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Brief critique by Prof. Dr. Linda Nielsen on the Tornello & Emery article on overnight custody arrangements with infants and toddlers

August 5, 2013

Wake Forest University

To: General public
Subject:Overnight Custody Arrangements” (*) article by Tornello, Emery et al. (JMF, August 2013)
From: Dr. Linda Nielsen, Professor of Adolescent and Educational Psychology, Winston Salem, NC (Nielsen {at} )
Date: August 5, 2013
Downloadlink Word-version: 20130508 Nielsen critique Tornello

It would be inappropriate and ill advised to apply the data on mother-infant attachment from this study to the general population of separated parents. Moreover, the data did not demonstrate that overnight separation from mothers was significantly linked to weaker bonds with infants and toddlers. First and foremost, it is important to note that there were no differences on 13 of the 14 measures of well-being for children ages one, three and five between those who overnighted and those who did not. Moreover, the five year olds who had been overnighting as infants and toddlers had more positive behaviors than those who had not overnighted.

As for attachment, the vast majority had secure ratings regardless of whether they overnighted. The mothers’ ratings of the child’s insecureattachment, yearly overnights and sample size (N) are:

  • Age 1 none 25% (N=364) 1-51 nights 16%(N=219) 51-256 nights 43% (N=51)
  • Age 3 none 18% (N=58) 1-12 nights 33% (N=171) 13-127 nights 22%(n=106) 128-256 37% (n=60)

Infants (age 1): Yearly overnights, sample size N and mothers’ ratings of child’s ‘insecure’ attachment

No yearly overnights

1-51 nights

51-256 nights

Insecure attachment


Insecure attachment


Insecure attachment








Toddlers (age 3): Yearly overnights, sample size N and mothers’ ratings of child’s ‘insecure’ attachment

No yearly overnights

1-12 nights

13-127 nights

128-256 nights

Insecure attachment


Insecure attachment


Insecure attachment


Insecure attachment










(1)   Infants with 1-51 overnights were less insecure (16%) than those with no overnights (25%).
– Toddlers with 13-127 nights were less insecure (22%) than those with only 1-12 nights (33%).

(2)  There was no “pattern” between insecurity & overnighting for 3 year olds. Overnighting as little as once a year was similar to overnighting up to 256 times a year (33% vs.37%) & never overnighting was similar to overnighting up to 127 nights (18% and 22%).

(3)  Only one group was noticeably different: the 51 infants who overnighted 51-256 times (43% insecure) But since some of these 51 infants were living with their dad 70% time & only overnighting 30% with mom, it is understandable that their mothers rated them as less securely attached. But in order to know whether frequent overnighting per se was related to their insecure attachments, we would also need to know: why were these infants living 70% with their fathers and spending so little overnight time with their mothers? It is not unreasonable to assume that these mothers were troubled or disadvantaged in ways that would contribute to insecure attachments even if their babies had never overnighted with dad.

(4)  The attachment data was only available for 60% of the three year olds, rendering these findings less reliable and less valid than the attachment data on the one year olds in the Fragile Families data base.

(5)  The procedure used to assess mother-child attachment “is not an objective assessment of parent child attachment” (p. 51) as the Fragile Family researchers clearly state in cautioning people not to misuse their data (Kapri,S. & Razza, R. (2013) “Attachment security among toddlers”. Fragile Families Research Institute, Working Paper 13-01-FF). The Toddler Assessment Q sort and the AQS were designed to be answered by trained observers who objectively rate the mother’s interactions with the child. The Fragile Families project could not afford to do this so they had the mothers do the rating – a substitute procedure which they openly acknowledge is not “objective” because mothers are not reliable raters and because mothers who do not read or follow directions well (poorly educated mothers) may find the procedure even more confusing. This is reiterated by Edward Waters who created the AQS attachment measure: “If you are interested in correlations, I would avoid mothers. Sometimes the solution is to do several small scale studies with trained observers rather than one large one with mothers. ” (Waters, E., 2013, Assessing secure base behavior and attachment security using the Q sort method. State University of New York, web site)

(6)  Finally, because the study was based exclusively on the Fragile Families data, the results should only be generalized to similar families: 85% never married with two or more children born out of wedlock, 60% living below poverty level, 100% living in inner cities, 75% African or Hispanic American, 40% high school dropouts, 45% high school education. As the Fragile Families Institute points out, their data is not even representative of poor, minority, unmarried parents throughout the U.S. because their sample is largely minority and all urban.


  • Prof. Dr. Linda Nielsen gave her permission to publish the above first brief critique of the Tornello & Emery article.
  • In the mean time Paul Millar and Edward Kruk are co-writing a more comprehensive response and critique article which will be titled ‘Maternal Attachment, Paternal Overnight Contact, and Very Young Children’s Adjustment: Comment on Tornello et al. (2013)‘ and will be published in the February 2014 issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family (Journal of Marriage and Family 76, February 2014).

(*) “Overnight Custody Arrangements, Attachment, and Adjustment Among Very Young Children”, by Samantha L. Tornello, Robert Emery, Jenna Rowen, Daniel Potter, Bailey Ocker, Yishan Xu, Journal of Marriage and Family, Volume 75, Issue 4, pages 871–885, August 2013;

Large numbers of infants and toddlers have parents who live apart due to separation, divorce, or nonmarital/noncohabiting childbearing, yet this important topic, especially the controversial issue of frequent overnights with nonresidential parents, is understudied. The authors analyzed data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal investigation of children born to primarily low-income, racial/ethnic minority parents that is representative of 20 U.S. cities with populations over 200,000. Among young children whose parents lived apart, 6.9% of infants (birth to age 1) and 5.3% of toddlers (ages 1 to 3) spent an average of at least 1 overnight per week with their nonresident parent. An additional 6.8% of toddlers spent 35%–70% of overnights with nonresident parents. Frequent overnights were significantly associated with attachment insecurity among infants, but the relationship was less clear for toddlers. Attachment insecurity predicted adjustment problems at ages 3 and 5, but frequent overnights were not directly linked with adjustment problems at older ages.

Keywords: attachment; child custody; child outcomes; divorce; Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study; nonresidential parents


Further articles of interest on this topic:


Just a matter of ‘time’ ?

