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The state-of-the-art in what is best for children of divorce. Every parents, judge and family law attorney must view this video. Click Here to Learn More.

Father and Child Reunion Summary  By Dr. Warren Farrell

“The Family Arrangements that Work Best for Children”

Father and Child Reunion (2001) is a meta-analysis of hundreds of studies from the U.S. and other countries. Many of the studies look at what leads to children doing the best and worse after divorce. The documentation for these findings is in Father and Child Reunion.

These are the family structures ranked according to the ones in which children do the best—the last three after divorce:

Intact family
Shared Parent Time With the Following Three Conditions:
the child has about equal time with mom and dad
parents live close enough to each other that the child does not need to forfeit friends or activities when visiting the other parent
no bad-mouthing
Primary father time (primary father custody)4. Primary mother time
Perhaps the most surprising is that children raised by single dads do better in more than 20 areas of measurement in comparison to children raised by single moms. These measurements include academic progress, social competence, psychological health and physical health.

Caveat. This does not mean that men are better fathers than women are mothers. Single fathers usually have more income and education, tend to be older, and are more self-selected, thus more highly motivated. Single dads in the year 2004 are similar to female doctors in the 1950s: exceptionally motivated.

One reason, though, that children on average do so much better with single dads is ironic— it is rare for the single mom to disappear from the child’s life. To moms’ credit, they are more likely to stay involved; to dad’s credit, dads are more likely to facilitate mom’s involvement than mom is to facilitate dad’s. In brief, the child living primarily with dad is more likely to live in conditions that come closer to the intact family than is the child living primarily with mom.

Why this difference? One clue appears to be the bad-mouthing gap. When Glynnis Walker, in her research for Solomon’s Children, asked children years after divorce which parent bad-mouthed the other, the children were almost five times more likely to say “only mom says bad things about dad” than vice versa. Also, dads are more likely to ask for mom’s input and value mom’s input, thus encouraging mom to remain involved. Perhaps as a result, when children live with only their moms, the parents are nine times as likely to have conflict as when children live with their dads.

These findings are significant for two reasons. First, because in high-conflict divorces if we conclude that the parental conflict will prevent 50-50 involvement from working, we tend to revert to primary mother time, when in fact it’s far more likely that with primary father time the parents will have less conflict, and that the children will have more of both parents, and will do better.

Second, once primary father time is understood to have these advantages, and therefore becomes the first choice of the law if there is conflict, it eliminates any incentive the mom may feel to make the divorce appear to be high-conflict because she knows that will lead to her having the child. Once she knows the likely alternative to equal involvement is primary father involvement, the incentive is to reduce conflict and have equal involvement—which is better than primary father involvement. If, of course, the dad is the primary alienator, the current preference for the mother should remain.

Let’s look at why the following three conditions seem to work best or children after divorce:

First, the child has about equal time with mom and dad
Second, parents live close enough to each other that the child does not need to forfeit friends or activities when visiting the other parent
Third, no bad-mouthing
First, the Child Has about Equal Time with Mom and Dad.

One-Parent Stability vs. Two-Parent Stability. Until now, we have understandably thought that amid the instability of divorce, children experience the most stability by staying primarily with the parent who has been their primary parent. I call this “one-parent stability.” However, the research shows that one-parent “stability” in reality creates psychological instability. Children with minimal exposure to the other parent after divorce seem to feel abandoned, and often psychologically rudderless-- even when they succeed on the surface (e.g., good grades).

Children with both parents, and especially children with substantial father contact, do better--even when socio-economic variables are controlled for. They do better on their SATs, on their social skills, on their self-esteem, in their physical health, in their ability to be assertive, and, surprisingly, the more dad involvement the more a child is likely to be empathetic. These children are far less likely to suffer from nightmares, temper tantrums, being bullied, or have other signs of feeling like a victim.

These findings occur even though one and two-year old children of divorce with developmental disabilities are fifteen times more likely to be given to fathers to raise, and children who are raised by moms and have problems with the 5 D’s (drinking, drugs, depression, delinquency, disobedience) are most likely to be given to their dads to “take over” in early teenage years. The propensity of dads to take on the more challenging children and yet still have positive outcomes speaks highly of dads’ contributions. Nevertheless, these children still do not do as well as when the children are in an intact family, or when the involvement of both mom and dad are closer to equal.

