Custody, Access and Child Support: Findings from The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth

III - WHEN PARENTS SEPARATE: CANADIAN CHILDREN FROM BROKEN FAMILIES AND THE LAW (continued)

Patterns of Contact Between Non-custodial Parents and Their Children by Age of Children and Time Since Separation

Does the age of the child at the time of separation influence the level of contact maintained with the father? Yes, it does. Other studies have shown that fathers more easily maintain close relationships with their older children than with their younger children. Children from this first cycle of the NLSCY are still all under the age of 12, yet there was a difference in the amount of contact maintained according to the age of the child.

Table 9: Type of Contact Maintained with Father at Time of Separation, According to Age of Child--NLSCY, Cycle 1, 1994-1995

As Table 9 illustrates, two and half times more children aged six to eleven years lived with their fathers, at least on a part-time basis, than children under the age of three (23 percent vs. 9 percent). Weekly visits with their fathers were more frequent for older children than with younger ones (36 percent vs. 26 percent). Moreover, the proportion of children who never saw their fathers was twice as high for children under the age of three than for those aged six to eleven (18 percent vs. 8 percent).

Do these patterns of contact vary with the time elapsed since separation and, if so, does the frequency of contact increase or decrease with time? The subsequent cycles of the NLSCY will obviously yield better information on this matter. For the time being, Figure 13 shows the type of contact maintained with the father at the time of the survey rather than at the time of separation, taking into account the number of years since separation.

Figure 13: Type of Contact Maintained with Father at the Time of Survey, According to Time Elapsed Since Separation--NLSCY 1994-1995

Figure 13: Type of Contact Maintained with Father at the Time of Survey, According to Time Elapsed Since Separation--NLSCY 1994-1995

[ Description ]

In spite of the limitations of the data, it is clear that the frequency of contact between fathers and their children was closely related to the time since separation. As Figure 13 shows, the likelihood of children sharing residences with both of their parents tends to decrease over time. For example, children whose parents were separated less than two years shared residences in 9 percent of cases compared to only 6 percent of children whose parents were separated for at least five years.

The regularity of visits also drops considerably over time. Fifty-seven percent of children whose parents had been separated for less than two years at the time of the survey visited their fathers regularly (every week or every two weeks). This percentage drops to 31 percent when the parents were separated five or more years before the survey. The drop is most pronounced for weekly visits: 42 percent of children visited their father weekly when the separation was recent as opposed to 13 percent when the parents had been separated at least five years (see Table 10). Moreover, 10 percent of children never saw their fathers when the parents had been separated less than two years, and this increases to 24 percent for children whose parents were separated at least five years. The patterns are slightly more pronounced in relation to broken common-law unions compared to broken marriages: five years or more after their parents separated, only 12 percent of children from broken common-law unions saw their father on a weekly basis, and a third of children (32 percent) never saw their father. These figures are 14 percent and 19 percent respectively for children from broken marriages.

Table 10: Type of Contact Maintained with Either Parent at Time of Survey, Whether the Broken Union Was a Marriage or Common-Law Union, and According to Time Elapsed zSince Separation--NLSCY, Cycle 1, 1994-1995
  Type of Broken Union and Time Elapsed Since Separation
All Unions Marriage Common-Law
Type of Contact < 2 Years 2-4 Years 5 + Years < 2 Years 2-4 Years 5 + Years < 2 Years 2-4 Years 5 + Years
Child lives with mother:
- never visits father 10.4 16.6 24.2 8.4 15.1 19.4 13.7 19.4 32.4
- visits father irregularly 16.3 25.2 32.2 16.4 25.5 33.4 16.3 24.6 30.1
- visits father every two weeks 14.9 19.5 17.8 13.6 17.9 18.7 17.1 22.3 16.3
- visits father once a week 41.8 21.9 12.9 39.8 23.0 13.6 44.9 19.7 11.8
Child lives with father:
- never visits mother 0.4 0.5 2.6 0.2 0.7 1.1 0.7 0.3 5.0
- visits mother irregularly 1.2 4.3 1.9 1.7 4.5 2.3 0.4 3.9 1.3
- visits mother every two weeks 3.1 2.6 1.1 3.4 2.4 1.4 2.5 2.8 0.5
- visits mother once a week 2.8 1.2 1.6 3.8 1.2 2.5 1.3 1.0 0.2
Child shares residence with both parents 9.0 8.3 5.5 12.6 9.6 7.5 3.1 6.0 2.3
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
N1 902 1020 929 558 661 584 345 359 345

1. N = Weighted data brought back to the original sample size.

Unfortunately, we cannot discuss the reasons for these patterns based on the existing survey data. In further cycles of the NLSCY, we will be able at least to establish some links between the patterns of contact between non-custodial parents and their children and the conjugal life of both parents after separation. Ideally, separated fathers should be surveyed. The methodology of the NLSCY would have to be adapted to explore further avenues of research on the relationships between children and their fathers following a family break-up.

Date modified: