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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2006  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/07/2006   
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Contents >> Family and Community >> Children Living Apart from One Parent

Children Living Apart from One Parent

In 2003, 22% of all children aged 0–17 years had a parent living elsewhere.

Many Australian children live apart from one of their natural parents, mostly due to family breakdown. Family law reforms introduced in 1996 reinforced the right of children to have regular contact with both parents and emphasised joint parental responsibility for children following separation. Recent legislation has strengthened the obligation on relevant courts to consider shared parenting time, although there is no presumption of equal parenting time.(EndNote 1)

This article looks at the living arrangements of children with a parent living elsewhere, the characteristics of non-resident parents and the contact between children and their non-resident parent.


Data sources and definitions

Most of the data used in this article are drawn from the ABS 1997 and 2003 Family Characteristics Surveys (ABS cat. no. 4442.0).

Children with a parent living elsewhere are children aged 0–17 years who live with one natural parent and also have a natural parent who lives elsewhere.

Parents are natural, step, adoptive or foster mothers or fathers of a child usually resident in the same household. In this article guardians or main carers aged 15 years or over, who usually reside in the same household, are also classified as parents.

Non-resident parents are persons aged 15 years and over who have one or more natural children aged 0–17 years not living with them.

A family is two or more persons, one of whom is at least 15 years of age, who are related by blood, marriage (registered or de facto), adoption, step or fostering, and who are usually resident in the same household.

One-parent family is a family consisting of a lone parent with at least one dependent or non-dependent child (regardless of age) who is usually resident in the household.

Couple family is a family based on two persons who are in a registered or de facto marriage and who are usually resident in the same household. The family may include any number of dependent and non-dependent children (regardless of age) and other related individuals.


CHILDREN WITH A PARENT LIVING ELSEWHERE

In 2003, just over 1 million children aged 0–17 years lived with one parent and also had a natural parent living elsewhere. This represented 22% of children in this age group, a similar proportion to that in 1997.

In cases of separation or divorce of their parents, most children live in one parent families for some period of time. They are much more likely to live with their mother than their father and right from birth some children live with their mother only. In 2003, 87% of children with one non-resident parent had a father living elsewhere and 13% had a mother not living with them.

Where lone parents repartner, children can live in step families (with or without children from the step parent). Step families become blended families if the couple in the step family also have natural children of their own.

Between 1997 and 2003 there was little change in the living arrangements of children aged 0–17 years with a parent living elsewhere. In 2003, just over three quarters (77%) of these children lived in one-parent families, 14% in step families and 9% in blended families. The proportions were similar regardless of which of the child's parents lived elsewhere.

LIVING ARRANGEMENTS OF CHILDREN AGED 0–17 YEARS WITH A PARENT LIVING ELSEWHERE

1997
2003


Family type
'000
%
'000
%

Children in couple families
222.6
22.8
239.3
23.0
Step families
130.3
13.3
142.0
13.6
Blended families
92.3
9.4
97.3
9.3
Children in one-parent families
755.8
77.2
803.1
77.0
Lone mother families
667.1
68.2
705.4
67.4
Lone father families
88.7
9.1
97.7
9.4
Total
978.4
100.0
1 042.4
100.0
Father living elsewhere
859.9
87.9
911.5
87.4
Mother living elsewhere
118.5
12.1
130.9
12.6

Source: ABS 1997 and 2003 Family Characteristics Surveys.


NON-RESIDENT PARENTS

In 2003, there were 4.8 million parents of children aged 0–17 years. Just over 10% of these (493,000) were non-resident parents, that is, they had a natural child aged under 18 years not living with them.

Some non-resident parents (175,000) were also parents, guardians or main carers of children aged under 18 years in the household in which they currently lived. These included non-resident parents who had repartnered and either had further children with their new partner or were step-parents to their new partner's children, or lone parents who lived with one or more of their children as well as having children that did not live with them.

Of the 493,000 non-resident parents, the great majority (82%) were fathers. Just over two in five (42%) non-resident parents were aged 35–44 years and just over a quarter(26%) were aged 25–34 years. The age distribution of non-resident parents was very similar to that of parents who lived with their children.