Why does the approximately equal involvement of both parents appear so important, and even more crucial after a divorce? No one knows for certain, but here appears to be three rarely-discussed possible reasons that emanate from “between the lines”. I believe they are crucial to a cutting-edge understanding of child development:

The child is half mom and half dad. The job of a child growing up is to discover whom it is. Who is it? It is half mom and half dad. It is not the better parent. It is both parents, warts and all. So we are not talking about fathers’ rights, mothers’ rights or even the child’s right to both parents. We are talking about a new paradigm: the child’s right to both halves of itself. Psychological stability seems to emanate from the child knowing both parts of itself.

The implications for the court is that there is much less need for psychological testing of both parents—if the child does better by being about equally with both parents, warts and all, we don’t have to conduct a court battle as to which parent has the fewest warts. The “warts” that matter are bad-mouthing and alienation of the other parent; the desire to move the child away from the other parent; being consistently physically abusive; being sexually abusive.

Checks and balances. Dads and moms, like Republicans and Democrats, provide checks and balances. Moms tend to overstress protection; dads may overstress risk-taking—there has to be a balance of power for the child to absorb a balance of both parents’ values. One parent dominating tends to leave the child with a stereotyped and biased perspective of the values of the minority parent, and ultimately the child is unappreciative of that part of itself. The minority parent becomes a straw-man or straw-woman, thus that part of the child becomes a straw self. The minority parent becomes undervalued, thus that part of the child becomes undervalued to itself.

Overnights. As children enter adolescence, they connect best with the values of the parents during the peaceful moments prior to bedtime, often the only time when the pressures of peers recede and the presence of parents’ values can reenter the child’s psyche.

Second, Parents Living Close.

When children have to forfeit friends or activities to be with the other parent, resentment toward the parent is created just when parental involvement is most needed in balance with independence. Whether during the earlier years or adolescence, neither one can be forfeited.

Third, No Bad Mouthing

Criticizing the other parent is criticizing the child—it is criticizing the half of the child that is the other parent. As the child looks in the mirror and sees that his or her body language is the body language of the criticized parent, the child fears she or he might also be an “irresponsible jerk,” “liar,” or whatever…

Bad-mouthing the other parent is the most insidious forms of child abuse because the child feels she or he has no place to go—arguing with the parent doing the bad-mouthing makes the child the parent’s enemy; reporting it to the parent being bad-mouthed threatens to lead to parental arguments which further erode the child’s stability.

Those are the three most important conditions after divorce for the best likely outcome for the child. If dad is so important, though, what are his conscious and unconscious contributions?


“ The Unspoken—and often Unconscious—Contributions of Dads”

Prior to doing the research for Father and Child Reunion, I knew dads were more likely to play, coach and roughhouse with their children. I did not know that in comparison to children raised by single moms, children raised by single dads are more likely to be assertive without being aggressive. (My expectation was that rough-housing might contribute to aggressiveness, not assertiveness.) Assertiveness without aggressiveness is one of the key qualities to being successful in work and life. It leads to better social skills and more friends; more self-confidence and less depression; less acting out…

I was similarly surprised to discover that children raised by single dads are more empathetic. We usually think of empathy as something transmitted via the mother. Yet, in study after study, no matter what thefamily structure, the amount of time a father spends with a child is one of the strongest predictors of empathy in adulthood.

Empathy is the key to love: I’ve never heard someone say, “I want a divorce; my partner understands me”. Children who don’t feel understood seek another world at the point of a needle; join gangs or cults to get the respect they didn’t get at home, or just disappear into a bottle. Even at work, it is rare for us to sue someone from whom we feel empathy.

Is there a connection between what dad does and these outcomes? No one can be 100% sure, but a blend of research and careful observation offer important clues. Say dad and son Jimmy are rough-housing, and dad has Jimmy playfully “pinned down”. If Jimmy has no experience, he might poke, pull or punch his way to “freedom”. So dad teaches Jimmy to be assertive (use leverage, fake-out, etc), not aggressive. Once he’s taught Jimmy, he gives him a second chance. However, if Jimmy returns to his poke-punch behavior, dad is likely to say, “okay, no more” and walk away.