July 16, 2013

With ‘shared parenting’ presently high on the agenda of most European countries it might prove useful to see what was happening in Australia a few years before they successfully enacted a new ‘shared parenting’ law. The following article was written by Adrienne Burgess, in 2004, for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Background: Adrienne Burgess worked with Fathers Direct in Britain and is the author of ‘Fatherhood Reclaimed: The making of the modern father‘ (Vermilion, 1997). Fathers Direct was established in 1999 but has since changed its name to the Fatherhood Institute in 2008. Adrienne Burgess is presently Joint Chief Executive & Head of Research.

Over the years, Fatherhood Institute (formerly Fathers Direct) have been funded  by the Dept for Education, Dept of Health, Tudor Trust; Barrow Cadbury Trust; Big Lottery; Venturesome; Baring Foundation, Lloyds TSB, the Burdett Trust for Nursing, SHINE, JJ Trust, the Walcot Foundation, Trust for London, the European Union (‘Daphne’ funding stream) Tribal, WO Street, Mercers, Garfield Weston, Annandale Dulverton and a number of smaller charities.

“Just a matter of time before closing the skill gap”

It is vital to recognise the different role of fathers in order to improve their relationships writes Adrienne Burgess

Sydney Morning Herald ( Australia)  Feb 13, 2004

When dishing out practical parenting tips, few experts pay much attention to whether the parent they are addressing is male or female. They generally promote a “one size fits all” approach, as if what is good for the goose must also be great for the gander.

On one level that’s true. Fathers, like mothers, benefit from being shown how to generate a relationship of co-operation with the child, as Moshe Lang, the director of Melbourne’s Williams Road Family Therapy Centre, put it in the Herald on Tuesday.

But the expectations fathers have of themselves as parents, the expectations others have of them and their likely lived experience make supporting dads a very different ball game from supporting mums. This is an
important realisation for policymakers who will otherwise continue to develop interventions that, by default, make mothers alone responsible for their children’s development.

Children want very different things from their fathers and, as all the research into working parents (and non-resident parents) shows, the first thing they want is time. This is usually not their issue with mothers –
even working mothers. In fact, some children feel they get too much time with their mums: one little boy regularly shut the kindergarten gate in his very intrusive mother’s face in an attempt to keep her on the other side of it.

How much time do children need with their fathers? That can be surprisingly predictable (which is why setting out age-appropriate guidelines for contact after separation and divorce would probably be a very good idea).

With very small children the need seems to be little but often. Researchers in Israel found that full-time working fathers who spent as little as 45 minutes a day interacting with their nine-month-olds “knew” them as well as their full-time at-home partners, in terms of being able to respond to them appropriately (a bit galling for the mums, who were presumably exhausted and working their socks off).

One Australian father who learnt about the 45 minutes started spending time consciously with his younger (nine-month-old) son, instead of devoting most of his time to his clamorous three-year-old.

A British dad began getting up early before work to put in the time (incidentally, giving his partner a chance to sleep in). Another (English) father made a commitment to being home by 8pm and found that once his seven-year-old daughter knew he would be there most nights she began saving little events from her day to tell him.

For teenagers, particularly sons, it’s not surprising to hear that it’s best for the father and child to be doing something together, so the conversation emerges out of the activity. Since mothers are usually busy
around the house, mother-teen conversations might well emerge in the normal course of events, whereas special steps might need to be taken to generate chats with dads, other than the “let’s talk about sex/drugs” event, which of course makes everyone clam up.

Fathers who become aware of this have been known to welcome opportunities to ferry their teenagers around. And increasing numbers of dads are recognising that activities such as cooking, cleaning and sorting laundry or toys around their kids can generate getting-to-know-you opportunities.

The earlier fathers start spending time alone with their children the better. They then have a chance to develop a relationship with them not mediated by the mother. One joyful revelation for some divorced dads is the clarity and connection of a truly one-to-one relationship with their child, which is something most mothers can take for granted. Periodic “sole” fathering in “intact” families can also help reduce the mother-father skill gap which first develops massively in the weeks and months after the birth when the average new mother spends about 60 hours a week alone with her newborn (the average new dad is rarely unaccompanied when he is with his baby).

A parenting skill gap is one of the biggest disincentives to involved fatherhood because it makes the mother feel impatient and the father stupid.

Another important need that fathers have, much more than mothers, is for information, not only about different parenting methods but also about infant and child development. When fathers behave negatively towards their children, it is particularly likely to be because they do not have a realistic grasp of their developmental needs.

Mothers read a lot more about parenting, partly because they see it as “my business”, partly because women tend to read more, partly because the literature is usually aimed at them and partly because health and family professionals give it to them.

Mothers also get a lot of parenting information from friends, family and colleagues. Fathers as yet do not tend to make the connections that will facilitate that kind of basic information gathering. The family professionals need to start developing innovative ways of getting it to them – and of supporting families in other ways that are not “father blind”.

For who can fail to recognise the massive social benefits of supporting fathers as well as mothers in what is likely to be the greatest adventure of their lives: being a parent.


  • Adrienne Burgess works with Fathers Direct in Britain and is the author of Fatherhood Reclaimed: The making of the modern father (Vermilion, 1997).


This article should be read in conjunction with “The Invisible Boy: Re-visioning the Victimization of Male Children and Teens”  by  Frederick Mathews (1996) and Linda Lelièvre, President Canadian Foster Family Association ( see ).

The document reminds us by examples of every day ‘normality’ of our unconscious discrimination in the the way we treat boys and girls. An attitude as active in the Hellenic Period (323 BC – 30BC), as it is today:

  • This opening quote from Sander Breiner’s book, “Slaughter of the Innocents: Child Abuse Through the Ages and Today”, is a stark reminder that the story of male child abuse is an old one. The passage is an instruction to those who wanted to get around a law passed by the Roman emperor Domitian prohibiting the castration of boys who were subsequently placed in brothels or sold for “buggering.”

Parenting Time & Shared Residence: 10 Common Myths

May 19, 2013

Parenting Time & Shared Residential Custody: Ten Common Myths

by Dr. Linda Nielsen, Jan 2013

Linda Nielsen was appointed Professor of Adolescent & Educational Psychology at Wake Forest University, Winston Salem, North Carolina 36 years ago. She thus has an almost unrivaled wealth of experience and must have seen many fads and fashions come and go. She is the author of five books and dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles and commentaries such as this taken from The Nebraska Lawyer, published in Jan 2013. Her research areas of expertise are ‘shared residential parenting’ for children of divorce and father-daughter relationships and their associated legislation.