NON-RESIDENT PARENTS: LIVING ARRANGEMENTS AND RELATIONSHIPS IN HOUSEHOLD — 2003

Males
Females
%
%

Family households
59.9
85.9
Husband, wife or partner
40.2
47.7
Lone parent
6.4
32.9
Dependent student/ non-dependent child
7.8
*1.7
Other family member/unrelated individual
5.5
*3.5
Lone person household
32.4
9.7
Group household
7.7
*4.5
Total
100.0
100.0

'000
'000
Total
403.4
89.8

Source: ABS 2003 Family Characteristics Survey.


...LIVING ARRANGEMENTS

In 2003, the living arrangements of non-resident mothers and fathers differed quite markedly, with a much greater proportion of non-resident mothers living in family households (86%) compared with fathers (60%).

Of the 403,000 non-resident fathers in 2003, 40% lived in a family household in the role of husband or partner, 8% as dependent students or non-dependent children and 6% as the lone parent in one-parent families. Almost one in three (32%) non-resident fathers lived in lone person households and 8% in group households. Those who were living as dependent students or non-dependent children are likely to be fathers who have returned to their parent's home following divorce or separation. Some could also be fathers who have never lived with their child.

Compared with non-resident fathers, the 90,000 non-resident mothers were more likely to be living as a lone parent and less likely to be living alone. Almost one half (48%) of non-resident mothers were living as a wife or partner in a new family and one third (33%) as a lone parent. One in ten (10%) were living alone.

...WORK

In 2003, the labour force participation rate of non-resident fathers was 4 percentage points lower than that of fathers who lived with their children aged less than 18 years (88% compared with 92%). Non-resident fathers were less likely to be employed (80%) than other fathers (89%) and the proportion employed full-time was also lower (72% compared with 82%). In addition, a higher proportion of non-resident fathers were unemployed (8%) compared with fathers who lived with their children (3%).

There is little information on the life transitions of non-resident parents, so it is uncertain whether their lower employment levels reflect their situation prior to becoming non-resident parents or are related to their separation or divorce.

A 2004 study by the Centre for Population and Urban Research using data from the Child Support Agency (CSA) examined incomes of non-resident fathers prior to registration with the CSA (which in most cases was prior to separation). The study found that, in 1997, a high proportion of non-resident fathers had incomes of a level which indicated that they were likely to be either unemployed or only marginally involved in the labour force.(EndNote 2) This suggests that lower labour force participation and income of non-resident parents may be associated with parental separation.

The study also looked at changes in income following separation. It concluded that while there were some fathers whose income reduced following separation, there was no clear pattern of non-resident parents reducing income following separation. (EndNote 2)

In 2003, just over one half (52%) of the 90,000 non-resident mothers of children aged less than 18 years were employed, compared with 61% of mothers who lived with their children of the same age group. The lower proportion of non-resident mothers who were employed is consistent with the higher proportions of non-resident mothers who were lone parents (33%) compared with mothers who lived with their children (19%).

PARENTS WITH CHILDREN AGED 0–17 YEARS: LABOUR FORCE STATUS — 2003
GRAPH:PARENTS WITH CHILDREN AGED 0–17 YEARS: LABOUR FORCE STATUS — 2003



FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN

In 2003, there were 2.5 million families in Australia with children aged 0–17 years. Of these, 645,000 were families where the children had a natural parent who lived elsewhere and 168,000 were families with a non-resident parent (i.e. families where one or both parents had children aged 0–17 years that did not live with them). The families with a non-resident parent were likely to be parenting and providing financial support for children in more than one household. Those who are lone parents in such households may face particular financial and child care difficulties.

...INCOME

In 2003, households with children aged 0–17 years where the children had a natural parent living elsewhere (mainly one-parent families) had much lower incomes than other households with children of the same age, after incomes were adjusted (equivalised) to take account of different household size and structure. Their median weekly equivalised gross household (parental) income was $304 compared with $446 for families with a non-resident parent and $575 for other families with children aged 0–17 years. The income estimates for families with children with a parent living elsewhere include any child support payments from non-resident parents.

Consistent with the fact that families where children had a natural parent living elsewhere had the lowest incomes, a greater proportion of these families depended on government benefits and allowances than the other two types of families. Almost half (47%) of families where children had a parent living elsewhere had government pensions, benefits or allowances as their main source of income, compared with 28% of families with a non-resident parent and 9% of families in neither of these categories. This pattern is closely related to the high proportion (75%) of one-parent families among families with children with a parent living elsewhere. Other families were most likely to rely on wages or salary (71%) or business or rental property income (12%) as their main source of income. Wages and salaries were the main source of income for 61% of families with a non-resident parent and for 45% of families where children had a parent living elsewhere.

As families with children that had a parent living elsewhere had lower equivalised incomes than families with a non-resident parent and other families, children in the former group may be at higher risk of economic disadvantage compared with children in the latter two groups. However, some of the income of many of the families with a non-resident parent may be needed to pay child support and this would reduce the amount of money available to support the resident children.

INCOME BY FAMILY TYPE - 2003

Families with children 0–17 years

Families with children with a parent living elsewhere(a)
Families with a non-resident parent(a)(b)
Other families(c)
$
$
$

Median weekly equivalised gross household (parental) income(d)
304
446
575

Main source of income(e)
%
%
%
Wages and salaries
44.5
60.5
70.6
Business or rental property income
6.7
7.5
12.0
Government pensions, benefits or allowances
47.3
27.8
9.2

'000
'000
'000
Total families
644.5
168.3
1 793.9

(a) Some families are counted in both 'Families with children with a parent living elsewhere' and 'Families with a non-resident parent' categories.
(b) Families where one or both parents have children aged 0–17 years who do not live with them.
(c) All families with children aged 0–17 years excluding those with children who have a parent living elsewhere and those with a non-resident parent.
(d) Income of parents in household only. Income of other household members not collected.
(e) The categories shown here exclude families where income was nil, not stated or there was no regular source but these families are included in the total.

Source: ABS 2003 Family Characteristics Survey.

Equivalised gross household income

Equivalised gross household income is a standardised income measure which has been adjusted for the different income needs of households of different size and composition. It takes into account the greater needs of larger households and the economies of scale achieved by people living together. Equivalised income data presented in this article includes the income of parents in the household only, as the income of other household members was not collected in the 2003 Family Characteristics Survey.


CHILDRENS' CONTACT WITH THEIR PARENT LIVING ELSEWHERE

There can be many factors influencing the frequency of face to face contact between children and their parent living elsewhere. These can include responsibilities of the non-resident parent in their current family that hinder frequent contact with their children that do not live with them. Children and their non-resident parent can be separated by distance and contact might only be feasible at certain times of the year. Conflict between the resident and non-resident parent may also hinder contact. In contrast, a good relationship between parents may enable more frequent contact between the child and their parent living elsewhere.(EndNote 3)

In 2003, 51% of children aged 0–17 years with a parent who lived elsewhere had face to face contact with that parent at least once per fortnight, an increase from 44% in 1997. At the other end of the scale, 26% had face to face contact less than once per year or never, a decrease from 30% in 1997. This 26% with contact less than once per year or never included 6% who had only indirect contact with their parent who lived elsewhere, such as communicating by phone, e-mail or letter.

The frequency of face to face contact varied according to the family type of the child. Children living in lone father families were most likely to have frequent (that is, at least once per fortnight) contact with their parent who lived elsewhere (65%) and least likely to have contact less than once per year or never (14%). This contrasts with children in couple families who were the least likely to see their parent who lived elsewhere frequently (37%) and most likely to have contact less than once per year or never (32%). Just as children whose resident parent has repartnered have less contact with their parent living elsewhere, data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey show that non-resident parents who have repartnered have much less frequent contact with their children who do not live with them than those who remain single. (EndNote 4)

Frequency of face to face contact varied according to the age of the child. The proportion of children who saw their parent who lived elsewhere at least once per fortnight declined as the age of children increased, from 66% for children aged 0–2 years to 39% for those aged 15–17 years.

