Australian studies cast doubt on shared care

I have just come across this article at, via Florida Divorce. Two reports into the impact on children of divorce commissioned by the Australian Government Attorney General’s Department have indicated possible adverse effects of shared care arrangements. Specifically, the reports find that children aged under four and school aged children could be put at risk developmentally through shared parenting arrangements following separation.

Research team leader Associate Professor Jennifer McIntosh is quoted as saying: "Our findings show conclusively that rigid arrangements of any kind, often fuelled by acrimony and poor cooperation, and set out in court orders, are associated with higher depressive and anxiety symptoms in children and this form of living became something children often sought to change". She therefore recommends that that shared care – which the article defines as 'when children stay overnight with the non-resident parent five nights or more a fortnight' – for very young children 'should not normally be starting point for discussions about parenting arrangements'.

The findings of the first study, which focused on school aged children in 'high conflict separation situations' included:
  • That shared care arrangements were less stable over time than primary care arrangements;
  • That children living in rigidly fixed shared arrangements were most likely to want a change in the arrangement, reporting most frequent conflict between parents and expressing feelings of being caught in the middle;
  • That living in shared care over 3–4 years was associated with greater difficulties in attention, concentration and task completion; and
  • That, perhaps unsurprisingly, fathers with shared care arrangements were the most satisfied with the arrangement, despite reporting higher levels of ongoing conflict about parenting.
The second study investigated infants and toddlers in separated families and found that:
  • In infants under two, overnight care with the non-resident parent once or more a week was associated with high irritability and more vigilant efforts by the infant to watch and stay near the resident parent;
  • In children aged two to three, shared care at five or more nights per fortnight was associated with lower levels of persistence (playing continuously, staying with tasks, practising new skills, coping with interruption), and more problematic behaviour - crying or hanging on to the resident parent, high anxiety, being frequently upset; eating disturbances and aggressive behaviour; and
  • For children aged between four to five, independent effects of any care arrangement on emotional and behavioural regulation outcomes were no longer evident, with the vast majority of behavioural and emotional disturbance accounted for by inter-parental conflict and lack of warmth in parenting.


  1. It says that under four it was a problem, over four, it was not. This runs counter to the arguements in the English courts where it is argued younger children need to see the non resident parent more often to maintain the link and older children less often to maintain primary care stability. I do agree that cooperative parenting is best, but if either parent (or both) is difficult, as is usual, then that disappears.

    The study shows to me that the Judges and professionals know no better than anyone else how time should be split between two parents not living together. I do agree with the implied recommendation though, to try and get the parents to cooperate. Wish my ex would speak to me to discuss the children for instance. So, ys take out fault from divorce and put a presumption of shared parenting in to emphasise the value of both parents, then aim to get the parents to agree and cooperate rather than fight and impose a resented solution which makes matters worse (what I have).


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