Her reviews of 30 years of research on shared residential custody have been presented at the Association of Conciliation and Family Courts national conference and the Midwestern Family Law Conference, and published in the American Journal of FamilyLaw and the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage.

The article below is based on 64 articles published in peer-reviewed journals. Given the constraints of space, fewer than a third of these references are listed in this article. A version of this article first appeared in The Nebraska Lawyer Jan. 2013.

[ emphais added by Robert Whiston ]

What is the best parenting plan for most children of divorce  ? Should infants and toddlers spend overnight time with their non-residential parent  ?

If not, why not  ?  If so, how much time ?

Is shared residential custody better for children than living with one parent and varying amounts of time living with their other parent – mainly at weekends  ?

Linda_nIsn’t shared residential custody only successful for a small group of well-educated, higher income parents who have very cooperative, conflict free relationships – and who mutually agree to share without mediation, litigation or lawyers’ negotiations  ? [Addendum: See  “Twenty wasted years”, ‘joint custody’ in the UK  pre-1989, – RW]

Since most married mothers do 80% of the childcare, after a divorce shouldn’t the children live that same proportion of time with her ?

Questions such as these generate a great deal of debate among the judiciary, policy makers and mental health professionals. Unfortunately they also generate myths and misconceptions that are frequently presented as “the research” at conferences and seminars, on the web, or in non-academic articles.

Exaggerated findings

At best, these myths far over-reach and exaggerate the findings from only a few of the existing studies. At worst, they have virtually no grounding whatsoever in current research. Either way, misconceptions that are not grounded on a broad spectrum of recent, methodologically sound, statistically significant empirical data have an impact on custody decisions and custody laws.

By empirical data I mean research studies where quantitative data has been statistically analyzed and published in peer-reviewed academic journals – in contrast to articles where opinions or theories are being presented, often without benefit of peer review. Regrettably we social scientists have done a poor job sharing the empirical research with other professionals or with divorcing parents.

As a result, a handful of studies – often outdated or seriously flawed methodologically – are widely disseminated as “the research”. In that spirit, this abbreviated overview presents recent research that refutes ten of the most common beliefs related to child custody.

[Addendum:  Myths like Lenore Weitzman’s bogus ‘statistic’ that women’s living standards fell by 73% after divorce but that men’s increased by 42% . A falsehood repeated in 348 social science articles and 250 law review articles – RW] .

  • It is better for the children if parenting time is allocated according to the amount of time each parent spent in childcare during the marriage. Since most married mothers do at least 80% of the childcare, the parenting time should be allocated accordingly.

This perspective, referred to as the approximation rule, is not based on empirical research. This is a debatable opinion – a controversial point of view that has been widely discussed in peer-reviewed journals. A full discussion of this debate is provided in Richard Warshak’s article in the Baltimore Law Review 1.

Several facts must be recalled when dealing with articles that feature the approximation proposal. First, most married couples are more equally sharing the parenting time. Employed fathers spend roughly 60 minutes on weekdays with the children while employed moms spend 90 minutes. This would be the equivalent of 120 overnights with a father after divorce. 2

Modern fathers

Fathers under the age of 30 do only 45 minutes less childcare on workdays than mothers do. In two national surveys with 2,000 parents, Dads spent 33 hours a week with the children and mothers spent 50. Children under the age of 6 require 3 times as much parenting time as older children. And whichever parent gets home from work first or works the fewest hours generally does more of the childcare.

The more time the mother works outside the home, the more time the father spends with the children. But the mothers who are most likely to stay home full-time with preschoolers are the most poorly educated women who could not earn enough, if working, to pay for child care.

Elephant in the room

Second, married parents’ arrangements for their young children are temporary – they are not intended, as are custody orders, to remain in place until the children reach 18 years of age. Third, childcare hours are not synonymous with parenting. The fact that one parent spends more time with the children does not mean that the other parent is doing less parenting or that his or her daily presence is any less beneficial and essential.

  • Infants and toddlers have one primary “attachment figure” to whom they bond more strongly and at an earlier age than they do with their other parent. Given this, they should not be separated from their primary parent for long periods of time –especially not to spend overnight time with their father, except on rare occasion for short periods of time.

The prevailing view among most contemporary attachment researchers and child development experts is that there is not one “primary” attachment figure. Instead, infants form strong attachments to both parents and at roughly the same time.

Whatever initial preferences infants might have for one parent disappears by 18 months of age. This is not to say that all researchers agree on this point. Nevertheless, recent empirical research is undermining the traditional beliefs about primary and secondary parents – the belief that an infant’s relationship with the mother is more vital than with the fathers. 3, 4

  • Most infants and toddlers become more irritable or show other signs of maladjustment when they spend overnight time with their fathers. Given this, there should be little or no over-nighting [sleepovers] for infants and toddlers.

There are only seven studies that have assessed over-nighting and non-overnighting infants and preschoolers. None of them found statistically significant differences in irritability or other measures of maladjustment related to over-nighting per se. Given the confusion and debate on this issue, it is worth providing more details of these studies.

Four studies were conducted 15 to 21 years ago. The first assessed 25 one to five year olds who lived half time with each parent. At the end of one year, those children whose behaviour and developmental progress had gotten worse were the ones who had violent, alcoholic, inattentive, or otherwise very dysfunctional parents. The researchers also noted:

  • “The most surprising finding was that children below the age of three were able to handle the many transitions in their overnight joint custody arrangements.”5

The second study included 25 children under the age of two and 120 ages two to five when their parents separated. Four years later, those who had lived 30% time with their fathers were better off on all measures of emotional, psychological and behavioral well-being. Moreover 40% of those who had not spent overnight time before the age of three with their fathers no longer had any contact with him – a loss that occurred for only 1.5% of the overnighting children.6

The third study compared infants 12 to 20 months old: those who spent any overnight time with their fathers, those who spent none, and those who lived with married parents. The infants were classified as having a secure, avoidant, ambivalent or disorganized attachment to their mother. A year later 85% of them were assessed again. Regardless of family type, the less securely attached infants had mothers who were unresponsive to their needs. And there were no significant differences in attachment classifications between those who overnighted and those who did not.7

