Untraditional Caring Arrangements among Parents Living Apart: The Case of Norway

Article excerpt

Abstract

BACKGROUND

In spite of quite symmetric parental roles in Norway, shared residence and father sole custody are still rare when parents split up. Several countries have witnessed an increase in shared residence for children recently, and this is also the case in Norway.

OBJECTIVE

We wish to add to the literature on untraditional caring arrangements among parents living apart by examining the determinants of shared residence and sole father custody in Norway, a country with high gender-equality ambitions.

METHODS

Based on a survey from 2004 with a unique sample of former couples, we ran multinomial logistic regressions estimating the odds of shared residence rather than mother sole custody, and the odds of father sole custody rather than mother sole custody.

RESULTS

Shared residence is particularly likely when the father has a reasonable income, the mother is highly educated, the mother is currently married, and the parents have no other children in their households. Father sole custody is most likely when the mother's income is low and the father's high, the child is a boy and at least ten years old, the father is single and there are other children in the mother's household.

CONCLUSIONS

Despite more equal parental roles in couples in recent decades, most children still live mainly with their mother when parents split up in Norway. However, visiting arrangements with fathers are extensive. More parents will probably opt for shared residence in the years to come.

1. Introduction

More active fathering is high on the political agenda in many Western countries, and encouraging contact between fathers and children is an important priority. Attention has mainly been given to married and cohabiting fathers, but with rising divorce rates in recent decades there is also considerable focus on the child-care practices and economic contributions of non-resident fathers (for instance, Seltzer and Bianchi 1988; Stephens 1996; Manning and Smock 1999; Manning, Steward and Smock 2003; Cashmore, Parkinson, and Taylor 2008; Amato, Meyers and Emery 2009). While most children still remain in the physical custody of their mothers when parents break up, several countries have recently witnessed a slight increase in shared residence for children (Smyth and Moloney 2008; Lundström 2009; Fehlberg et al. 2011), which is often linked to more equal parenting roles when parents live together (Smyth, Qu and Weston 2004). There is now a growing literature on the determinants and dynamics of shared residence and also on father sole custody (for instance, Cancian and Meyer 1998; Juby, Le Bourdais and Marcil-Gratton 2005).

The aim of the present paper is to add to this literature by discussing the characteristics of parents who choose shared residence or father sole custody in Norway, a country known for its high female labour force participation and extensive policies for symmetric parental roles, as well as its high proportion of children born into consensual unions. In spite of more committed fathering in couples (Vaage 2012) and increased paternal involvement with children after parental split-up in recent decades (Sæ tre 2004), shared residence is still quite rare in Norway, and the same is true for father sole custody. Shared residence is defined more narrowly in Norway than in many other countries in that it presumes approximately equal division of time with children between the parents and also gives the parents an equal say over the children's daily life. However, shared residence has increased slightly in recent years (Sæ tre 2004), and more gender-equal roles in couples may give rise to a further increase in the years to come. In public debate, as well as among politicians, it has even been suggested that shared residence for children should become the norm when parents live apart in order to secure gender equality and fairness between the partners (Haugen 2010; St. …