Reports 2014/02

Children’s permanent residence and contact with non-resident parents 2002, 2004 and 2012

Changes in custody and care when parents live apart

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This report presents tables from three surveys of how parents not living together have organized the lives of their youngest child, whether the child lives with the mother, the father or has shared residence and how much time the non-resident parent spends with the child on a monthly basis and in vacations. The surveys were conducted in 2002, 2004 and 2012. Both parents were interviewed, i.e. both the non-resident and the resident parent. The parents were defined as resident and non-resident parents according to the child’s registered address. When the child is registered living with the mother, the mother is the resident parent, the father the non-resident parent, and when the child is registered living with the father, the father is the resident parent, the mother the non-resident parent.

The child’s registered address is not always in accordance with the child’s actual address. In the civil register a person can only be registered with one address, but many parents have chosen shared residence, i.e. shared physical and judicial custody, for their child. The child lives about equal time with each parent, and the parents take care of the child equally much. In the three surveys the parents are asked if the child lives with the mother, with the father or have shared residence. They do not always agree where the child lives. Because of that, the parents are grouped as resident and non-resident parents according to the registered address in the tables in this report. Consequently, both resident and non-resident parents may appear with shared residence for their child in the tables.

Among parents living apart, the proportion with shared residence for their child has increased from 8 per cent in 2002 to 25 per cent in 2012. Consequently, the percentage residing with the mother decreased from 84 per cent in 2002 to 66 per cent in 2012, whereas the percentage with paternal physical custody has been fairly constant at 7-8 per cent.

In the survey, the mothers and fathers sometimes answer inconsistently on questions about who the child resides with. A higher proportion of non-resident than resident parents claim to have shared residence for the child. Whereas 26 per cent of non-resident fathers claim to practice shared residence in 2012, only 16 per cent of the resident mothers would agree. The disagreement between the parents was larger in terms of percentage points in 2012 than in 2002/2004.

Some groups of parents had a rather low proportion with shared residence in 2002 and 2004, but they had drawn nearer the other groups in 2012. For example, very few non-resident fathers below the age of 30 claimed to have shared residence in 2002 and 2004, only 2 and 1 per cent. In 2012, 27 per cent of the non-resident fathers in this age group had shared residence for their child, according to themselves. On the other hand, both in 2002 and in 2012 the highly educated non-resident fathers had shared residence more often than those with lower education.

The non-resident fathers spent more time with the child on a regular basis in 2012 than in 2002. The proportion seeing the child at least once a month increased with nearly 10 percentage points. On average, the non-resident fathers spent 6.5 days per month with the child in 2002 and 8.6 days in 2012. The increase in number of days spent with the child on a monthly basis is probably very much due to the increase in the proportion practicing shared residence for their children.

Newly separated non-resident fathers spend more time with their children than do the fathers who separated from the mother a longer time ago, and the longer time since the separation, the lower the percentage with shared residence. This may be due to the fact that more parents agree on shared residence now than a few years ago, but it may also be owing to older children’s reluctance to spend time with their non-resident father.

The proportion of non-resident parents who spend time with the children in vacations has increased somewhat, from 83 per cent in 2002 to 89 per cent in 2012. More non-resident parents spent some time with the child during Christmas holydays in 2012 than in 2002. The same increase applies to Easter and summer holydays.

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