UK Family Law Reform

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http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2008/03/12145638/4

CHAPTER FOUR KEY FINDINGS

4.1 This chapter details the key findings from the 500 in-home surveys undertaken, under the following headings:

Respondent Characteristics
Previous Relationship
Characteristics of Children
Current Living Status
Current Contact Arrangements
Satisfaction with Current Arrangements
Organisation of Contact Arrangements
Child Consultation
Child Maintenance Payment

Respondent Characteristics

4.2 The achieved sample comprises of 316 respondents (63%) who were resident parents and 184 respondents (37%) who were non-resident parents.

4.3 The sample consisted of 189 male respondents (38%) and 311 female respondents (62%). The majority of resident parents were female (90%) while the majority of non-resident parents were male (85% - refer to Figure 4.1).

Figure 4.1: Gender of resident and non-resident respondents

4.4 24% of respondents were aged less than 25 years, while 45% were aged 26 to 35 years and 23% were aged 36 to 45 years. Only 7% of respondents were aged over 46 years (refer to Figure 4.2). 26-35 year-olds represented 45% of the resident parents and 47% of the non-resident sample..

Figure 4.2: Age of respondents

4.5 Over 40% of respondents were employed either full-time (32%) or part-time (12%). A further 30% were full-time parents, while 23% were unemployed. Only ten respondents (2%) were students.

4.6 The majority of respondents were currently living alone (68%) or living with a partner (20%).

Previous Relationship

4.7 When asked to describe their relationship with the other parent of their child, exactly 50% of respondents identified that they had been previously cohabiting but separated, while 32% were previously married but separated or divorced. A further 18% had been in a relationship but never lived together and 4% had never been in a relationship.

4.8 32% of respondents had separated/broken up with their previous partner less than one year ago. A 40% had separated 1 to 5 years ago while 30% had separated over five years ago (refer to Figure 4.3)

Figure 4.3: Time since respondent separated from other parent

Characteristics of Children

4.9 40% of respondents had children aged under four while only 10% of respondents had children aged 17-18 years of age (refer to Figure 4.4).

Figure 4.4: Age of respondents' children

4.10 There was a fairly even split in terms of children's gender, and the gender of the child and parent had no significant effect on the regularity of contact.

4.11 Figure 4.5 shows the percentage of parents who had a male or female child. A total of 65% of resident parents had a boy opposed to 60% of non-resident parents. While 59% of resident parents had a girl, 63% of non-resident parents also had a girl.

Figure 4.5: Gender of respondents' children

Current Living Status

4.12 Respondents were asked to describe their current living status. Of the total 500 respondents, 68% were single and living alone, 20% were living with a partner and 9% had a partner who lived elsewhere. Only four respondents (0.8%) were living with a partner and that partner's children from a previous relationship.

4.13 72% of resident parents were single and living alone, 17% lived with a partner and 9% had a partner who lived elsewhere. In contrast, 60% of non resident respondents were single and living alone, 26% were living with a partner and 9% had a partner who lived elsewhere.

4.14 Respondents who had a new partner were asked if their relationship has caused problems with contact with the other parent and their children. Of the 149 respondents (both resident and non-resident respondents) who were in a new relationship, four respondents (3%) identified problems "all of the time", 23 respondents (15%) reported problems "some of the time", while the majority (122 or 82%) had never experienced problems.

4.15 Of the 149 respondents in a new relationship (both resident and non-resident respondents), 21% had a child with their new partner while 79% had not had a child. Of the 31 respondents with a child from their current relationship, only five said that having a child has caused problems with contact between the other parent and their children from a previous relationship.

4.16 22% of resident parents and 20% of non-resident parents had had a child in their current relationship.

Figure 4.6: Breakdown of respondents with child in current relationship

Current Contact Arrangements

4.17 Summary of key findings in this section:

Most arrangements were made within the last five years
The majority of respondents live within reasonable travelling distance from their ex-partners
Most of the children have weekly face to face contact with their non-resident parent
Most of the children have weekly "indirect" contact (e.g. telephone, email, etc.) with their non-resident parent
Most of the children have regular contact with their extended family

4.18 For 73% of resident and 76% non-resident parents, child contact arrangements were made within the past five years.

4.19 A total of 85% of resident parents stated that the other parent lives less than 50 miles from their child. 11% of resident parents were unsure where the other parent currently lives (refer to Table 4.1). In the case of non-resident parents, 90% lived within 50 miles of their child.