The fourth study included 18 three to five-year olds. At the end of two years, those who had lived with their fathers ten days a month were more well-adjusted emotionally and no different on social or behavioral adjustment. Moreover, the number living this often with their fathers increased from 25% to 38% over the two years.8

Two studies have been conducted more recently. Interestingly, the one that was not peer-reviewed or published in an academic journal before being released by the Australian government has generated considerable attention among mental health practitioners, the legal profession and policy makers. Indeed, it is widely cited as evidence that overnighting is bad for young children.9

The limitations of this report have been enumerated by a number of internationally renowned researchers.10* For example, the sample sizes in several groups were very small and the vast majority of parents had never been married to each other. Leaving aside its limitations, for children from infancy to age five, there were very few differences between those who never over-nighted [‘sleepovers’] and those who over-nighted. The mean scores were similar on measures of irritability, global health, monitoring their mother, negative response to strangers, developmental concerns, behavioral problems, emotional functioning and persistence.

The four to five years olds who overnighted more than nine nights a month had more attention deficit disorders according the their mothers. But this may very well be linked more to gender than to overnighting. That is, boys were more likely than girls to be overnighting frequently – and boys in the general population are more likely than girls to have attention deficit disorders.11

The most methodologically sound study at Yale University is part of an ongoing project. This study assessed 132 children ages two to six whose divorced and never married parents had separated. Of these, 31% spent one overnight a week with their fathers, 44% more than one and 25% none. For the two to four years olds, the overnighters were no different from non-over-nighters in respect to sleep problems, anxiety, aggression or social withdrawal. They were, however, less persistent in completing tasks. According to their fathers, but not their mothers, the overnighters were more irritable. Overall then, the differences were small. For the four to six year olds, however, the overnighters had fewer problems than the other children – especially the girls. As the researchers conclude:

  •  “Overnights did not benefit or cause distress to the toddlers and benefited the 4 to 6 year olds” (p. 135).12

The final study assessed 24 children ages one to six who overnighted an average of eight nights a month. Almost 55% were classified as having an insecure attachment to their mother, which is higher than the average of 33% in the general population. Age when the overnights began and parent conflict were not related to the classifications, but mothers’ attentiveness or inattentiveness were.13

Taken together, these seven studies do not support the assertion that overnighting has a negative impact on infants or preschoolers.

  • Most children want to live with only one parent and to have only one home. Shared residential parenting is not worth the hassle, according to most children. The vast majority of children who lived with their mothers after their parents’ divorce disliked having so little time with their fathers.14*

In contrast, the vast majority who have lived in shared residential parenting families say the inconvenience of living in two homes was worth it – primarily because they were able to maintain strong relationships with both parents.15

  • When there is high verbal conflict between the parents, children do better when their time with their father is limited. Because more time with their father increases parents’ conflicts, children in shared residential custody are more often caught in the middle of conflicts.

With the exception of an on-going pattern of physical conflict or violence, the vast majority of studies do not support these beliefs.16-18* In married and in divorced families, parent conflict is generally related to worse outcomes for the children. However, in regard to custody and conflict, three findings stand out.

  • First, conflict generally remains higher in sole than in shared custody families – especially if the residential parenting time is not shared.
  • Second, most children are not exposed to more conflict or put in the middle more often in shared parenting families.
  • Third, most children in shared residential custody and those who see their fathers frequently are better off on measures of well-being even when their parents have ongoing conflict.

In other words, maintaining strong relationships with both parents helps diminish the negative impact of the parents’ conflicts.

  • The amount of conflict should be a primary factor when deciding how to allocate the parenting time.

Unless there is a history of physical abuse or violence, for the reasons just presented, high verbal conflict should not be used as a reason to limit parenting time.

Not only can much of this conflict be reduced through parenting programs, but the conflict generally declines by the end of the first year or so after separation. Especially during custody negotiations, conflict is not a reliable predictor of future conflict. Moreover, verbal conflict is associated with fewer negative outcomes for children than having too little fathering time.19, 20*

  • Both parents have to mutually agree to share the residential parenting, otherwise these families will fail. Shared parenting agreements fail if they result from mediation, litigation or legal negotiations. It only succeeds for a small, self-selected group who are very cooperative and have little or no conflict.

In the studies that have examined how parents arrived at their shared residential parenting plan, from 20% – 85% of the parents had not initially wanted to share.

For many families where the children were successfully living in two homes, the shared parenting plan was a compromise brought about through mediation, litigation, or lawyers’ negotiations. 21*

  • Most shared residential families fail. The children end up living with one parent anyway.

Measured anywhere from 2 to 4 years after divorce, 65% – 90% of these families were still sharing the residential custody. 22

  • The quality of children’s relationships with their fathers is not related to how much time they spend together after the divorce.

Fathering time, especially time that is not limited mainly to weekends or to other small parcels of time, is closely associated with the quality and the endurance of the father-children relationship. This kind of fathering time is highly correlated with positive outcomes for children of divorce. 23, 24*

In considering the large body of recent empirical research that refutes these ten myths, it is worth remembering that people can always find some study that will support each of these beliefs. Some may be based on very old data. Others are methodologically unsound. Sometimes differences that are not statistically significant are reported as “a trend”, or “a difference” or “suggestive of”. To be sure, all studies have certain limitations, including those cited in this review.

But by using the social science search engines at university libraries to find the recent peer-reviewed articles in academic journals, we maximize our chances of finding the general consensus among the most respected researchers. By sharing more of this research with legislators, mental health workers, judges and lawyers, children and their divorced parents will be better served.


1 Warshak, R. (2011) Parenting by the clock: The best interst of the child standard and the approximation rule. Baltimore Law Review 41, 85-163.

2 Bianchi, S., Robinson, J., and Milkie, M. Changing rythyms of the American family (2006) Sage, New York.

3 Special issue on attachment and divorce (July, 2012). Family Court Review.

4 Newland, L., Freeman, H., and Coyle, D. Emerging Topics on Father Attachment (2011) Routledge, New York.

5 McKinnon, R., and Wallerstein, J. (1987) Joint custody and the pre-school child. Conciliation Courts Review 25, 39-47.

6 Maccoby, E., and Mnookin, R. Dividing the child (1992) Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

7 Solomon, J., and George, L. (1999) The effects on attachment of overnight visitation on divorced and separated families: A longitudinal follow up. In Attachment Disorganization in Atypical Populations (Solomon, J. G. L., Ed.) pp 243-264, Guilford, New York.

