Prof. Hildegund Suenderhauf – Oct 2013

Posted on February 1, 2014 by


hilda_0Prof. Hildegund Suenderhauf addressed a Shared Parenting conference held on Oct 23rd 2013 at the EU parliament building in Strasbourg.

She outlined Shared Parenting in Germany and the following is the briefest of summaries of her excellent presentation:

Prof. Suenderhauf began by speaking about what is known in Germany about divorce research. She began by listing the main stress factors:

  1. Parental conflict
  2. Loss of one parent [presumably felt by the child ? – RW]
  3. Stress of a single parent [presumably felt by the mother ? – RW]
  4. Economic problems [presumably felt by the mother having to rely on one income and not two ? – RW]

She went on to say that ‘Divorce research also knows’ that these Stress Factors are countered by Resource Factors:

  1. De-escalation [in parental conflict ?]
  2. Substantial time with both parents
  3. Shared parental /duty responsibilities
  4. Economic support.

Thus, the picture that emerged looked like this:


Single Parents in Germany

Prof. Suenderhauf then went on to display the break down by sex of single parents in Germany. Using data from Statistisches Bundesamt, pub’d in 2011, the data reflects 2009 information (see diagram below).

Hilda_2Fathers make up just 9% of all singe parents ‘family’ units in Germany and mothers 91% (or 1.4 million).

NB. There are no reliable figures for single fathers in Britain. The numbers used by ONS have historically included widowers and fathers whose wives have abandoned them and their children. Some data showing “over night stays” (sleep-overs) with fathers at 17% in the UK omit over 50% of children so it would not be unreasonable to half the 17% to a more realistic picture of about 8%.

Income of Single Mothers

The composition, or sources of income, of single mothers represents a 60 / 40 split, with 40% of single mothers depending on state welfare payments and 60% who work for a living.

Hilda_3Again, the data is taken from the Statistisches Bundesamt 2010 (BMFSFJ 2012). The 60 / 40 split is reminiscent of the division found in England & Wales in the late 1990s (source: Population Trends).

  • Population Trends’ No 95 (ONS, Spring 1999, p.9) examined incomes of, a). single mothers and b). cohabiting mothers. Without specifying the source of income (benefits or not) they found that 8% of single mothers but 30% of Single Fathers had incomes exceeding £350 per week (see Fig. 32).
  • Other data confirms that only 40% of single mothers work any hours per week but over 70% of single fathers worked (mostly over 40 hours per week). Given that SMH (single mother households) benefits are guaranteed to be in excess of £250 per week by the Treasury, then the £350 figure for cohabiting single fathers is most likely to be wages supplemented with Working Family Tax Credit payments (WFTC).

Single parents are often poor:

  •  About 50 % of the households receiving social welfare are single parents with children. – (source: 4th Poverty report federal government report 2012)
  •  More than 75 % of single mothers, with children under the age 3, receive social welfare. – (source: Single parents in Germany federal government report 2012)

Loss of Parent

  •  About 40 % of children in Germany lose their contact to the non-residential parent a couple of years after separation/divorce – (source: Proksch 2002)

NB. The same is true in the UK, i.e. approx 40 % of children in the UK lose their contact to the           non-residential parent [father].

Legal custody after divorce

  • Since 1998 parents usually keep joint legal custody after divorce.

Parents get single custody [aka sole custody] only for ‘serious’ reasons.


In Germany, 10% of separated parents have single legal custody. Therefore ‘shared parenting’ is virtually unheard of, e.g.  a 30/70 split – (certainly on any measurable scale).

hilda_5An explanation is required here; joint legal custody would be recognised in the UK as ‘sole mother custody’, i.e. with fathers technically having ‘joint’ parental rights which gives them no enforceable powers or rights as such.

Having said that, in Holland fathers who also are given  ‘joint’ parental rights [aka responsibility] do get some rights in return. Although not stated here, the same could therefore be true of Germany.