Table 4.1: Distance between child's home and parents' home

  Resident parents
(distance other parent lives from child)
Non-resident parents
(distance child lives from respondent)
Less than 10 miles
62%
77%
10 to less than 50 miles 23% 13%
50 to less than 100 miles 2% 2%
100 to less than 150 miles 2% 1%
Over 150 miles 3% 5%
Lives abroad 2% 1%
Don't know 11%
3%

4.20 55% of resident parents stated that the other parent sees their child every day or at least once a week. In comparison, a total of 68% of non-resident parents stated that they saw their child every day or at least once a week (refer to Figure 4.7).

Figure 4.7: Frequency of direct contact between child and non-resident parent

4.21 Of the 22 non-resident parents who visit their child(ren) every day all live less than 10 miles away and of the 103 non resident parents who visit their child(ren) at least once a week, 88% live less than 10 miles away.

4.22 Of the 34 non-resident parents who never see their child(ren) 41% live less than 10 miles away and 18% live less than 50 miles away. 56% are single and living alone compared with 29% who are living with a new partner.

4.23 There was some relationship between the child's age and the frequency of contact - overall, 8% of resident parents said that their ex partner saw their child daily, 47% weekly. For children aged 5 or under this rose to 15% and 65% respectively. Overall 12% of non-resident parents claimed to have daily contact. For children aged up to 5 this rose to 21%.

4.24 Parents in their 20s were more likely than other age groups to report daily or weekly contact - 65% of resident parents aged 21-30 said that their partner saw their child at least once a week. Among other age groups only 49% reported this level of contact. A similar pattern emerged among non-residents, with 75% of parents aged 21-30 claiming to have weekly contact with their child, against 62% in the other age groups.

4.25 Overall 69% of non-resident parents had contact at least once a week (12% daily) - this rose to 87% for parents who had been separated for less than a year and 77% for those separated for 1-2 years. In the resident parent sample, 57% said their partner had contact at least once a week - this rose to 91% for those separated less than a year.

4.26 When direct contact was less frequent than 'once or twice a year', respondents were asked to state when the last direct contact occurred. Of the 41 non-resident parents who had infrequent contact, 21 had seen their child less than five years ago, while ten had not seen their child for over five years.

4.27 Respondents were asked where non-residents spend time with their children (refer to Figure 4.8). Most direct contact was undertaken within the home of the non-resident or the home of the child. Only 10% of non-residents saw their child at a relative's or friend's house or a place of leisure (11%). Only 4 respondents stated that time was mainly spent together at a contact centre, and one person spent most time with their child at their school.

Figure 4.8: Location of direct contact between non-resident parent and child

4.28 Respondents were asked how often indirect contact is made between children and the non-resident parent (i.e. letter, phone, text, fax, e-mail or contact on special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas).

4.29 59% of resident parents stated that the other parent has indirect contact - that is to say by letter, phone, text, fax, e-mail, or sending cards and presents on special occasions - with their child every day (10%) or at least once a week (49%). A further 28% never had any indirect contact with their children. In comparison, 70% of non-resident parents stated that they had indirect contact with their child either daily (21%) or at least once a week (49%). 20% of non-resident parents stated that they never have indirect contact with their child (refer to Figure 4.9).

Figure 4.9: Frequency of indirect contact between child and non-resident parent

4.30 34% of resident parents stated that their child stays overnight with the other parent at least once a week while 10% stated that they stay overnight at least once a fortnight (refer to Figure 4.10). Although 46% stated that their children never stay over at the other parents home. In comparison, 44% of non-resident parents stated that their child stays over at least once a week and 10% at least once a fortnight while 30% stated that they never stay overnight.

4.31 Non-resident parents living close to their children tended to have the most regular indirect contact - 13% of non-residents living within 10 miles claimed to have daily contact, with a further 59% weekly as against 4% among those living further away. 27% of resident parents reported daily contact between child and ex-partners living within 10 miles, versus 5% of the remainder.

4.32 58% of non-resident parents who are in daily/weekly contact also have their child stay overnight at least once a week. 25% of these never have the child to stay overnight.

