A new study by the London School of Economics reports that children of separated parents have worse outcomes than those whose parents stay together, but that this may be lessened by the extent of contact/relationships are maintained with the non-resident parent.
The study looked at 19,000 “millennial” children born between September 2000 and January 2002, up to the age of 11, whose parent had generally separated by the time they were aged 7, to study the consequences of that separation and their outcomes at 11 as they went into secondary education.
The report’s findings will not come as a surprise, as such anecdotal and other research evidence has always suggested this, but it may help to influence Government and legal/social approaches to families and children’s welfare.
The report found generally:
- Contact with the non-resident parent declined over time.
- Contact was higher where the parents were previously married.
- Contact was higher in families of a higher socio-economic status.
- Contact was higher in families where there had been no Court involvement in children or financial matters.
Again these are not surprising findings but reinforce the interaction between relationship breakdown and socio-economic factors and their link with educational and social attainment.
Interestingly, the report found that the more affluent used Court proceedings for financial issues, whereas the less affluent used the Court for child arrangement issues, though they are more likely to then represent themselves.
The report states: “the findings support existing evidence showing that children of separated parents have worse outcomes compared with children of parents who are still together. The findings also suggest that contact with the non-resident parent may mitigate against the negative effects of separation.”
The report also looked at the nature and extent of contact arrangements between the non-resident parent and the child. For example, this could be from as little as telephone contact, up to and including visiting contact, overnight staying contact, holidays etc. It also examined and analysed how the nature and frequency of contact, and the provision of financial support by the non-resident parent varied by the child’s age at separation, their gender, and pre-separation family characteristics and socio-economic status. It found large differences based on the parents’ relationship status before the separation, where those children of previously married parents tended to have higher levels of contact, even where interestingly, the relationship between the parents’ post-separation tended to be worse if they were married as opposed to having just been cohabiting before separation.
It also found that the non-resident parent was more likely to provide child support following separation if they had been married rather than cohabiting prior to separation.
Sadly, it concluded that the level of contact between a child and non-resident parent tended to decline as the time since separation increased. Anecdotally this is well known.
As family lawyers, we often advise non-resident parents to work hard at maintaining and fostering the relationship with their children following separation and to ride out the external influences that often affect some child arrangements such as overnight staying contact, where the child may often have conflicting interests from friends etc and which leads to the breakdown of the relationship frequency of contact etc.
It is important to note that the findings of this report are descriptive only. The analyses do not attempt to explain the reasons behind the findings, for example the obvious difference that will arise in socio-economic circumstances following separation, where one or both families may experience financial difficulties, lower standards of living, and other influences which also have an effect on the child growing up in such circumstances, from which the child of continuously married or cohabiting parents may be somewhat cushioned.
The report concludes that there are a series of implications for social theory and practice. The report notes that the results show child and non-resident parent relationships are dynamic and vary over time.
Finally, the report suggests that there are a number of further research findings that could usefully follow from this report or this research. It will be interesting to see whether these suggestions are taken up by the MOJ and/or Government in the future, for example, whether the decline in contact over time can have adverse consequences for children’s longer-term wellbeing (the report only studied those up to age 11).