Summary findings: the report ‘debunks’ what is commonly referred to as ‘attachment theory’, that infants form attachment relationships with a single caregiver before all other important relationships and that this first relationship serves as a foundation and template for all subsequent attachment bonds.

Attachment theory has been used as a basis for opposition to overnight staying contact and shared parenting arrangements for very young children. This important report ‘debunks’ that theory, and instead presents the basis for post-separation arrangements which research confirms best supports child welfare:

  • Parents’ consistent, predictable, frequent, affectionate, and sensitive behavior toward their infants is key to forming meaningful, secure, and healthy parent-child relationships.
  • Having a secure attachment with at least one parent provides children with enduring benefits and protections that offset mental health risks of stress and adversity.
  • Having a relationship with two parents increases children’s odds of developing at least one secure attachment.
  • The deterioration of father-child relationships after divorce is a pressing concern (Zill, Morrison, & Coiro, 1993).
  • The majority of children from preschool through college are dissatisfied, some even distressed, with the amount of contact they have with their fathers after divorce and with the intervals between contacts (Kelly, 2012; Hetherington & Kelly, 2002; Warshak & Santrock, 1983).
  • Policies and parenting plans should encourage and maximize the chances that children will enjoy the benefits of being raised by two adequate and involved parents.
  • We have no basis for rank ordering parents as primary or secondary in their importance to child development.
  • Normal parent-child relationships emerge from less than full-time care and less than round-the-clock presence of parents.
  • Full-time maternal care is not necessary for children to develop normally. Children’s healthy development can and usually does sustain many hours of separation between mother and child. This is especially true when fathers or grandparents care for children in place of their mothers.
  • These findings support the desirability of parenting plans that are most likely to result in both parents developing and maintaining the motivation and commitment to remain involved with their children, and that give young children more time with their fathers than traditional schedules allow (generally daytime visits every other weekend with perhaps one brief mid-week contact).
  • These findings do not necessarily translate into a preference for parenting plans that divide young children’s time exactly evenly between homes.

Report by Richard A. Warshak, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, with the endorsement of 110 researchers and practitioners listed in the Report Appendix.

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