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

I - INTRODUCTION

This report presents a statistical profile of Canadian children whose parents have separated, in terms of custody and living arrangements, access to the non-custodial parent and the availability of child support payments. Little is known about these issues in Canada, particularly where the parents have separated but not divorced. However, with the release[1] of the data on children's family history and custody from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY), we can begin to sketch an accurate portrait of children from broken homes and the arrangements parents make for their care.

The NLSCY is a panel survey conducted jointly by Human Resources and Development Canada (HRDC) and Statistics Canada. Over 22,000 children from birth to age 11 were first surveyed during the winter of 1994-1995. The sample is organized to provide a cross-sectional set of data at each cycle. The original sample is being followed every two years at least until the year 2002, and is representative both nationally and provincially. The survey covers a spectrum of issues, ranging from the developmental progress to the socio-economic background of the children.

The section of the survey entitled "Family and Custody History" is of specific interest to us here. It contains the complete retrospective family histories of both parents, including their on-going parental and conjugal circumstances if there was a separation or divorce. This section looks at the existence of child support and custody orders, the actual living arrangements of the children, the nature and frequency of their contacts with the non-custodial parent and the regularity of child support payments. Considered in conjunction with the rest of the survey, the questions in the section on family and custody history will allow researchers to measure the impact of the circumstances surrounding parental break-up on the development of the children. To date, only the results from the 1994-1995 survey are available, but thanks to the retrospective questions on family history and custody, it is possible to examine the influence of past changes in family life on children's well-being at the time of the survey. As the subsequent cycles of the survey data in this section of the survey become available, it will be possible to look further at the changes that occur in the lives of individual children.

This report addresses the following questions:

This report does not provide complete answers to all of the above questions. However, some of the results presented below will stimulate discussion and guide further analyses of the rich and complex database that is available with the release of the Family and Custody History section of the NLSCY.

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