Figure 4.10: Frequency of overnight stays at non-resident parents' home

4.33 Children had a reasonably high level of regular contact with extended family on their non-resident parents' side of the family (refer to Figure 4.11). Resident parents consistently reported less contact overall than did the non-resident parents themselves. Grandparents saw the child most often followed by aunts and uncles, cousins and new partners of the non-resident parent. Overall around 68% of respondents said that their children had regular contact with their grandparents on the ex-partner's side of the family, with over 60% having regular contact with aunts, uncles and cousins.

Figure 4.11: Amount of direct regular contact between child and extended family members of non-resident parent

Satisfaction with Current Arrangements

4.34 Summary of key findings in this section:

A large majority of parents are satisfied with the existing contact arrangements and believe them to be beneficial to their children
Just under a 25% of non-resident parents are dissatisfied with the current arrangements
Satisfaction tends to increase in line with frequency of contact

4.35 Respondents were asked how satisfied they were with their current child contact arrangements. They were asked to answer using the following categories; very satisfied, fairly satisfied, neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, fairly dissatisfied and very dissatisfied. A total of 86% of resident parents were either very satisfied or fairly satisfied compared with 73% of non-resident parents (refer to Figure 4.12).

4.36 Non-resident parents had higher levels of dissatisfaction than resident parents; 24% of non-resident parents gave a dissatisfaction rating (with 17% being very dissatisfied) compared with only 8% of resident parents.

Figure 4.12: Satisfaction with current contact arrangements

4.37 While 82% of resident parents believed that their child benefits from the current child contact arrangements, non-resident parents were slightly less positive, with 72% believing that their child is benefiting.

4.38 There was no strong relationship between satisfaction and distance between child and non-resident parents. Only 8% of parents were dissatisfied, and this was fairly consistent (8% among those living less than 10 miles away, 9% 10-50 miles).

4.39 Figure 4.13 Resident parents were generally satisfied with contact arrangements - highest satisfaction was among those daily/ weekly contact but also those whose ex-partner was never in contact. Of those whose partner had daily/ weekly contact with their child, 91% expressed satisfaction. 75% of those with monthly contact were satisfied, and just under two thirds of those with annual contact were satisfied.

Figure 4.13: Satisfaction with contact arrangements - Resident Parents

4.40 Figure 4.14 91% of non-resident parents with daily/ weekly contact were satisfied, dropping to only 18% of those with no contact.

Figure 4.14: Satisfaction with contact arrangements - Non-Resident Parents

4.41 Figure 4.15 40% of resident parents had made their contact arrangements less than one year ago, while 48% of non-resident parents had made their contact arrangements one to five years ago.

Figure 4.15: Time elapsed since child contact arrangement was originally made

Organisation of Contact Arrangements

4.42 Summary of key findings in this section:

The vast majority of arrangements were of an informal nature
Less than 10% of arrangements are recorded in writing
Serving the child's best interests and avoiding disputes/ conflict were the main reasons for making arrangements
Under 10% of arrangements have been changed over time
Under 3% of arrangements involved courts
In most cases, children were not involved in the process of setting up arrangements

4.43 The majority of contact arrangements were agreed between parents with 74% being agreed in this way by resident parents. 21% of resident and 24% of non-resident parents stated that their child's contact arrangements had never formally been agreed upon. ( NB, formally does not imply court-ordered; it also includes arrangements agreed between the parents).

4.44 Figure 4.16. Few respondents (less than 5% in each category) had negotiated arrangements with the help of mediators, with the help of lawyers or through a court.

Figure 4.16: Ways in which contact arrangements were agreed between parents

4.45 8% of resident and 10% of non-resident parents had recorded the contact arrangements in written form to be made legally binding (such as registered minutes of agreement).

4.46 A total of 9% of resident parents and 12% of non-resident parents identified using the support of services while organising their child contact arrangements. Of the 38 respondents who identified using the support of services, all but one used the advice from a professional (e.g. lawyer, doctor, teacher or social worker) and eight used mediation services. Only three respondents used the Child Support Agency and one used the Citizen's Advice Bureau.

4.47 Respondents were asked the reasons for child contact arrangements originally being made. They were asked to answer using the following categories:

To address existing dispute / conflict
To avoid dispute / conflict
Felt it was in the best interest of the child
To restrict access to children due to allegations of poor behaviour by one of the parents (e.g. abuse)

4.48 54% of resident and 59% of non-resident parents felt it was in the best interest of the child. 40% of resident parents stated it was to avoid a dispute / conflict while 12% of non-resident parents stated is was to address an existing dispute / conflict (refer to Figure 4.17)

Figure 4.17: Main reason for the original organisation of child contact arrangement

4.49 A total of 6% of resident parents and 12% of non-resident parents stated that there has been a change in child contact arrangements over time.

