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What do we know about non-resident fathers?

Date:20 NOV 2013

A report published today by NatCen Social Research, Thomas Coram Research Unit and the University of East Anglia, which is part of the ESRC-funded Modern Fatherhood project, has shown that only half of non-resident fathers have their children staying with them on a regular basis, on weekends and during school holidays.

The research, entitled What do we know about non-resident fathers?, found that 5% of fathers in the UK, around one million men, have dependent non-resident children.

59% of non-resident fathers reported seeing or contacting their children at least once a week. 81% said they were very or quite close to their children. However, 13% of non-resident fathers, or 129,000 men, reported having no contact at all with their children.

The report shows 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% of fathers who have little or no contact with their children are either unemployed or economically inactive, compared with 26% 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% of fathers who see their children several times a week report that they send or give money for child support compared with 29% 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.

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, from the University of East Anglia, 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, from the Thomas Coren Research Unit, 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.'