Sharing the children after the break-up: why quality beats quantity
parallel parenting shared custody parenting plans


Embargoed until 00:01 hrs Wednesday 3rd May 2006 Shared Parenting Is Hurting Children - new research by Jennifer McIntosh

When couples break up, future contact with their children should be measured in terms of quality, not quantity, according to a new booklet 'Private arrangements for contact with children', published by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

We need to focus more on relationships and less on the quantity of contact when considering the quality of young people's family lives, say its co-authors, Dr Fran Wasoff, of the University of Edinburgh, and Dr Bren Neale, of the University of Leeds.

The booklet was produced to accompany a special seminar organised in Edinburgh on May 3 for the Scottish Executive, examining the effects of privately-agreed child-contact deals made by parting parents.

In Scotland since 1995, under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, parents have had responsibility for ensuring contact, even after separation or divorce when this is in the best interest of the child.

Ohio State research that shared caregiving increases parental conflict shared parental responsibility, shared parenting, 
joint custody, split custody, timeshare On the whole, says Dr Wasoff, evidence from other countries suggests that both resident and non-resident parents find private arrangements satisfactory, in contrast to high levels of conflict in cases involving the courts. However, she argues that to understand these arrangements properly, it is important to have a picture of the different patterns of contact. This is information available for some other countries, though not currently for Scotland.

Looking for lessons from abroad, she says that while the statutory framework in Australia is broadly similar to Scotland's, new ways of supporting post-separation contact are being developed. A network of 65 community-based government-funded Family Relationship Centres will begin in July 2006, as a single entry point to the family law and support system to foster more use of private arrangements for parent-child contact.

Australian parents are encouraged to develop parenting plans and try to resolve contact and residence issues privately, perhaps with the help of family services, who are to receive enhanced funding. However, where cases go to court, there is also an aim to make proceedings themselves less adversarial and likely to exacerbate conflict.

Meanwhile over here, according to Dr Neale, private arrangements can work well when based on consensus and good quality relationships, when the needs of the children are a priority, and the arrangement is viewed flexibly so that it can begin to break down naturally as young people assume control of their own time and space.

But, she says, they do not work effectively when based on unresolved tensions and poor quality relationships - where the needs of parents are put first, and when they are inflexible and rigidly enforced so as to prevent young people from gradually assuming control of their time and space.

Drawing on first-hand testimonies from the children of separated parents, Dr Neale says that in some cases arrangements for sharing time between the homes of Mum and Dad can be the product of insecure and over needy parenting, and a rather uneasy compromise between parents over rights to the children.

And she argues that if we are to focus on the best interests of the child, we have to attend to their citizenship as well as their welfare.

Dr Neale said: "Once children are recognised, we can start to listen to them and respect their ways of defining their needs, rights and interests, and find ways to include them in discussion and decision-making. This will mean adults no longer making all the decisions for children, but supporting them as they begin to take responsibility for shaping their own lives."

For further information or a copy of the report, contact:

* Amanda Williams at the ESRC on 01793 413126; e-mail:

For further details only, contact:

* Dr Fran Wasoff on 0131 650 3922; e-mail: * Dr Bren Neale, on 0113 343 4813; e-mail:

Notes for editors

1. 'Private arrangements for contact with children' is published by the ESRC to accompany a seminar on May 3, 2006 in Edinburgh - the first in a series to be organised by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Scottish Executive on key policy issues. Speakers are Dr Fran Wasoff, Reader in Social Policy, School of Social and Political Studies, and Co-Director, Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, at the University of Edinburgh; and Dr Bren Neale, Reader in Child and Family Research at the School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds. 2. The event is part of the Public Policy Seminar series, which directly addresses key issues faced by ESRC's key stakeholders in government, politics, the media, and the private and voluntary sectors. The next to be organised with the Scottish Executive will examine how to reduce re-offending in Scotland. 3. The Scottish Executive is the devolved government for Scotland. Established in 1999, it is responsible for most of the issues of day-to-day concern to the people of Scotland, including health, education, justice, rural affairs, and transport. It manages an annual budget of more than £27 billion in the financial year 2005-2006, which is due to rise to over £30 billion in 2007-2008. 4. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC total expenditure in 2005/6 is £135million. At any time, the ESRC supports more than 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at 5. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research (formerly accessible via the Regard website) and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at

Our Research

ESRC Society Today contains a database of ESRC funded awards, and replaces the Regard service previously available at ILRT Bristol. This database, can be accessed either by browsing through "Our Research", or through the (advanced) search functionality available at the top of this page, and provides a key source of information on ESRC Social Science Research awards and all associated publications and products.


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