FACE TO FACE CONTACT WITH PARENTS LIVING ELSEWHERE
GRAPH:FACE TO FACE CONTACT WITH PARENTS LIVING ELSEWHERE


CHILDREN(a): FACE TO FACE CONTACT WITH THEIR PARENT LIVING ELSEWHERE - 2003

At least once per fortnight
Once per month –
once every
3 months
Once every
6 months –
once per year
Less than
once per year/never
Total

%
%
%
%
%
'000

Family type of child(b)
Lone mother family
53.5
11.8
8.8
25.9
100.0
705.4
Lone father family
64.9
13.4
7.8
14.0
100.0
97.7
Couple family
37.2
17.9
13.2
31.7
100.0
239.3
Age of child (years)
0–2
65.5
9.4
*4.0
21.1
100.0
99.9
3–4
60.9
9.1
*7.3
22.6
100.0
98.0
5–11
52.1
12.1
9.9
25.9
100.0
445.7
12–14
46.7
15.0
11.1
27.1
100.0
213.7
15–17
39.0
18.8
12.1
30.0
100.0
185.2
Total
50.8
13.3
9.7
26.1
100.0
1 042.4

(a) Aged 0–17 years with a parent living elsewhere.
(b) Family in which child usually lives.

Source: ABS 2003 Family Characteristics Survey.


...OVERNIGHT VISITS

Although contact between children and their parent living elsewhere is usually considered beneficial, overnight visits provide further opportunities for family activities and emotional bonding. (EndNote 5) In 2003, 49% of children aged 0–17 years who had a parent living elsewhere did not have an overnight visit with that parent in that year, a lower proportion than in 1997 when 54% of children did not have an overnight visit. In 2003, a further 21% of children in this age group stayed with their parent who lived elsewhere for less than 10% of nights each year. The number of children who stayed overnight with their parent who lived elsewhere for 30% or more of nights is small, but increased substantially from 1997 (3%) to 2003 (6%).

Once again, there is a strong association between the frequency of overnight stays and the child's family type. Children living in lone father families, a comparatively small group, were most likely to stay overnight with their parent who lived elsewhere for 30% or more of nights (17%) compared with children living in couple families (7%) and children living in lone mother families (4%). This pattern also holds when looking at children who never stayed overnight with their parent who lived elsewhere. Over half (52%) of children who lived in lone mother families never stayed overnight, followed by 44% of children in couple families and 36% in lone father families.

The association between overnight stays and the age of the child was less clear. The age group 0–2 years had the highest proportion of children who never stayed overnight (66%), compared with 51% of the 3–4 years age group and 57% of those aged 15–17 years. Children aged 5–11 and 12–14 years had the lowest proportion who never stayed with their parent who lived elsewhere (43% and 45% respectively.)

CHILDREN(a): OVERNIGHT STAYS WITH THEIR PARENT LIVING ELSEWHERE — 1997 and 2003
GRAPH:CHILDREN(a): OVERNIGHT STAYS WITH THEIR PARENT LIVING ELSEWHERE — 1997 and 2003



ENDNOTES
1 Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, Senate, 2006, Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Bill 2005, Revised Explanatory Memorandum.
2 Silvey, J, and Birrell, B, 2004, 'Financial Outcomes for Parents after Separation', People and Place, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 45–56.
3 Smyth, B 2004, 'Summary and Conclusions', in Parent-child Contact and Post-separation parenting arrangements, Research Report no. 9, ed. Smyth, B, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Sydney.
4 Headey, B, Warren, D, and Harding, G, 2006, Families, Incomes and Jobs: A Statistical Report of the HILDA survey, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne.
5 Caruana, C and Smyth, B 2004, 'Daytime-only contact', in Parent-child Contact and Post-separation parenting arrangements, Research Report no. 9, ed. Smyth, B, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Sydney.



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