Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

'I Could Only Work Every Second Sunday': The Role of Separated Fathers in the Labour Market Participation of Separated Mothers When They're in Dispute over Care and Contact Arrangements

Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

'I Could Only Work Every Second Sunday': The Role of Separated Fathers in the Labour Market Participation of Separated Mothers When They're in Dispute over Care and Contact Arrangements

Article excerpt

Abstract

Over the past thirty to forty years there has been a noticeable change in the frequency and duration of contact separated fathers have with children who mostly live apart from them. A number of researchers attribute this social change to several mutually reinforcing social factors, including the increased participation of mothers in paid work, and the increased involvement of fathers in childcare. This well-rehearsed claim implies that fathers' involvement in childcare in intact and separated families is both a response to and a facilitator of maternal paid employment. Given the centrality of such claims to decisions about the post-separation care of children and to child support policy, it is important to consider whether they have any substance in reality. Drawing on international literature on the division of caring labour, and a small-scale qualitative study with separated mothers from New Zealand in dispute over care and contact arrangements, this paper investigates the claims being made about the role fathers play in relation to maternal employment, especially in the post-separation context. On the basis of this research, we argue that even though fathers have the potential to play a supportive role in post-separation maternal paid employment, this potential is not necessarily realised and should not be assumed or taken for granted. Rather, the role separated fathers do and might play in enabling separated mothers to engage in paid work should be a matter of empirical investigation, both by academics working in the field and by practitioners working with separated parents.

Key words

maternal employment, post-separation, fathers, childcare

Introduction

We know very little about the relationship between post-separation care and contact arrange- ments and mothers' patterns of paid employment. What we do know is that there has been a slow but steady increase in the number of non-resident fathers maintaining contact, in some in- stances significant contact, with their children (Amato, Meyers & Emery, 2009). For instance, studies in the United States (US) indicate that in 1976 only 18 percent of fathers saw their children at least once a week, whereas by 2002 this had risen to 31 percent of fathers (ibid.). Over the same time period the proportion of non-resident fathers who had no contact with their children declined from 37 percent in 1976 to 29 percent in 2002.1 We also know that there has been a cultural shift in custody law and practice in the direction of substantial post-separation contact and even physical shared care (Tolmie, Elizabeth & Gavey, 2010a).

Speculatively, Juby, Le Bourdais and Marcil-Gratton (2005) suggest that as more intact cou- ples become dual earner we will witness a corresponding rise in post-separation shared physi- cal care arrangements. According to Juby et al. (2005), a key facilitator of this anticipated rise is enhanced maternal confidence in paternal domestic and childrearing skills borne out of the greater experience fathers in dual income, intact households have in these roles. Indeed, Juby et al. (2005) attribute the growth in shared physical care post-separation that can already be observed in most Western legislatures to more egalitarian pre-separation care arrangements.

Similarly, and also speculatively, Smyth and Moloney (2008) attribute the increase in the frequency and duration of contact between separated fathers and their children over the last forty years to, inter alia, the increased participation of mothers in paid work in intact families, and the increased involvement of fathers in childcare activities both prior to and after separa- tion. Arguing in the reverse direction, Callister and Birks (2006) claim that increases in father contact time are by definition facilitative of women's paid employment post-separation since it increases the amount of time that mothers have available to be involved in paid work through the provision of replacement childcare at no cost. …

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