Parent-child contact and post separation parenting arrangements
8 July 2004
In Australia, as elsewhere, not a great deal is known about the 'nuts and bolts' of parent-child contact after separation. This report from the Institute's Caring for Children after Parental Separation Project, sheds light on a range of issues related to parent-child contact after parental separation.
Using information gained from a series of focus groups and the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, the report identifies five patterns of parenting after separation; factors that facilitate or impede contact, particularly contact between fathers and their children, and how these factors interact to influence different patterns and levels of care.
The report contains the stories and quotes of many study participants who revealed much personal information about themselves and their post-separation arrangements, in the hope that this would make a difference to the lives of others.
Several key insights emerged:
- Family dynamics in tandem with several demographic factors - most notably material resources, the quality of the co-parental relationship, physical distance between parents' households, and the repartnering status of parents - look to be important correlates of particular patterns of care, with inter-parental conflict being a dominant force.
- The maturity of children also seems to be important, with daytime-only contact being most common when children are of pre-school age, and 'shared care' applying when children are of primary school age.
- The perceptions of mothers and fathers differed markedly where father-child contact was tenuous: mothers perceived fathers not to be interested in being involved with children; fathers believed that mothers cut them out of their children's lives.
- Higher levels of contact appear to be associated with lower levels of inter-parental conflict, lower rates of repartnering, less physical distance between parents' households, and higher levels of financial resources.
- Many parents expressed a need for resources that would assist them in making decisions regarding the future care of children, especially in relation to different ways of sharing the care of children.
The issues addressed by the study are complex, and no easy solutions can be expected. However, empirical evidence on 'what happens' and 'what works' will help ensure that policy and practice best support child and family wellbeing.
Parent-child contact and post-separation parenting arrangements, edited by Bruce Smyth. AIFS Research report no.9, 2004.
Bruce Smyth - Research Fellow
Phone: (03) 9214 7889
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