8 Kline, M., Tschann, J., Johnston, J., and Wallerstein, J. (1989) Children’s adjustment in joint and sole physical custody families. Developmental Psychology 25, 430-438.

9 McIntosh, J., Smyth, B., Kelaher, M., and Wells, Y. L. C. (2010) Post separation parenting arrangements: outcomes for infants and children. Australian Government, Sydney, Australia.

10 Parkinson, P., and Cashmore, J. (2011) Parenting arrangements for young children: Messages for research. Australian Journal of Family Law 25, 236-257.

11 Kerns, S., and Prinz, R. (2012) Co-parenting children with attention deficit disorders and disruptive behavior disorders.

In Parenting plan evaluations: applied research for the family court (Kuehnle, K., and Drozd, L., Eds.) pp 330-369.

12 Pruett, M., Ebling, R., and Insabella, G. (2004) Critical aspects of parenting plans for young children. Family Court Review 42, 39-59.

13 Altenhofen, S., Sutherland, K., and Biringen, Z. (2010) Families experiencing divorce: Age at onset of overnight stays as predictors of child attachment. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 51, 141-156.

14 Kelly, J. (2012) Risk and protective factors for children of divorce. In Parenting plan evaluations: Applied research for the family court (Kuehnle, K., and Drozd, L., Eds.) pp 145-173, Oxford University Press, New York.

15 Nielsen, L. (2013) Shared Residential Custody: A recent research review. American Journal of Family Law (forthcoming issue).

16 Lamb, M., and Kelly, J. (2009) Improving the quality of parent child contact in separating families with infants and young children. In The scientific basis of child custody decisions (Levy, R., kraus, L., and Levy, J., Eds.) pp 187-214, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ.

17 Deutsch, R., and Pruett, M. (2009) Child adjustment and high conflict divorce. In The scientific basis of child custody decisions (Levy, R., kraus, L., and Levy, J., Eds.) pp 353-375, Wiley, New York.

18 Johnston, J., Roseby, V., and Kuehnle, K. In the name of the child: Understanding and helping children of conflicted and violent divorce (2009) Springer, New York.

19 Lamb, M. (2012) Critical analysis of research on parenting plans and children’s well-being. In Parenting plan evaluations: Applied research for the family court (Kuehnle, K., and Drozd, L., Eds.) pp 214-246, Oxford University Press, New York. 20 Birnbaum, R., and Bala, N. (2010) Toward the differentiation of high conflict families: An analysis of social science research and Canadian case law. Family Court Review 48, 403-416.

21 Nielsen, L. (2011) Shared parenting after divorce: A review of shared residential parenting research. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 52, 586-609.

22 Melli, M., and Brown, P. (2008) Exploring a new family form the shared time family. International Journal of Law, Policy and Family 22, 231-269.

23 Amato, P., and Dorius, C. (2012) Fathers, children and divorce. In The Role of the Father in Child Development (Lamb, M., Ed.) pp 177-201, John Wiley & Sons, New York.

24 Aquilino, W. (2010) Non-custodial father child relationship from adolescence into young adulthood. Journal of Marriage and Family 68, 929-945.


Patricia Morgan – the case for less government

May 17, 2013

Families thrive with no Gov’t

The family thrives in countries in which the government doesn’t interfere with it, according to a new international comparison of family policy published by the independent think-tank Civitas.

The following is based on infomration taken from a Civitas pubication.

Family does best when governments don’t try to nationalise child-rearing

Three models: Sweden, Italy and Britain

Family Policy, Family Changes: Sweden, Italy and Britain Compared”, by Patricia Morgan (pub’d Dec. 2006), compares the state of the family in secular Sweden, Catholic Italy and Britain. One of the most striking points of comparison is the extent to which the state interferes in family life, especially the rearing of children, in each of the countries.


Sweden is famous for its comprehensive, top-down, social engineering, which makes it difficult for people to live in any other way than that prescribed by the state. Initially in response to concerns about falling population:

  • ‘the state took on, and socialised, many family responsibilities to a degree unseen outside of the Soviet bloc, not least the rearing of children in crèches (p.29)…. This has involved the comprehensive political control of family life, where Sweden has made just about the most concerted attempt in history to engineer the freedom of women from child-rearing responsibilities and the demise of the traditional family through economic manipulation, social pressures, and massive public re-education’ (p.19).

Supposedly to get women to have more children, the state undertook a massive programme to ensure that all women would be able to work, regardless of whether they had children or not, and would be treated exactly the same as men. There was no recognition of marriage, so single parents would theoretically suffer no disadvantage as a result of their status, nor was there any recognition of the division of labour and responsibilities within the home. Women and men, whether married or not, were treated as individuals by the state. This meant that a combination of high taxes and benefits linked to workforce participation made it almost impossible for mothers to stay at home while fathers went out to work to support their families.


The Italian situation is almost the complete opposite. Under Fascism, women were used to breed soldiers, with marriage and baby bonuses, and a prohibition on women in the workforce. As a result, pro-family public policies are more strongly linked to extreme militarism in Italy than almost anywhere in the world. People neither want nor expect the state to do anything to support families, and this is compounded by the Catholic church’s traditional view that the family should be outside the state’s sphere of influence – and that includes financial support for the family (p.81). As a result, Italy is one of only three EU countries (the other two are Greece and Spain) that have no universal child or family allowances. Family allowances in Italy are means-tested and are extremely low by European standards (pp.84-5).


The British situation is different again, although it is much closer to Sweden than Italy under Gordon Browne’s regime that treats people as units of production rather than unique individuals. Theoretically the state supports the family by supporting individuals in whatever choices they make, without discriminating in favour of any one family type. In fact, as Patricia Morgan shows, the system is so heavily skewed in favour of lone-parent and two-earner families that life is made difficult for single-earner, two-parent families, as in Sweden. ‘The lone parent is the family form preferred by the tax/benefit system’ (p.113).

  • ‘There is also a tacit anti-marriage agenda. The abolitionists [of marriage] now dominate or control the organisations, not least the university departments and the government-sponsored quangos or front organisations, dealing with research, advice and policy making in the area of family matters.’ (p.112).

