was based upon research interviews at four points in time with mothers, fathers, and children with the average age of the children being 13.

This study found that parents who participated in child inclusive mediation were more likely to have a stable arrangement at the time of follow up and were more likely to have a primary care arrangement. Parents who shared care prior to mediation were more than twice as likely to maintain shared care as those who adopted shared care after mediation. Families who maintained shared care reported lower levels of conflict, higher levels of interparental support, and higher levels of paternal parenting capacity.

In contrast, families that maintained rigid shared care arrangements were more litigious, had higher levels of conflict, and lower levels of cooperation. Children in shared care arrangements reported higher levels of feeling caught in the middle of the parental conflicts. These children also demonstrated more difficulties with attention, concentration, and task completion.

Overall, mothers and fathers were equally satisfied with flexible but not rigid shared care. Children in rigid arrangements were also the least satisfied and those in shared care were most likely to want to change their arrangements. 

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