Children who spend equal time with both parents after a divorce or separation are doing well, though not better or worse than children who spend most time with their mothers, a new study has found.
The study, commissioned by the federal Attorney General, is based on the responses of 1028 parents and 136 children, as well as other data.
It was conducted by a team led by University of NSW researchers, and it is part of a government-funded investigation into the impact of 2006 reforms to the Family Law Act.
The study found that when parents have no fears for their children's safety or for their own, most can make shared care work, and many mothers like the break and many children think the arrangement is "fair".
"On the whole, the more contact a child has with both parents, the better for the child," the Age quoted Professor Ilan Katz, the chief investigator, as saying.
"But if you impose shared care on situations where parents live far apart, where there is conflict, and the child doesn't like it and wants stability, it can be damaging," Katz stated.
The study found it was not the care arrangements that made the difference to a child's well being after separation but the parents' relationship, fair sharing of finances, and whether the living arrangement had been imposed by a court.
The report says the explanation for the relatively high well being of children in shared care may lie with the characteristics of parents who choose that path.
Shared-care parents also had higher incomes and better education than parents with other care arrangements.
"It's possible one reason for the higher levels of co-operation is that both parents are happy with the arrangement and if parents are happy, it's much more likely the children are doing well," Katz added.
The study found 77 percent of fathers and 66 percent of mothers with shared care thought the arrangements worked well for their children.
But where shared-care parents experienced high conflict or concerns about child safety, satisfaction with the arrangement plummeted.
Belinda Fehlberg, a law professor at Melbourne University, said given the finding that shared care was not of itself better for children, "there seems to be no justification for our current legislative approach which encourages parents in this direction".