Patricia Morgan suggests that the promotion of policies to undermine the traditional family, like the scrapping of the Marriage Allowance and the transfer of rights and obligations which used to pertain to marriage to all relationships, is part of New Labour’s programme of increased state control of our private lives:

  • ‘This is why totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century found themselves on a collision course with families and often preferred promiscuity and lone parenthood, since there are no boundaries and barriers here to state intervention. Anarchy and despotism are two sides of the same coin, and collectivism exists alongside a permissive, hedonistic and solipsistic private morality… A Children’s Minister (Margaret Hodge) insists that “it is not a question of whether we should intrude in family life, but how and when-and we have to constantly remain focused on our purpose: to strengthen and support families so that they can enjoy their opportunities and help provide opportunities for their children”. The “support” is to ensure that people conform to the government’s norms. It is not to help parents achieve what they think is right’ (p.118).

What are the outcomes?

Patricia Morgan compares the outcomes of these different approaches. Britain is well known for its family problems. It tops the league tables in several of the most worrying indicators of breakdown, such as divorce and teenage pregnancy. Sweden has even higher rates of out-of-wedlock births (55%) and cohabitation (15% of couples) than Britain. Italy, however, with no government programme of intervention on behalf of the family, is still the home of the traditional family. Divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births, including teenage pregnancies, are extremely low. Cohabitation is so rare as to be difficult to measure. Young people live with their parents until they get married, and, for most women, marriage will represent their first living-together relationship. (Table 2, pp.8-10.)

The Swedish surprise: a thick glass ceiling

Some of Patricia Morgan’s most surprising findings relate to Sweden, which is not the paradise of open relationships and free love that some advocates claim. Despite its massive programme of social engineering over several decades, Sweden has not managed to eliminate the problems that are associated with non-marriage and out-of-wedlock childbearing. In Sweden, as everywhere else in the world, lone parents and their children are more likely to experience poverty and ill health. Marriage is good for men and women and divorce has negative consequences, including higher suicide rates – and Sweden has the highest suicide rate in the EU after Finland. Perhaps the most surprising finding, given that Sweden’s population-boosting policies were gift-wrapped as measures to promote gender equality, is that women are not only failing to achieve equality in the workforce, they are experiencing more inequality than in most other countries:

  • ‘Compared with the USA, UK and Germany, Sweden has the most gender-segregated workforce. Indeed, it is more gender-segregated than Asian countries like China, Hong Kong and India. Only the Islamic Middle East and Africa, and certain developing countries, have similar or higher levels of occupational segregation… Sweden has a larger glass-ceiling problem than the USA, where family-friendly policies are almost non-existent’ (p.55).

The measures introduced by the state to get women into the workforce may actually be keeping them out of it, or preventing them from achieving equal outcomes with men. Generous maternity leave of two-and-a-half years per child, topped up with lavish sick-leave provisions once mothers return to work, make employers wary of taking on women, or of giving them responsible jobs. The female workforce in Sweden has been described as a ‘Potemkin workforce’ because on any given day 20 per cent of all female workers are off on some kind of paid leave. In the public sector it is 30 per cent, and for mothers of children under three, the proportion is 48 per cent (p.57).

In spite of all the social engineering, women do not regard work as the most important thing in their lives. ‘Women continue to perform the larger part of unpaid household domestic duties (p.59)… Three-quarters of fathers and two-thirds of mothers still believed in the 1980s that men should be the principal breadwinners’ (p.60). Patricia Morgan criticises the feminist activists who see every woman’s life in terms of her ‘career’:

  • ‘Most people have jobs, not careers, and such statements are made by professional elites who want to recast the world in their own image; one where every woman is a Patricia Hewitt doppelganger’ (p.89).

‘Family Policy, Family Changes: Sweden, Italy and Britain Compared’ by Patricia Morgan is published by Civitas, 77 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 2EZ,,, at £14.00 plus £2.50 p&p.

A second “Prague Spring” ?

May 17, 2013

The ‘Prague Spring’ of 1968 saw for the briefest of time a Czechoslovakian flirtation with liberty and democracy. It was a short-lived flirtation, crushed at birth by Moscow’s iron fist and ending with a Soviet invasion and the old political order reestablished.

Lower house passes amended family law
ČTK | 22 June 2011

Prague, June 21 (CTK) – Shared care of children should be more frequent after the parents’ divorce under an amendment to the family law that the Czech Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament, passed Tuesday.

According to the legislation, courts should always order shared care if both parents want to look after the child and are capable of it and if it is in the child’s interest.

The amendment also modifies the deadline for paternity denial, on the basis of the Constitutional Court’s verdict.

The amendment was supported by deputies across the parties.

Its opponents point out that children in shared care must change their home constantly which is not positive for their healthy development.

Government human rights commissioner Monika Simunkova Tuesday also criticised the amendment. Every case needs an individual approach, she said.

The centre-right government also raised objections to the bill, pointing out that the court should take the child’s wish into consideration before deciding on shared care.

Without meeting this condition, the Czech Republic may violate the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the European Convention on the Exercise of Children’s Rights, the government says.

The amendment’s author Pavel Stanek (senior government Civic Democrats, ODS), for his part, stressed that Czech courts usually place children in the custody of their mother without justifying the decision.

About 90 percent of children end up in the mother’s care after divorce in the Czech Republic, while shared care is applied in about 3 percent of cases only, he recalled.

The amendment also changes the deadline for paternity denial from the current six months after the baby’s birth to six months since the man starts suspecting that he is not the biological father, but maximally until the child’s three years of age.

This regulation should apply only to children born in wedlock.

Copyright 2011 by the Czech News Agency (ČTK). All rights reserved.

Copying, dissemination or other publication of this article or parts thereof without the prior written consent of ČTK is expressly forbidden. The Prague Daily Monitor and Monitor CE are not responsible for its content.

UK Children win legal right to see both parents after divorce

April 19, 2012

Children win legal right to see both parents after divorce (UK Telegraph, 2 February 2012) .