4.50 The 33 respondents who stated that there has been a change in contact arrangements over time were asked to state why arrangements have changed. The most common reasons given were 'non-compliance by the other parent' (19 respondents) followed by 'felt it was in the best interest of the child' (9 respondents). Only one or two respondents each mentioned the following reasons:

Non-compliance by myself
To address continued dispute / conflict
To adapt to child's growing independence as they grew older
To restrict access to children due to allegations of poor behaviour by other parent (e.g. abuse)
Other parent failed to maintain child maintenance payments

4.51 It is important to note that the reported "non-compliance" is the stated perception of the respondents, and does not imply non-compliance from a legally-sanctioned ruling.

4.52 Very few respondents had used the courts to organise child contact arrangements; seven resident respondents (2%) and seven non-resident respondents (4%). These 14 parents represented a total of 39 court cases. These findings are in-line with previous research stating that when parents separate, the vast majority of families make private arrangements for future childcare, with an estimated 10% of separating parents using the court system ( ONS 2003 6 and Neff and Cooper 2004 7).

4.53 While only three resident parents identified needing to return to court (due to changing terms of agreement or due to either parent not complying with the previously agreed contact arrangements), all seven non-resident parents had returned to court.

4.54 All respondents who had returned to court had done so within the past five years.

4.55 Reasons for returning to court (on a case by case basis) included:

Non-compliance by non-resident parent with an earlier court order for child contact (9 cases)
To change the terms of the original contact order (9 cases)
Sheriff monitoring case and asked us to return (1 case)
No respondents identified having to return to court due to non-compliance by themselves with an earlier court order for child contact.

4.56 The outcome of seven court cases included the sheriff ordering measures to enforce court action. Respondents reported varying compliance with court orders; three were fully compliant, three were partially compliant and two cases were not complied with at all. In one case the sheriff changed the original order while in another there was no change to existing arrangements.

4.57 Respondents were asked to state how satisfied they were with the action ordered by court. While one resident parent was very satisfied, two were very dissatisfied. There was also mixed satisfaction felt by non-resident parents with four being very or fairly satisfied and three being fairly or very dissatisfied.

4.58 Only one resident parent and two non-resident parents were referred to a mediation service while one resident parent and one non-resident parent were referred to both a mediation service and a contact centre.

Child Consultation

4.59 33% of resident parents stated that a child was consulted during the process of organising child contact arrangements, 63% of resident parents stated that at least one was not. 9% of resident parents were unsure whether or not a child had been consulted. In comparison, 38% of non-resident parents stated that their child had been consulted, 64% stated they were not consulted and only 4% were unsure. Note that responses do not add to 100% as some respondents had several previous relationships resulting in multiple answers. Recalculated on a child by child basis, overall, 33% of children were consulted when setting up arrangements. Older children were considerably more likely to be consulted - 71% of children aged 10 or over at the time of the break-up were involved in the agreement of arrangements.

4.60 Respondents were asked whether the final contact agreements were in-line with the child's wishes. There was little difference between parents' responses with 51% of resident parents and 53% of non-resident parents stating that the final decision was in-line with their child's wishes.

Child Maintenance Payment

4.61 42% of resident parents stated that the non-resident parent pays child maintenance for their child. In comparison, 53% of non-resident parents state that they pay child maintenance.

4.62 There is some correlation between maintenance payments and frequency of contact. In the non-resident sample, 66% with daily or weekly contact pay maintenance, whereas only 14% pay when they never have contact. In the resident sample, 51% with daily or weekly contact receive maintenance, dropping to 15% of those whose children never have contact with their ex-partner.

4.63 The majority of both resident and non-resident parents organised the payment of child maintenance informally between themselves and their former partner (75% and 81% respectively). 23% of resident parents used a child support agency in setting up child maintenance agreements, while just 12% of non-resident parents used an agency. Very few respondents used the services of a lawyer or court and no respondent used family mediation (refer to Figure 4.18).

Figure 4.18: Mechanisms for arranging child maintenance

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