Nine in ten fathers say they keep in touch with non-resident children

20 Nov 2013

But less well-off may struggle to maintain contact, new research finds

The vast majority (87%) of fathers who don’t live with their children say that they continue to have contact with them and close to half (49%) say that their children stay with them on a regular basis, on weekends and during school holidays, new research has revealed.

The new report, by NatCen Social Research, Thomas Coram Research Unit and the University of East Anglia, is part of the ESRC funded Modern Fatherhood project, seeking to better understand fathers in the 21st Century. The report, based on data from the Understanding Society survey, found that five per cent of fathers in the UK, close to one million men, report having dependent non-resident children.

The overall picture of contact between fathers and non-resident children is a positive one, with 59 per cent reporting seeing or contacting children not living with them at least once a week and 81 per cent saying they are very or quite close with their children. The report also reveals that an estimated 129,000 of men (13% of non-resident fathers) say they have no contact at all with their children.

Less well-off fathers struggling to maintain contact

The report finds that the economic circumstances of a father are a significant factor in whether he stays in contact with his non-resident children.  Fathers who are not in contact are more likely to be unemployed, are less likely to own their own home and have fewer bedrooms in their property than fathers who maintain contact. For example, 42 per cent of fathers who have little or no contact with their children are either unemployed or economically inactive, compared with 26 per cent of fathers who report higher levels of contact.

Moreover, those fathers who have contact with their children are far more likely to contribute financially than those who don’t;  83 per cent of fathers who see their children several times a week report that they send or give money for child support compared with 29 per cent of fathers who do not see their non-resident children. Overall around a third (32%), amounting to well over 300,000 UK non-resident fathers, say that they do not, or are not able to, pay child support for the children who don’t live with them.

Fathers with a second family have less contact with children from previous relationships

One further factor that is linked with fathers’ poorer contact with non-resident children is if other dependent children live with them – either their own or their new partner’s:  21 per cent of fathers with a second or subsequent family say they have no contact with the children from their former relationship; and only eight per cent say they have contact almost every day.  This compares with 10 per cent and 14 per cent respectively for fathers who are not currently living in second families. This may suggest that as fathers go on to have a second family they can lose contact with children from previous relationships.

The report also shows that only 69 per cent of fathers with ‘two families’ report having a close relationship with the children who do not live with them.  By contrast, 86 per cent of the fathers who have not had a second family remain close to the children from their earlier relationship.

Eloise Poole, Senior Researcher, NatCen Social Research said: “Our research throws new light on the relationships between fathers and their non-resident children by exploring the experiences of fathers themselves. We find that the vast majority feel close to their children and see them regularly, even though they don’t live with them. However, the importance of economic factors in how much fathers see their children is a cause for concern, especially in a difficult economic climate. Our findings suggest that some fathers simply don’t have the financial resources, or spare bedrooms, to be able to maintain regular contact with their children.”

Dr Sara Connolly, UEA, said: “This research makes an important contribution to the debate on non-resident fathers.  The results are based on a much larger and nationally representative sample of non-resident fathers than that used in previous studies, the data was also collected more recently, therefore reflecting some of the important changes in social norms and post-separation settlements.”

Professor Margaret O’Brien, TCRU, added: “Overall we are seeing a positive story about father’s maintaining relationships with their non-resident children. But it appears that some fathers may be losing contact with non-resident children when they start new families or when they are struggling financially.”

For further details contact Leigh Marshall: 0207 549 8506 or 0782 803 1850, Cat Bartman:, 01603 593007 or Rowan walker 020 7911 5423.


Notes to editors:

  1. NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.
  2. The Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU) at the Institute of Education carries out research related to children and young people in and outside their families. This includes care, education, health and social service settings.  With a research income of around £2 million per year, TCRU runs government funded research programmes, provides expert advice to policy makers, and develops successful dissemination strategies at both national and international levels. TCRU’s staff are world leading experts in the areas of early childhood education and care, children’s workforce studies, parenting and family life, qualitative and cross-national methodologies.
  3. The University of East Anglia (UEA) is ranked in the top one per cent of universities in the world and was ranked joint second for student satisfaction in the 2013 National Student Survey. It is in the UK Top 10 for research citations and is a leading member of the Norwich Research Park – one of Europe’s biggest concentrations of researchers in the fields of environment, health and plant science.
  4. NatCen Social Research, Thomas Coram Research Unit and the University of East Anglia have been awarded funding from the Economic and Social Research Council’s Secondary Data Analysis Initiative to investigate fathers, work and families in twenty-first century Britain. The project aims to bridge the information gaps on fathers and establish the UK’s foremost analysis about the lives of fathers using data from four large-scale survey series: Understanding Society, the European Union Labour Force Survey, the European Social Survey and the British Household Panel Study. Although principally focused on fathers in the UK, this study also includes international data to enhance understanding of the role that factors in society play in shaping fathers’ work and family life.
  5. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.