The Non-Resident Dad - Statistics, Sad Truths and Success
It's been a while since there has been an opportunity to write a blog post but the subject of dads after relationship breakdown has been on my mind, particularly since lockdown which appears to have de-stabilised a number of relationships sadly.
An article in The Guardian by Mona Chalabi caught my eye as it appears to report on some meaningful data to consider.
Firstly - non resident dads - Who are they?
By pulling together the various pieces of data that emerged from the survey, NatCen, Thomas Coram Research Unit and the University of East Anglia were able to draw up a picture of which dads were more likely to live away from their children. They found that they were:
More likely to be white British compared with an Asian ethnic group
A Black ethnic group, compared with a White British ethnic group
Have a lower level of educational attainment
Not be in paid work
Belong to the lowest socio-economic group
Rent a property, rather than owning outright or with a mortgage
Have married or cohabited three or more times
Age also played a role; 34% of fathers aged 16 to 24 had non-resident children compared with 14% of fathers aged 45 or older.
9 out of 10 dads stay in touch with their children
"87% of fathers who don't live with their children say they still have contact with them although only 49% say that contact is regular (i.e. on weekends and during school holidays). And the 13% of dads who never see the children that they don't live with are important too.
Fathers with bigger homes were also more likely to see the children that don't live with them - 51% of dads who had 3 or more bedrooms compared had regular contact, compared to 34% of dads with 1 bedroom.
And despite all of the above, 61% of dads not living with their children described their relationship with them as 'very close', 27% said 'quite close' and only 16% said 'not close at all'.
This begs the question, what help is available for hard-working dads on an average income trying to provide housing suitable to see their children? Hard working dads in the £25-£35k income bracket seem to struggle particularly. What are they supposed to do without family support or an extremely co-operative ex-partner when it comes to overnight accommodation for their children?
The housing issue proves a challenge for many. Even qualifying for help with mediation sees these guys fall between the cracks. The maximum rent that can be deducted from the qualifying assessment is capped at £545 pcm and where can you find a 2 bed flat for that in Hertfordshire? The system doesn't appear to be helping dads here.
Quality of relationship
"68% of non-resident fathers provided financial support to their children - although that varied depending on how often they saw their children. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only 29% of those who never see their children provide financial support."
Interestingly the article suggests that a high number of fathers with shared residency (50/50) do provide financial support. Those with the least contact tend to pay the least or nothing despite not having any housing costs for the children. It would be interesting to explore more of what is meant by this. It is not unusual these days to hear a request for 50/50 residence from a dad during a mediation, equally it is not unusual to hear the other parent suggest this is just a ploy to avoid paying child maintenance.
When explored fully a child-centred 50/50 arrangement is not a cheap option for a family.
Any of us with genuine responsibility for providing for children appreciate that the extensive costs involved are far from low cost. Duplicating this without one or both adults seriously going short is close to impossible for most families, so hats off to those that are making that work for their children. One of the challenges we have in mediation is how to gently convey to clients the reality of their financial situation in so much that if things were not financially easy before the relationship ended, affording a second home usually means more compromise.
As a mediator I see all sorts of family arrangements chosen by clients. More recently, and possibly a consequence of the pandemic making many of us look at things differently, I have had a few clients looking at "nesting" . What is that you may ask? It is an extremely child-centred approach where the children stay in the family home and the parents come and go within an agreed routine so that its the adults rather than the kids packing a suitcase and having to move out. The children, rather than a parent, has the "bigger space" where two homes of the same size is not financially viable. It is of course fraught with all kinds of logistical challenges but personally I have been so impressed hearing the lengths parents are willing to go to to ensure their children have the least disruption and benefit from both of them.
What seems common to the most challenging co-parenting relationships is a lack of trust and communication. Where one parent feels either powerless or that the responsibility for all the "non fun" or restrictive parental elements falls on one party. The resentment is profound on both sides commonly.
We all know how important good fathers are in the outcomes for young people so it is something worth striving for if possible and safe for all involved. Maybe we need to think outside the box more to ensure the next generation has what they need from both their parents, and look at the legal system that still seems to support fighting and winning at court despite research showing the damage we do to children with conflict. How do we achieve a shift change where co-operation rather than dominance is seen as the badge of success by both?
I work with some extremely child-centred clients and some that find parenting more challenging. Whatever the arrangements parents choose for their children, whether that is a couple of hours a week with one parent, or the other end of the spectrum with a 50/50 arrangement success or failure seems to hinge on three key ingredients - good communication, empathy for the other parent and respect for the other parent. That might seem like an overly simplistic formula and at face value, perhaps it is, but with a backdrop of relationship breakdown with all the hurt and damage that does, possibly less than ideal role models in the parents own backgrounds and a history of de-railed communication there are lots of challenges in mediation to help give the most important people here (the children) the childhood experience they deserve.