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)

Contact with the Non-custodial Parent

In this section we look at the amount of contact non-custodial parents had with their children and attempt to distinguish the different patterns of contact maintained after separation. There is presently a great deal of controversy surrounding this issue as non-custodial parents, mostly fathers, blame their former spouses for preventing them from seeing their children and custodial parents, mostly mothers, blame the absent fathers for losing interest. While the NLSCY provides, for the first time, national level information on the amount of contact between non-custodial parents and their children, it did not ask about the reasons for the patterns of contact maintained. We cannot, therefore, address these issues. What we can do, however, is describe the patterns of contact between non-custodial parents and their children after separation, and the factors associated with these patterns.

Figure 11 shows the distribution of children from broken families according to the type of contact maintained with either parent at the time of separation, regardless of whether the broken union was common-law or marriage. The type of contact mothers maintained is of little interest to us here since, as we have seen above, the vast majority of children live with their mothers when the parents part. We will concentrate then on the patterns of contact between fathers and their children.

Figure 11: Type of Contact Maintained with Either Parent at Time of Separation--NLSCY 1994-1995

Figure 11: Type of Contact Maintained with Either Parent at Time of Separation--NLSCY 1994-1995

[ Description of Figure 11 ]

As can be seen, very few children (7 percent) lived with their fathers only and another small fraction shared residence with both parents (7 percent). The rest (86 percent) of the children lived with their mothers and visited their fathers with varied frequency. Close to half of the children visited their fathers on a regular basis: less than a third (30 percent) visited every week, and another 16 percent visited every two weeks (Table 8). A quarter of children visited their fathers irregularly (once a month, on holidays, or at random). Fifteen percent of children never saw their fathers (although a very few had letter or phone contact with him).

Does this pattern vary depending on the type of union that existed at the time of separation? Yes. Firstly, children from common-law unions were more likely to live with their mothers at the time of separation than children whose parents were married (91 percent vs. 83 percent). Secondly, they were less likely to live in a shared custody arrangement (3 percent vs. 8 percent) and, finally, twice as many children from broken common-law unions never saw their fathers compared to children whose parents were married (21 percent vs. 11 percent).

Figure 12: Type of Contact Maintained with Father at Time of Separation, Whether the Broken Union Was a Marriage or Common-Law Union--NLSCY 1994-1995

Figure 12:

[ Description of Figure 12 ]

These patterns were true for the country as a whole, including Quebec where children from broken common-law unions are over-represented among children who experienced a family break-up. Despite the differences in Quebec regarding the forming and dissolving of conjugal unions, the patterns of contact between fathers and their children after separation did not differ from the rest of the country (Table 8).

Table 8: Type of Contact Maintained with Either Parent at Time of Separation, Whether the Broken Union Was a Marriage or Common-Law Union--Canada and Regions--NLSCY, Cycle 1, 1994-1995
  Canada Atlantic Provinces
Type of Contact Marriage Common-Law Total Marriage Common-Law Total
Child lives with mother only: 83.2 91.4 86.2 85.3 92.4 87.6
- never visits father * 11.1 21.3 14.8 11.9 21.6 15.1
- visits father irregularly * 25.3 23.3 24.6 25.5 23.3 24.8
- visits father every two weeks 14.9 19.1 16.4 13.7 7.2 11.5
- visits father once a week 31.9 27.7 30.4 34.2 40.3 36.2
Child lives with father only: 8.4 5.3 7.3 7.0 5.7 6.6
- never visits mother * 0.3 1.2 0.7 0.2 2.1 0.8
- visits mother irregularly * 2.5 1.8 2.2 2.3 2.5 2.4
- visits mother every two weeks 2.3 1.2 1.9 2.3 0.0 1.5
- visits mother once a week 3.3 1.1 2.5 2.2 1.1 1.9
Child shares residence with both parents 8.4 3.2 6.5 7.6 1.9 5.7
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
N 1 2028 1158 3187 162 80 243
Table 8: Type of Contact Maintained with Either Parent at Time of Separation, (continued) Whether the Broken Union Was a Marriage or Common-Law Union--Canada and Regions--NLSCY, Cycle 1, 1994-1995
  Quebec Ontario
Type of Contact Marriage Common-Law Total Marriage Common-Law Total
Child lives with mother only: 79.6 89.3 84.5 83.8 93.4 86.9
- never visits father * 10.9 20.4 15.7 10.9 18.0 13.2
- visits father irregularly * 25.2 22.8 24.0 24.4 20.3 23.1
- visits father every two weeks 21.0 23.9 22.5 15.2 21.5 17.2
- visits father once a week 22.5 22.2 22.3 33.3 33.6 33.4
Child lives with father only: 9.4 5.8 7.7 8.3 4.3 7.1
- never visits mother * 0.0 0.8 0.4 0.4 0.7 0.5
- visits mother irregularly * 2.7 2.6 2.7 2.3 0.7 1.8
- visits mother every two weeks 4.1 1.5 2.8 2.2 2.2 2.2
- visits mother once a week 2.6 0.9 1.8 3.4 0.7 2.6
Child shares residence with both parents 10.9 4.9 7.9 7.7 2.4 6.0
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
N 1 385 396 781 800 372 1172
Table 8: Type of Contact Maintained with Either Parent at Time of Separation, (continued) Whether the Broken Union Was a Marriage or Common-Law Union--Canada and Regions--NLSCY, Cycle 1, 1994-1995
  Prairies British Columbia
Type of Contact Marriage Common-Law Total Marriage Common-Law Total
Child lives with mother only: 88.0 89.1 88.4 79.6 95.0 84.0
- never visits father * 11.1 25.5 15.9 11.4 28.0 16.2
- visits father irregularly * 31.9 26.9 30.2 19.8 28.5 22.3
- visits father every two weeks 15.6 11.0 14.1 6.9 15.7 9.4
- visits father once a week 29.4 25.7 28.2 41.5 22.8 36.1
Child lives with father only: 6.1 9.5 7.2 10.6 1.5 8.0
- never visits mother * 0.9 3.2 1.6 0.0 0.9 0.3
- visits mother irregularly * 2.5 3.0 2.7 2.6 0.6 2.0
- visits mother every two weeks 0.5 0.0 0.3 2.7 0.0 1.9
- visits mother once a week 2.2 3.3 2.6 5.3 0.0 3.8
Child shares residence with both parents 6.0 1.4 4.5 9.9 3.5 8.0
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
N 1 361 180 542 319 130 449
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