What just happened? First, dad was teaching Jimmy two things: to also think of dad’s needs, and to make distinctions between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Second, by returning to play after he taught Jimmy, he was giving Jimmy the opportunity to see if he had mastered the lesson-- not in theory, but in real life: that is, once the real-life emotions of excitement and temptation-to-win re-enter the picture.

Third, dad’s willingness to walk away (versus continuing rough-housing) was dad’s way of respecting Jimmy’s ability to absorb the lesson if it was in his interest to do so. Therefore, if Jimmy’s response to his dad walking away is a temper tantrum, dad resists giving in (e.g., he resists rewarding the tantrum with “oh, okay, one more chance”) and also ups the consequences (“one more word, no ice cream”), making it apparent to Jimmy that terrorism is also not in his best interest.

When it comes to the development of empathy, dads tend to create a simple choice for the child: think of my needs, or don’t get your needs met. Thinking of another’s needs is the beginning of empathy. Dad was teaching Jimmy that empathy pays—empathy is for winners. He uses that same formula for teaching anything: align the child’s self interest with the child’s long-term best interest.

This contrasts with mom’s greater likelihood to not rough-house to begin with, therefore depriving mom and Jimmy both of the bond of physicality, excitement and laughter, and the incentive to give more or less of that to Jimmy based on his willingness to learn. Were mom around when dad was about to begin rough-housing, she’d be more likely to establish limits—“do it outside, wait till the daytime, put on sneakers and a jacket”—so often it doesn’t happen.

Were mom watching when dad walked away from Jimmy, and Jimmy responded with a temper tantrum, mom would be more likely to complain to the dad, “honey, you got Jimmy all excited, what do you expect?”

Were mom teaching Jimmy when he wasn’t paying attention, she would be more likely to repeat what she said. If Jimmy continued to ignore his mom, his mom would be likely to threaten deprivation, but be less likely to follow-through (she might even walk away, but then respond to the temper tantrum by giving Jimmy another chance).

Giving Jimmy another chance reflects mom’s empathy for Jimmy. However, once Jimmy learns that the temper tantrum, crying, or complaining to mom that “daddy hurt me,” could pay off with a reduction of the consequences, Jimmy begins focusing on which method he can use to reduce the consequences—meaning Jimmy remains focused on his own needs, not someone else’s. As a result, Jimmy’s empathy doesn’t develop. His focus on how he can reduce the consequences distracts him from empathy. Being given multiple chanceswithout consequences gives him little incentive to stretch himself to his next developmental level.

Dad is more likely to encourage Jimmy to do risk-taking while he plays the role of guide and safety net. But few dads explain to mom that risk-taking is a crucial ingredient of success: it helps children discover what they can achieve, experiment with which methods of assertion work, and thus increases a child’s I.Q. Children who take risks with parents as guides and safety nets stretch themselves, build self-confidence and are more prepared to individuate and enter the world of work.

As children get older, dad-the-rough-houser often evolves into dad-the-coach. Here, the most important lessons seem to come from team sports--not gymnastics or tennis, but a sport in which almost every play requires co-operation to win. A basketball player who shoots without passing to a teammate who might have a better shot is soon ostracized. Team play’s “teachers” are the success or failure of each play; the ostracism or praise of each peer. So the dad who is the coach—or the parent who encourages team sports— is handing the child over to the world to experience how cooperation creates success in the world rather than learn it via lecture. To learn this while creating lasting childhood memories is a blessing. Indirectly, it is the gift of dad-as-coach, or dad as encourager. It is something every mom can do, but something dads tend to do.

Dad’s fun-and-games approach turns out to be a lot more than fun-and- games. Once a dad invests a child in the excitement of becoming a winner in a sport, the child is able to hear what would otherwise be seen as criticism or the destruction of self-esteem as coaching and preparation for being a winner.

While it is easier to see the value of dad in the development of a son, his involvement is in many ways more uniquely valuable in thedevelopment of a daughter. Why? A son raised by mom alone may at least be encouraged by peers or a step-dad to learn the lessons of empathy, assertiveness, and team sports; a daughter raised by mom alone is less likely to have peers guide her with the proper safety nets, and even a step-dad is more likely to be constrained by mom’s limitations on his risk-taking when it comes to her daughters.

