Study: Frequency of contact between separated fathers and their children

1994 to 1997

October 29, 2007

The period immediately following separation is crucial for the long-term contact between fathers and their children with whom they no longer live, according to a new study published recently in the Journal of Family Issues.

Dads who remained closely involved with their children in the first few months following separation had a much greater chance of remaining so later on, the study showed.

The study, conducted through Statistics Canada's Research Data Centre program, examined how children's contact with their "non-resident fathers" evolved over a two-year period. It used data from cycles 1 and 2 of the National Longitudinal Survey on Children and Youth, and focused on children up to the age of 11 who were living with their mother in 1994/1995, the start of the study period.

At that point, almost one-half of children saw their father frequently: 27% saw him at least every week, while 22% saw him every two weeks. Almost one-third saw their father monthly, for holidays only or irregularly. The remainder (19%) had no paternal visits at all, though some had contact by phone or mail.

Two years later, the frequency of paternal visits had changed for about half of the children. Although some saw more of their fathers and some less, there was a pattern. The study showed that fathers who visited their children regularly seldom lost contact, and fathers who were "absent" in 1994/1995 rarely began regular visits afterwards.

Many factors can affect visit frequency. This study focused on a much-debated one among specialists: new family commitments taken on by separated parents.

The majority of fathers and mothers form new unions in the years following separation, often with individuals who also have children from an earlier union. Close to half of these new couples go on to have a child together.

Early research found that fathers who remarried were less involved with non-resident children than those who did not. More recent studies suggest that this reduced contact is due to new paternal responsibilities rather than remarriage as such. Fathers who start second families invest in the children with whom they live at the expense of those with whom they no longer live.

This new study showed that the timing of new unions after separation is important. The earlier separated fathers entered a new union, the less frequently they saw their children later on. In particular, non-resident fathers who began a new union within two months of separation had significantly less contact with children than those who did not.

In other words, new unions reduce visit frequency if they are formed before fathers and children have established the structure of their post-separation relationship. Fathers' new unions do not so much reduce visitation once established as lead to less contact from the start, which may in turn affect the frequency of contacts in the long term.

As in other research, the study found an even stronger negative link between father-child contact and the mother's subsequent remarriage.

The findings also supported a strong positive link, already identified in other research, between child support payments and the frequency of visits. Fathers who invest time in their children are also more inclined to invest money and other resources.

Overall, the study suggested that fathers who were involved in their non-resident children's lives after separation did not abandon them, whatever the family commitments they later took on.

Note: The analysis was carried out at the Quebec Inter-University Centre for Social Statistics, Quebec's Research Data Centre. The Research Data Centre program is the result of a partnership between Statistics Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and Canadian university consortia, and aims to strengthen Canada's social research capacity.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Heather Juby (514-343-2090 ext. 8;, Quebec Research Data Centre.

The article, "Nonresident Fathers and Children: Parents' New Unions and Frequency of Contact", published in the Journal of Family Issues, 2007, Vol. 28, no. 9, is available free at

For more information about the Research Data Centre program, contact Gustave Goldmann (613-951-1472), Research Data Centre program.