Post-Divorce Contact Between Children & Non-Custodial Fathers
Perhaps not surprisingly, the “Patterns of Nonresident Father Contact” research study found that physical distance between a father and child is the biggest determining factor in the amount of contact between them.
Researchers compiled data over a 14-year period that analyzed non-residential fathers’ contact with their children, with “contact” being measured as visiting face-to-face with the child.
Robert Hughes Jr., author of the article and professor of human development at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, wrote that four patterns of father involvement emerged from the research.
Fathers who consistently had high contact comprised the largest group, about 38%. Traits of these fathers include they are better educated, more likely to pay child support, and their children are older.
Roughly 32% of the fathers had little contact with their children, only about once a year starting with the date of separation. This high percentage can be attributed to the fact that these fathers were living more than 100 miles from their children within a year of the divorce, so there were fewer opportunities for face-to-face meetings from the initial stages of separation. Characteristics of these fathers include: young, not as educated, and more likely to have children born outside of wedlock.
These numbers show more than two-thirds of fathers were consistently either highly involved or rarely involved in their children’s lives so those groups’ patterns didn’t change much over the 14-year time period.
Only one group showed a clear pattern of declining contact, going from almost weekly contact with the child to contact roughly once a year, according to the study. This group constituted about 23% of fathers. These fathers were still making child support payments but the declining contact was likely because of the fact these fathers lived farther away from their children as time went on.
Only 8 percent of fathers increased their pattern of increasing contact over time. This appears to be the result of fathers moving closer to their children over time, thus contact was increased as geographical distance between a father and child decreased. Hughes wrote in his article that these patterns suggest the actual physical distance between a father and child is the biggest determining factor in the amount of contact between them.
The fact that only 8 percent of non-custodial fathers increased contact with their child over time, proves that “those fathers who initially have little involvement may be the ones that we need to support in becoming more involved with their children,” Hughes wrote.
According to the study, a variety of variables differentiated between these groups, including the child’s age at father-child separation, whether the child was born within marriage, the mother’s education, the mother’s age at birth, whether the father pays child support regularly, and the geographical distance between fathers and children.