‘Joint legal custody’ is a term common in the USA vis-a-vis joint physical custody (which gives fathers limited real rights). So, to reiterate;   joint legal custody translates into no tangible rights for fathers and is comparable to the sole mother custody regime found in the UK.

However, matters are not as clean-cut as one might suppose – as we will see below, some courts make visitation orders up to equal parenting time (shared parenting 50:50 %).

Custody decisions in controversial disputes by court (2008)

No notes accompany this next diagram. We must assume that “controversial disputes” over custody are where the circumstances are at the extremes and are therefore not the ‘norm’ but the exception in Germany – as they are in Britain.

The diagram below appears to suggest that in such controversial cases the main winner of custody is still the mother with the runner-up being some third-party (perhaps an organ of the state, similar to CAFCASS or a local authority child care unit ?).

hilda_6Fathers get the benefit of any family court judgment in only 13% of cases and are at a comparable level with both (also at 13%). Meanwhile split decisions (split between a mother and a father, one assumes) are the rarest at 1%.


Where a child is to live is always problematical irrespective of which country’s laws are under discussion.

Particular problems exist in large expansive countries such as Australia and the USA (the sheer distance between towns), while in other ways a federation such as the EU while smaller presents more border difficulties than either Australia or the USA

  • Courts cannot decide upon ‚shared parenting’ as a matter of paternal custody
  • Courts may give the right of location decision (Aufenthaltsbestimmungsrecht) to one parent – while joint legal custody is remaining
  • But – courts decide about visitation. Some courts make visitation orders up to equal parenting time (shared parenting 50:50 %)


Prof. Suenderhauf  concludes that German family law (§ 1671 BGB) urgently needs a legal reform that gives family courts the explicit right to order shared parenting if it is in the best interest of the child.

Practice in Germany

  1. There is no statistical data about shared parenting.
  2. There is a Shared-Parenting-Boom.
  3. There are misapprehension and prejudice among sceptics, caused on a lack of information about the psychological research on shared parenting and its influence on children (and parents) – even among professionals.

Research Status

She states that there are 45 published psychological empirical studies about the effects of shared parenting for children and parents 1977-2012.

Most studies are published in the United States, some in Australia and few in Europe. Most studies come to very positive results for Shared Parenting

Parent-Child-Relationship & Bonding

Recent Evidence

  • More time with the father & shared care is leading to a stronger emotional parent-child-bonding than residential care.       – Abarbanel 1979; Steinman 1981; Luepnitz 1986; Fabricius & Luecken 2007; Aquilino 2010
  • Children in Shared Parenting show close bonding with both parents – just as close as in intact families.       –  Spruit & Duindam 2010; Bjarnason & Arnarsson 2011; Bergström 2012
  • Children in Shared Parenting have closer relations with their fathers than children in intact families.  –   Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Study (HBSC) WHO/ Bjarnason & Arnarsson 2011
  • More positive relations with the fathers have no negative implication for the mothers – opposite: children in Shared Parenting have also closer relations with their mother compared with children in single mother custody.    –   Maccoby, Buchanan, Mnookin & Dornbusch 1993; Fabricius 2003; Bjarnason & Arnarsson 2011

Psychological Adjustment

  1. ‘Children in shared care have good psychological adjustment …’         (Abarbanel  1979; Steinman 1981; Luepnitz 1984; McKinnon & Wallerstein 1986; Pearson & Thoennes 1990; Spruijt & Duindam 2010)
  2. ‘…  just as good or even better than children in single custody. ‘ (Underwood 1989; Bauserman 2002;
    Breivik & Olweus 2006; Kaspiew et al. 2009).
  3. ‘Children in shared care indicate a better socio-emotional and better cognitive development (language skills) than children in single custody.’  (Cashmore et al. 2010)

Children´s Satisfaction (1)

