Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Importance of the Coparental Relationship for Nonresident Fathers' Ties to Children

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Importance of the Coparental Relationship for Nonresident Fathers' Ties to Children

Article excerpt

We examine the importance of the coparental relationship for nonresident fathers' ties to their children. Using data from Wave 2 of the National Survey of Families and Households, we focus on the link between two dimensions of coparenting, cooperative coparenting and conflict over childrearing, and three dimensions of nonresident father involvement, contact, relationship quality, and responsive fathering. Cooperative coparenting predicts more frequent father-child contact, which in turn predicts higher relationship quality and more responsive fathering. Conflict over childrearing, however, is not significantly related to nonresident father involvement. Findings are consistent across different groups of children. Results suggest that cooperative coparenting between parents who live apart is associated with stronger ties between nonresident fathers and their children.

Key Words: children, coparenting, divorce, fathers, nonresident parents, parent-child relationships.

Because of continuing high rates of divorce and nonmarital childbearing, nonresident fathering is a common form of parenting in the United States. Approximately 50% of all children will live in a household without their biological fathers at some point in their childhood (Bianchi, 1990). Public attention and social policies have focused on fathers living apart from their children because of rising concerns about the consequences of this arrangement for child well-being (Cabrera & Peters, 2000). A father's absence from the household, however, does not necessarily mean that he is absent from his child's life (King, 1994). A significant number of nonresident fathers still maintain ties with their children (Amato & Sobolewski, 2004), and recent evidence indicates that when fathers maintain an active presence in their children's lives and foster close bonds with them, their children appear to benefit (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999).

Given its potential influence on child well-being, prior research has sought to identify factors that promote or inhibit nonresident father involvement. Much of this research, however, has focused on basic demographic characteristics of nonresident fathers and their children. Less attention has been devoted to understanding the role that the coparental relationship-interactions and relations between the mother and father that are specific to their child-plays in either facilitating or hindering a nonresident father's involvement (Pasley & Braver, 2004). Yet, when parents can engage in shared child-rearing and avoid conflict, it is likely that a nonresident father's involvement with his children will be enhanced. The few studies that do address this issue have had one or more significant weaknesses that have limited our understanding in this area including the use of small and unrepresentative samples (e.g., Ahrons, 1983; Hoffman, 1995), exclusive reliance on mothers' reports of nonresident fathers' involvement with their children (e.g., Kurdek, 1986; Whiteside & Becker, 2000), the exclusion of children born outside of marriage (e.g., Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992), and the exclusion of children who have little or no contact with their fathers, thereby omitting those with the lowest levels of nonresident father involvement (e.g., Ahrons; Furstenberg & Nord, 1985).

The first aim of this study is to assess how two important dimensions of the coparental relationship, cooperative coparenting and conflict over childrearing, are associated with levels of nonresident father involvement. We use nationally representative data from Wave 2 of the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH). We use mothers' reports of the coparental relationship, but we have child reports of three important dimensions of the father-child relationship: contact, relationship quality, and responsive fathering. The advantage of this is twofold. First, the mother should be more qualified than the child to evaluate her relationship with the father, and children should be in a better position than their mother to report on their father's involvement in their lives. …

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