New study shows 9 in 10 non-resident dads still have contact

20 November 2013

The vast majority (87%) of fathers who don’t live with their children say that they continue to have contact with them and close to half (49%) say that their children stay with them on a regular basis, on weekends and during school holidays, new research has revealed.

The new report, by NatCen Social Research, Thomas Coram Research Unit and the University of East Anglia, is part of the ESRC funded Modern Fatherhood project, seeking to better understand fathers in the 21st century. The report, based on data from the Understanding Society survey, found that five per cent of fathers in the UK, close to one million men, report having dependent non-resident children.

The overall picture of contact between fathers and non-resident children is a positive one, with 59 per cent reporting seeing or contacting children not living with them at least once a week and 81 per cent saying they are very or quite close with their children. The report also reveals that an estimated 129,000 of men (13% of non-resident fathers) say they have no contact at all with their children.


Less well-off fathers struggling to maintain contact

The report finds that the economic circumstances of a father are a significant factor in whether he stays in contact with his non-resident children. Fathers who are not in contact are more likely to be unemployed, are less likely to own their own home and have fewer bedrooms in their property than fathers who maintain contact. For example, 42 per cent of fathers who have little or no contact with their children are either unemployed or economically inactive, compared with 26 per cent of fathers who report higher levels of contact.

Moreover, those fathers who have contact with their children are far more likely to contribute financially than those who don’t; 83 per cent of fathers who see their children several times a week report that they send or give money for child support compared with 29 per cent of fathers who do not see their non-resident children. Overall around a third (32%), amounting to well over 300,000 UK non-resident fathers, say that they do not, or are not able to, pay child support for the children who don’t live with them.


Fathers with a second family have less contact with children from previous relationships

One further factor that is linked with fathers’ poorer contact with non-resident children is if other dependent children live with them – either their own or their new partner’s: 21 per cent of fathers with a second or subsequent family say they have no contact with the children from their former relationship; and only eight per cent say they have contact almost every day. This compares with 10 per cent and 14 per cent respectively for fathers who are not currently living in second families. This may suggest that as fathers go on to have a second family they can lose contact with children from previous relationships.

The report also shows that only 69 per cent of fathers with ‘two families’ report having a close relationship with the children who do not live with them. By contrast, 86 per cent of the fathers who have not had a second family remain close to the children from their earlier relationship.

Eloise Poole, Senior Researcher, NatCen Social Research said: “Our research throws new light on the relationships between fathers and their non-resident children by exploring the experiences of fathers themselves. We find that the vast majority feel close to their children and see them regularly, even though they don’t live with them. However, the importance of economic factors in how much fathers see their children is a cause for concern, especially in a difficult economic climate. Our findings suggest that some fathers simply don’t have the financial resources, or spare bedrooms, to be able to maintain regular contact with their children.”

Dr Sara Connolly, UEA, said: “This research makes an important contribution to the debate on non-resident fathers. The results are based on a much larger and nationally representative sample of non-resident fathers than that used in previous studies, the data was also collected more recently, therefore reflecting some of the important changes in social norms and post-separation settlements.”

Professor Margaret O’Brien, TCRU, added: “Overall we are seeing a positive story about father’s maintaining relationships with their non-resident children. But it appears that some fathers may be losing contact with non-resident children when they start new families or when they are struggling financially.”

Read a more detailed briefing on the Modern Fatherhood website.

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  • nongenderbias9 says:

    I met a father once who told me he had a meaningful relationship with his child although he hadn’t seen his child for over two years. He sent letters and cards but nothing had come back.
    This man is ill, he is suffering from rejection but has not found a way to deal with it. (ref; The Prodigal Father by Mark Bryan)
    Other fathers, who don’t see their children, take it upon themselves to make grandiose gestures bringing attention to themselves by making public demonstrations, pained by their loss and debilitated in their ability to stay connected to their beloved children.
    Clearly, like the authors of this article, you are all sadly deluded if you think any parent (man or woman) can have a meaningful relationship with their child if they can’t experience anything less than regular days and nights with their children such that the mutual experience for both parent and child is one of full involvment. By this I am covering the full spectrum of parenting experience, from behaviour to education to health, friendships and fears etc. If you go on a parenting course you may understand more fully what is required of a parent and hopefully by the end, if the penny has dropped, you will know that “contact” is simply not enough for any parent, the term “primary parent” is an insult to the other parent, the notion that one parent is expected to “care” whilst the other to “pay” is sadly misguided nonsense.
    Our legislation rubber stamps separation as a divisory process. For our children, who are innocent parties in this process, we owe them a chance to continued relations with both parents. We need to make this happen for them by accepting that father has as equally an important role to play as mother.

    Thank you for all the hard work you do bringing the facts and figures to our attention.

    Kind regards

    • Fatherhood Institute says:

      Thanks for your comment, which makes an extremely valid point. A frustration with much family research, and its reporting, is its failure to really drill down to the detail of ‘who does what’. The potential diversity of experience (for children, fathers and mothers) of the following statistic is a case in point: 59 per cent reported seeing or contacting children not living with them at least once a week. ‘Seeing’ and ‘contacting’ are likely to feel very different; ‘children not living with them’ could be two streets away or on the other side of the world; ‘at least once a week’ could be once, twice, three times…twice a day. Sometimes, perhaps, it is only when one has experienced separation that one appreciates how bluntly the world describes and deals with such painful processes. There’s some really useful stuff in this research, though, which can help in the fight against overly simplistic talk of ‘man deserts’ and the like.

    • nongenderbias9 says:

      Many thanks for your quick and thoughtful response. I too read of the “men deserts” in the centre for social justice report and thought the term that was adopted, “men deserts” could be a little sensationalist. However when I saw the data from Manor Park in Sheffield I thought it might be a fairly accurate description of how things really were. There was also a TV programme at the time which looked at some of the families in Manor Park. I confess to being unnerved by the women who had several children by different fathers, without a father in sight. Having worked in a supporting role with fathers who want to carry on being a father to their own children I can empathise with those who aren’t able to do their job simply because we support the mother in blocking him out of the children’s lives. The more I study this anti-father phenomenon the more I realise we have to change the legislation that encourages father absenteeism. So congratulations to you for pinpointing how legislation should change to give Dad a fighting chance of staying in the job even after separation. I am familiar with some of Professor Margaret O’Brien’s work especially as it relates to the sharing of parenting roles in families pre-separation. I confess to finding it somewhat ironic that she should be talking about how parenting is shared in the modern European family in the University whilst on the other side of the City there are many families without father figures, lost in the process of separation and intractable disagreement.

      Kind regards

    • Andrew says:

      The UK fails spectacularly to realize the ‘best interests of the child’ and ‘joint parental responsibility’ in cases of separation. Many thousands maybe millions of British children are caused serious harm by our shameful adversarial system, cruel winner-take-all outcomes, empowerment of implacable hostility, and hand-wringing at alienating behaviour. Children are forced to live in state-sponsored mini-dictatorships, while their ‘absent parents’ are denied any positive or substantive role–by the state!! Denying a generation of children their fathers is shameful and cruel by any moral standards. Shared parenting will become the norm sooner or later. Judges, let’s make it sooner?

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