  1. Children in shared care are “very satisfied“ with their family-situation (contact with parents, support) – much more than children in single parent care.  –  Abarbanel 1979; Steinman 1981; Underwood 1989; Luepnitz 1986; Neugebauer 1989; Smart et al. 2001; Melli & Brown 2008; Haugen 2010; Luftensteiner 2010.
  2. Children in shared care indicate higher „general life satisfaction“ than children in single parent care. –            Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Study (HBSC) WHO/Bjarnason et al. 2012
  3. Children in shared care indicate higher satisfaction with their situation at school than children in single parent care. –   Bergström 2012

Childrens Satisfaction (2)

  • 93 % of the children in shared care say retrospective as young adults, that this was the best thinkable solution for them. –    Luecken 2003

Strain caused by changing Houses

There is no evidence that changing houses in shared care is strainfull for children. In interviews children say that it´s worth changing for the better contact with their parents  (see Neugehbauer 1989; Smart et al. 2001; Haugen 2010).

Children in single care with contact to their non-residential parent have also to change houses – usually just as often or even more often than children in shared care.

Visiting Schedule formats: 

1/.  Single Care – Visits every 2nd weekend (blue)

hilda_7daysFathers have to wait 12 – 14 days (blue) to see their child.

2/. Single Care – with Visits on every 2nd weekend (pink) and 1 afternoon per Week (yellow)


[ NB. It seems standard practice across Europe and north America to allocate fathers alternate weekends (pink), and perhaps half a day per week(yellow). Some court rulings limit paternal contact / visits to only every other weekends (see 1/. above). This diet seems to have been in place since 1990 (in the UK),  so society is well placed to measure its ‘outcomes’ in terms of child performance, socialisation  and attainments. The collateral consequences are that mothers are unable to acquire employment to lift themselves out of poverty –  RW ].

3/. Shared Care – with weekly changes – parent #1 =grey, parent #2 = pink


[ NB. The proposals of shared care divides the care of children more evenly between the two parents. Adjustments to this general scheme allows each separated couple to devise their own modus vivendi when it comes to securing employment and earning money rather than always depending on welfare handouts and complaining about the insufficiency or lack of child support. It avoids a straight jacket being placed on either or both parents by a one-size-fits-all option imposed by the divorce courts which is often inconvenient to the parent’s daily routine – RW ].

Emotional Stability

  • Emotional stability is not  matter of geography but a matter of continuing relationships.
  • ‘Shared Care’ offers more continuity than single-parent-care.
  • Both models change over time as the needs of parents and children are always changing.

 –  Smyth & Moloney 2008; Cashmore et al. 2010; Haugen 2010

  •  The “mother-drift“ is stronger in single care than in shared care.  –    Melli & Brown 2008

Physical health

  1. Children in Shared Care show better physical health than children in single care.  – Melli & Brown 2008; Fabricius et al. 2012
  2. Children in single care show more often Hyperactivity/Inattention problems than children in shared care or in intact families.  – Neoh & Mellor 2010

Parental Satisfaction (1)

Parents in Shared Care Situations – mothers and fathers – were more satisfied than parents in single parenting situations.  –  Pearson & Thoennes 1991, Irving & Benjamin 1991;  Kaspiew et al. 2009; Czerny 2011

An Australian study (> 10,000  parents), by Kaspiew et al. 2009, showed:
70%  –  80 %  parents with shared care say that:

  • –         they are “very satisfied“
  • –         Shared parenting works well for parents and children
  • –         children benefit from Shared Parenting

                                                                                                                      – Kaspiew et al. 2009

Parental Satisfaction (2)

Reasons for parental satisfaction are

  • Compatibility of work life and family life
  • Free time for work / own social life / new partner
  • Close contact of children with both parents

See Pearson & Thoennes 1991, Irving & Benjamin 1991; Kaspiew et al. 2009; Czerny 2011.


  • “From the perspective of developmental psychology the empirical data may be recapitulate as showing, that Shared Parenting after parental separation and divorce usually is the preferable parenting arrangement in the best interest of the child.”  –  Prof. Dr. Harald Wernick, developmental psychologist, University of Vienna, 2009.


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