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CR53 - Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children:
A Consensus Report

CR53.This article is not for sale. It is included as a bonus gift in the Parenting Plan Bundle.

When parents are married, they generally share the care of their babies —diapering, feeding, bathing, putting to bed, soothing in the middle of the night, cuddling in the morning. But if parents separate or divorce, should children under four spend every night in one home? Or will infants and toddlers benefit from spending overnight time in the care of each parent?

To answer these questions, Dr. Warshak spent two years reviewing and analyzing the relevant scientific literature. His conclusions garnered the endorsement of 110 of the world’s top experts.  “Just as we encourage shared parenting in two-parent homes,” Dr. Warshak says, “the evidence shows that shared parenting should be the norm for children of all ages, including sharing the overnight care for very young children.” To maximize children’s chances of having long lasting relationships and secure attachments to each parent, this consensus report encourages both parents after their separation to maximize the time they spend with their children, including the sharing of overnight parenting time.

This consensus report appeared in February 2014 in a prestigious journal published by the American Psychological Association.

The report notes that shared parenting is not for all families. Regardless of their children’s ages parents should always consider a range of factors when creating the best parenting plan. “What works for one child in one family, may not be best for another child in different circumstances,” says Dr. Warshak. “Among other factors, the parents’ work schedules and their capabilities to provide good care must be taken into account.”

But Dr. Warshak, referencing accepted research of the past 40 years, objects to the idea that children under four, and some say under six, need to spend nearly all their time with only one parent and cannot handle being apart from that parent even if they receive loving and attentive care from the other parent. Prohibitions or warnings against infants and toddlers spending overnight time in their father’s care are inconsistent with our current understanding of child development, says Dr. Warshak. Babies and toddlers need parents who respond consistently, affectionately, and sensitively to their needs. They do not need, and most do not have, one parent’s full-time, round-the-clock presence. Many married mothers, such as flight attendants, doctors, and nurses, work night shifts that keep them away from their infants and toddlers at night. Like these married mothers, single mothers do not need to worry about leaving their children in the care of their fathers or grandparents during the day or overnight. Dr. Warshak and his colleagues believe that society should encourage fathers to engage in the daytime and overnight care of their infants and toddlers after separation.

When asked why he wrote this report, and published it with his colleagues’ endorsements, Dr. Warshak said, “Judges and lawmakers hear competing versions of which parenting plans are best for very young children. We want to clarify where science stands on these issues and the best way to do that is to present a consensus of opinion from prominent researchers and practitioners.”

For this consensus report, Dr. Warshak assembled an international group of top experts in early child development, parent-child relationships, and divorce. The experts are united in their concern that flawed science is leading to parenting plans and custody decisions that harm children and their parents. Dr. Warshak expects this report to provide strong direction for policy guidelines and decision-making.

Because of copyright restrictions, we do not sell the published version of the article. But we have purchased a quantity of reprints that will be included as a bonus gift in the Parenting Plan Collection for as long as our supply lasts or for as long as we can obtain additional reprints.

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