Those of us who have dads who grew up in the depression know that no matter how rich our dads became they always had a “money wound”. Children today who grow up without dad’s values and contributions being in balance with mom’s will, no matter how much love they receive, always have a “father wound.” These children will be missing more than dad’s contribution. They will be missing the half of themselves that is their dad. This is the real father and child reunion.


When I do expert witness work, I confront from most judges three biases that I myself was also surprised to see proven invalid when I did the research for Father and Child Reunion. The first bias is the stability bias; the second is the mother bias; and the third is the 'If-the-couple-is-in-conflict-joint-custody-will-not-work' bias. All of these biases apply to post-divorce parenting.

The Stability Bias. Judges understandably reason that amid the instability of divorce, children are best stabilized by staying in the home they are accustomed to with the parent who has been the primary parent. I call this "geographical stability". The research shows that geographical stability does not create psychological stability. For children of divorce, geographical stability is "one parent stability"; this article explains why "one parent stability" is psychologically destabilizing. For example:

Studies show that after divorce the children who do best psychologically have about an equal amount of exposure to both mom and dad-especially if both parents live near each other, and there is no bad-mouthing. The psychological stability of two-parents equally involved leads to the children also doing better academically and socially, and being healthier physically.

Why does two parent stability trump geographical stability? No one can be 100% sure, but a blend of research and observation offer clues. Three quick assertions in quasi-headline form to be developed in the article...

First, the job of a child growing up is to discover whom it is. Who is it? It is half mom and half dad. It is not the better parent. It is both parents. Warts and all. So we are not talking here about fathers' rights, mothers' rights or even the child's right to both parents. We are talking about a new paradigm: the child's right to both halves of itself.

Second, children with minimal exposure to one parent seem to feel abandoned, often psychologically rudderless.

Third, dads and moms, like Republicans and Democrats, provide checks and balances. Moms tend to overstress protection; dads may overstress risk-taking-there has to be a balance of power for the child to absorb a balance of both parents' values. One parent dominating tends to leave the child with a stereotyped and biased perspective of the values of the minority parent, and ultimately a lack of appreciation for that part of itself.

The Mother Bias. Most judges do believe children do best with both parents, but if they must live with one, mom is given the edge. In fact, the new research very clearly shows that children brought up by dad are more likely to do better psychologically, physically, academically and socially than those brought up by mom.

I will explain not only some of the twenty-five measures that create this counterintuitive conclusion, but also what dads do unconsciously that so often works to the benefit of the child. At the same time, I will also explain why it would be erroneous to conclude that men make better dads than women do moms (e.g., dads usually have more income).

The "If-the-couple-is-in-conflict-joint-custody-will-not-work" Bias. Conflict-- especially bad-mouthing-- hurts all parenting arrangements. The more the conflict, though, the more important it is for the child to see both parents about equally, because conflict leaves the child vulnerable to feeling that the parent it does not see has abandoned it-- does not love her or him. The less the child sees a parent the easier it is form a negative and caricatured stereotype of the unseen parent that leads to the child feeling negative about that half of her or himself.

Finally, a system that says, "If the couple can't get along in court how are they going to get along enough to share the children?" creates an incentive for the mom to initiate conflict. Why the mom? The Mom Bias teaches mom that if she can erase the joint custody option, she is more likely than dad to be given custody of the children. This awareness creates an incentive for a mom who wants full custody to not co-operate with the dad.

The three biases in combination lead to many options after divorce not being considered. This article will explore some of those options.

My experience thus far is that virtually all judges are focused on doing what is best for the children, as are most moms and dads; that the above responses to these biases address the issues that prevent judges from giving more priority to securing both parents' equal involvement; that once judges know this, their rulings are much more likely to incorporate this prioritization.


Dr. Warren Farrell has just published his latest findings after 13 years of compiling all the best research on children of divorce. These two DVDs will help you save your children from the ravages of divorce.

The state-of-the-art in what is best for children of divorce. Every parent, judge and family law attorney must view this video. Click Here to Learn More.