An analysis by Matthijs Kalmijn and Jaap Dronkers looked at support networks for children living with their parents in the family home or those living with one parent after separation.

The authors analyzed the situation in four European countries, namely in the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and England (as part of the UK) using a broad data set with on average 14-year-old school children. The focus lay on the physical availability of the persons able to provide support, their emotional availability, post-separation conflicts, compensation of the missing parental support with other kin or non-kin such as friends, girl-or boyfriend, teachers and the like.

The results in the four countries showed as follows:

The non-resident father is less included in the support network after separation than the non-resident mother. The authors attribute this to a closer emotional connection to the mother in general. Support is also more likely if the relations between the separated parents are not conflictual or if both care together for the child (co-parenting).

The reduced support for the child in case of separation is not compensated for by friends, teachers, classmate’s boyfriend or girlfriend or other family members. Rather a cumulative effect can be found: children who significantly lack support from their parents can compensate much less for it than those children who have continued parental support. Therefore, the lack of support is cumulative.

There is little difference between the countries and the results do not depend on the welfare system nor on the general family policy measures introduced.

Why should we care about the results?

I find the important issue to be the fact that with separated parents the missing support is not compensated for. Although the authors did not go into further detail and did not look at stepfamilies or single families especially, the overall result is demonstrative enough: separation does not automatically lead to an extended network and if it does, this does not automatically mean support.

Children of separated parents receive less support. By focussing primarily on children, family policy could set more adequate measures than simply dealing with family formations.


Source:  Matthijs Kalmijn and Jaap Dronkers: Lean on me? The influence of parental separation and divorce on children’s support networks in four European countries . In: Journal fo Family Research/Zeitschrift für Familienforschung, Special Issue/Sonderheft 10: Family Dynamics after seperation, ed. By Ulrike Zartler et al., 2015: pp 21-42.

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