EGMR verurteilt Österreich im Sorgerechtsverfahren wegen Diskriminierung eines unverheiratete Vater (EGMR, Sporer vs Österreich, 3-2-2011)

February 3, 2011

Ausschluss einer gerichtlichen Einzelfallprüfung der Sorgerechtsregelung diskriminiert Vater eines unehelichen Kindes

Bronne: Europäischen Gerichtshofs für Menschenrechte (EGMR), Pressemitteilung des Kanzlers, No. 092, 03.02.2011

In einem heutigen Kammerurteil im Fall Sporer gegen Österreich (Beschwerde-Nr. 35637/03), das noch nicht rechtskräftig ist [1], stellte der Europäische Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte einstimmig fest, dass eine Verletzung von Artikel 14 (Diskriminierungsverbot) in Verbindung mit Artikel 8 (Recht auf Achtung des Familienlebens) der Europäischen Menschenrechtskonvention vorlag.

Der Fall betraf die Beschwerde des Vaters eines unehelichen Kindes über das Verfahren um das Sorgerecht für seinen Sohn.

Zusammenfassung des Sachverhalts

Der Beschwerdeführer, Gerald Sporer, ist österreichischer Staatsangehöriger, 1976 geboren, und lebt in Schalchen. Im Mai 2000 wurde sein Sohn K. unehelich geboren. Die Mutter des Kindes lebte zu diesem Zeitpunkt im selben Haus wie Herr Sporer, der in einer anderen Wohnung mit seiner langjährigen Partnerin und ihrem gemeinsamen Sohn zusammenlebte. Im ersten Lebensjahr K.’s kümmerten sich Herr Sporer und K.’s Mutter abwechselnd um das Kind und nahmen nacheinander Erziehungsurlaub.

Nachdem K.’s Mutter im Januar 2002 ausgezogen war, beantragte Herr Sporer beim Bezirksgericht die Übertragung des alleinigen Sorgerechts auf sich mit dem Argument, dass K.’s Mutter nicht angemessen in der Lage sei, sich um das Kind zu kümmern. K.’s Mutter stellte sich der Übertragung des Sorgerechts entgegen und das Jugendamt vertrat die Auffassung, dass beide Eltern in der Lage seien, sich um das Kind zu kümmern. In einer mündlichen Verhandlung vor dem Bezirksgericht einigten sich die Parteien zunächst, dass K. bis zu einer Entscheidung mit beiden Elternteilen jeweils die halbe Woche verbringen würde. Ein auf Antrag Herrn Sporers vom Gericht berufener kinderpsychologischer Sachverständiger vertrat in einem Gutachten, das in einer zweiten Gerichtsverhandlung erörtert wurde, dass K.’s Mutter unreif und nicht in der Lage sei, sich um das Kind zu kümmern. Ein anschließend vom Gericht berufener zweiter Sachverständiger widersprach dieser Einschätzung. Ein dritter Sachverständiger bestätigte in einem Obergutachten die Auffassung des zweiten Gutachters und vertrat, dass das Kindeswohl durch den Verbleib des Sorgerechts bei der Mutter nicht gefährdet sei. Herr Sporer machte nicht von der Möglichkeit Gebrauch, eine schriftliche Stellungnahme einzureichen, beantragte aber die Erörterung des Gutachtens in einer weiteren Verhandlung.

Sobald ein Urteil rechtskräftig ist, wird es dem Ministerkomitee des Europarats übermittelt, das die Umsetzung der Urteile überwacht. Weitere Informationen zum Verfahren der Umsetzung finden sich hier:

Das Gericht lehnte den Antrag Herrn Sporers auf Übertragung des alleinigen Sorgerechts im Dezember 2002 ohne eine weitere Verhandlung ab und verwies darauf, dass das alleinige Sorgerecht nach dem Allgemeinen Bürgerlichen Gesetzbuch automatisch der Mutter zufalle, es sei denn, das Kindeswohl würde dadurch gefährdet. Das Landesgericht Ried bestätigte die Entscheidung und der Oberste Gerichtshof lehnte die Berufung Herrn Sporers dagegen im Juni 2003 ab. K.’s Mutter hat weiterhin das alleinige Sorgerecht für das Kind, während Herr Sporer Recht auf Umgang mit ihm gemäß einer vom Gericht empfohlenen Regelung hat.

Beschwerde, Verfahren und Zusammensetzung des Gerichtshofs

Unter Berufung auf Artikel 6 § 1 (Recht auf ein faires Verfahren) machte Herr Sporer geltend, dass ihm das Bezirksgericht nicht die Möglichkeit gegeben habe, in einer mündlichen Verhandlung zu dem entscheidenden Obergutachten Stellung zu nehmen. Unter Berufung auf Artikel 8 (Recht auf Achtung des Privat- und Familienlebens) in Verbindung mit Artikel 14 (Diskriminierungsverbot) sah er sich zudem nach dem Bürgerlichen Gesetzbuch als Vater eines unehelichen Kindes diskriminiert, zum einen gegenüber der Mutter, da er gegen deren Willen keine Möglichkeit habe, das gemeinsame Sorgerecht zu erhalten, und zum anderen gegenüber verheirateten und geschiedenen Vätern, da diese nach Trennung oder Scheidung von der Kindsmutter das gemeinsame Sorgerecht behalten könnten.

Die Beschwerde wurde am 12. November 2003 beim Europäischen Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte eingelegt.

Das Urteil wurde von einer Kammer mit sieben Richtern gefällt, die sich wie folgt zusammensetzte:

  • Christos Rozakis (Griechenland), Präsident,
  • Nina Vajić (Kroatien),
  • Anatoly Kovler (Russland),
  • Elisabeth Steiner (Österreich),
  • Khanlar Hajiyev (Aserbaidschan),
  • Giorgio Malinverni (Schweiz),
  • George Nicolaou (Zypern), Richter,
  • und Søren Nielsen, Sektionskanzler.

Entscheidung des Gerichtshofs

Artikel 6 § 1

Der Gerichtshof stellte fest, dass Herr Sporer das Recht auf eine Verhandlung hatte, da keinerlei außerordentliche Umstände vorgelegen hatten, die den Verzicht darauf gerechtfertigt hätten; noch betraf das Verfahren lediglich formale oder rein rechtliche Fragen. Zudem stellt der persönliche Eindruck der Eltern in einem Sorgerechtsverfahren einen wichtigen Aspekt dar.

