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Children and non-resident parents

Children benefit from being in regular contact with their non-resident parents but the frequency and quality of this contact can decline over time.

A research paper published by The Ministry of Justice looked into the how a child's wellbeing is affected by the relationship they have with the parent they don’t live with.

The report (pdf) also looked at the courts’ involvement in settling contact and financial arrangements and the impact these can have on a child’s outcomes as they grow up.

The study followed a group of children whose parents had separated by the time they were seven years old. It looked at levels of court involvement in parental separation, and the frequency and quality of the contact between the children and the non-resident parents.

Researchers then looked at outcomes for children when they were aged eleven, paying particular attention to:

  • Subjective wellbeing (children’s moods and emotions).
  • Antisocial behaviours, like drinking, smoking, or breaking the law.
  • Social and behavioural problems.
  • How good they were at making decisions around risky behaviour.

Contact declines over time

According to the report, the level of contact between children and their non-resident parents tends to decline over time, in terms of both frequency and quality.

Among children of separated parents, the ones that had the best outcomes at age eleven were those who had had the most contact with their non-resident parents. This can be harder to manage if you’re struggling financially, but it’s important to try and maintain regular quality time together.

Even after a separation, you and your ex-partner continue to have a relationship as co-parents, so it’s really important to look after this relationship in as supportive a way as possible. Put your children first and, wherever safe, try to ensure they spend time with both parents.

If you’re a non-resident parent and you feel like you don’t get enough time with your children, there are a few helpful things you can work on:

  • Try to resolve your differences with your ex-partner, using external support like mediation where necessary.
  • If you can’t resolve your differences, try to keep your disputes and conflict away from the children.
  • Draw up a parenting plan.
  • Stick to the agreed arrangements, particularly if these have been agreed by the courts.
  • Use the time you do have together to work on developing a bond with your child.

You may not love your child’s other parent anymore – you may even resent them or be angry with them – but maintaining contact can protect your child against the negative effects of separation. It might be necessary to set your own feelings aside, at least in the beginning.

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