Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Nonresident Father Visitation, Parental Conflict, and Mother's Satisfaction: What's Best for Child Well-Being?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Nonresident Father Visitation, Parental Conflict, and Mother's Satisfaction: What's Best for Child Well-Being?

Article excerpt

This study examines the interrelationship of nonresident father visitation, parental conflict over this visitation, and the mother's satisfaction with the father's visitation. We consider the prevalence and characteristics of diverse family types defined by these interrelated processes and the implications of these arrangements for child adjustment, global well-being, and behavior problems. Data come from the first wave of the National Survey of Families and Households, from mothers in households with children younger than 18 years old who had a father living elsewhere. Results show that a variety of family constellations exist. Children are least well off in families in which mothers are dissatisfied with high levels of father contact.

Key Words: children, divorse, fathers, nonresident parents, visitation.

The role of nonresident fathers in family life is receiving increased attention, yet many aspects of these fathers and their interaction with their children and with the residential mother are still unknown. In particular, little attention has been paid to the diversity of nonresident parenting arrangements and the resulting implications for family relationships and child well-being (Bray & Depner, 1993). Understanding the implications of these arrangements, particularly for child well-being, is crucial, given that approximately 50% of all children will live in a single-parent family at some point in their childhood (Bumpass, 1984).

We examine the interrelationship of nonresident father visitation, parental conflict, and the mother's satisfaction with the father's contact. We describe the prevalence and characteristics of diverse family types defined by these interrelated processes, and we consider the implications of these different arrangements for child adjustment, global well-being, and behavior problems.

We address several questions unexplored in prior research. How are the mother's satisfaction with visitation, parental conflict over visitation, and the levels of father visitation related to each other? Are these relationships linear or monotonic, as is often assumed? Under what conditions are mothers most satisfied? Which family types are most prevalent, and how do they differ in demographics and family processes? How are these different family types related to child adjustment, global well-being, and behavior problems? In which families are children doing the best and the worst?

Parents influence their children both by the way they behave toward their children and by the way they interact with one another (Lamb, Pleck, & Levine, 1986). Therefore, the parental relationship also must be taken into account when assessing the importance of nonresident fathers' contact for child well-being. Yet prior research has never simultaneously addressed how the interrelated processes of visitation, conflict, and satisfaction work together or how they affect child development.

Furthermore, there is a lack of information about the prevalence of different nonresident parenting arrangements. Much of the existing research is based on small, unrepresentative samples or on the experiences of divorcing couples in particular states (Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992; Nord & Zill, 1996b). These studies may not reflect the experiences of most nonresident or custodial parents and their children. First, what do we know about nonresident parenting?

NONRESIDENT PARENTING

Visitation

Many children have little contact with their nonresident fathers, and contact generally declines over time (Furstenberg & Harris, 1992; King, 1994a; Seltzer, 1991). Yet contact is crucial if nonresident fathers want to maintain ties to their children (Fox, 1985), and fathers who visit their children every week are likely to establish different relationships than fathers who rarely visit (Seltzer & Bianchi,1988).

Geographic distance, time since separation, and remarriage of one or both parents are associated with declining father contact. …

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