Der Gerichtshof stellte weiterhin fest, dass vor dem Bezirksgericht zwei Verhandlungen, eine zur Vorbreitung und eine weitere in der Sache, stattgefunden hatten. Sie hatten es dem Gericht ermöglicht, einen persönlichen Eindruck beider Parteien zu gewinnen, und den Parteien die Gelegenheit gegeben, die verschiedenen Gesichtspunkte des Falls zu erörtern. Der Gerichtshof zeigte sich vom Argument des Bezirksgerichts überzeugt, dass eine weitere Verhandlung nicht notwendig gewesen sei, da das dritte Sachverständigengutachten schlüssig und alle Sach- und Rechtsfragen hinreichend geklärt gewesen seien. Es gibt keinen Anhaltspunkt dafür, dass Herr Sporer nicht weitere schriftliche Stellungnahmen hätte einreichen können, sofern er dies gewünscht hätte

Das entscheidende Obergutachten war adversatorisch auf Grundlage von Interviews und schriftlichen Stellungnahmen beider Parteien erstellt worden.

Der Gerichtshof kam daher zu dem Schluss, dass keine Verletzung von Artikel 6 § 1 vorlag.

Artikel 14 in Verbindung mit Artikel 8
Der Gerichtshof unterstrich zunächst, dass, wie zwischen den Parteien unumstritten war, die Beziehung Herrn Sporers zu seinem Sohn angesichts der Tatsache, dass er Erziehungsurlaub genommen und sich weiterhin regelmäßig um ihn gekümmert hatte, als „Familienleben“ im Sinne von Artikel 8 zu gelten hat.

Im Verfahren um das Sorgerecht für Herrn Sporers Sohn hatten die österreichischen Gerichte nicht darüber zu befinden gehabt, ob ein gemeinsames Sorgerecht im Kindeswohlinteresse läge, da für die gerichtliche Prüfung dieser Frage nach dem österreichischen Bürgerlichen Gesetzbuch die Zustimmung der Mutter erforderlich war; K.’s Mutter hatte ihre Zustimmung dazu aber nicht gegeben. Die Gerichte hatten auch nicht darüber zu entscheiden, welcher Elternteil besser in der Lage wäre, das Sorgerecht auszuüben. Sie hatten lediglich festzustellen, ob K.’s Mutter das Kindeswohl gefährdete. Auf Grundlage des entscheidenden Obergutachtens hatten sie den Antrag Herrn Sporers auf Übertragung des alleinigen Sorgerechts abgelehnt. Folglich lag hinsichtlich der Zuweisung des Sorgerechts eine Ungleichbehandlung Herrn Sporers in seiner Eigenschaft als Vater eines unehelichen Kindes gegenüber der Mutter, und zugleich gegenüber verheirateten Vätern, vor.

Im Hinblick auf die anfängliche Zuweisung des Sorgerechts für ein uneheliches Kind an dessen Mutter sah der Gerichtshof keinen Grund, zu einem anderen Schluss zu kommen als im Fall Zaunegger gegen Deutschland. [2] In diesem Fall hatte er befunden, dass, sofern keine gemeinsame Sorgeerklärung vorliegt, eine solche Regelung gerechtfertigt ist, um zu gewährleisten, dass das Kind ab seiner Geburt eine Person hat, die klar als gesetzlicher Vertreter handeln kann.

Im Fall Zaunegger hatte der Gerichtshof allerdings nicht die Annahme geteilt, dass ein gemeinsames Sorgerecht gegen den Willen der Mutter grundsätzlich dem Kindeswohl zuwiderlaufe. Zwar gibt es in den Europaratsmitgliedstaaten keine einheitliche rechtliche Herangehensweise an die Frage, ob Väter unehelicher Kinder das Recht haben, das gemeinsame Sorgerecht auch gegen den Willen der Mutter zu beantragen. In einer Mehrheit der Staaten müssen sich Sorgerechtsentscheidungen allerdings am Kindeswohlinteresse orientieren und im Fall eines Konflikts zwischen den Eltern gerichtlich überprüft werden. Das österreichische Recht sah im Fall Herrn Sporers keinerlei gerichtliche Prüfungsmöglichkeiten der Frage vor, ob ein gemeinsames Sorgerecht im Kindeswohlinteresse läge, oder ob ihm, falls das gemeinsame Sorgerecht diesem Interesse zuwiderliefe, besser durch die Zuweisung des Sorgerechts an die Mutter oder den Vater gedient wäre. Die österreichische Regierung hatte keine hinreichenden Gründe angegeben, warum die Situation Herrn Sporers, der seine Rolle als K.’s Vater von Anfang an angenommen hatte, weniger gerichtliche Prüfungsmöglichkeiten zulassen sollte als diejenige von Vätern, die zunächst das Sorgerecht hatten und sich später von der Kindesmutter trennten oder scheiden ließen. Folglich lag eine Verletzung von Artikel 14 in Verbindung mit Artikel 8 vor.

Artikel 41
Nach Artikel 41 (gerechte Entschädigung) entschied der Gerichtshof, dass Österreich Herrn Sporer 3.500 Euro für die entstandenen Kosten zu zahlen hat. Der Gerichtshof entschied außerdem, dass die Feststellung einer Verletzung der Konvention eine ausreichende gerechte Entschädigung für den erlittenen immateriellen Schaden darstellt.

Das Urteil liegt nur auf Englisch vor.

[1] Gemäß Artikel 43 und 44 der Konvention ist dieses Kammerurteil nicht rechtskräftig. Innerhalb von drei Monaten nach der Urteilsverkündung kann jede Partei die Verweisung der Rechtssache an die Große Kammer beantragen. Liegt ein solcher Antrag vor, berät ein Ausschuss von fünf Richtern, ob die Rechtssache eine weitere Untersuchung verdient. Ist das der Fall, verhandelt die Große Kammer die Rechtssache und entscheidet durch ein endgültiges Urteil. Lehnt der Ausschuss den Antrag ab, wird das Kammerurteil rechtskräftig.
[2] Zaunegger gegen Deutschland (22028/04) vom 3 Dezember 2009

Diese Pressemitteilung ist von der Kanzlei erstellt und für den Gerichtshof nicht bindend.

Ledige Väter diskriminiert: EGMR-Urteil gegen Österreich; Die Österreichische Presse | 03.02.2011

Österreichisches Familienrecht: Väterrechte, Strafen, Ehe light? Welche Reformen stehen an?; Die Österreichische Presse, Oktober 2010