Divorced dads often contend that the largest factor precluding them from playing a significant, positive role in their children’s lives is not willful neglect but instead that that they are often prevented from being involved with their kids. A large body of published research supports this contention, and a new study of children of divorce may help lay to rest the myth of the uncaring divorced dad.
According to this new research, adjusting for income and standard of living, divorced fathers who have been able to remain a part of their children’s lives because they have joint custody voluntarily contribute even more to their children’s college education than the children’s mothers do. In an article recently published in Family Court Review, Arizona State University researchers William Fabricius, Sanford Braver and Kindra Deneau called legal custody arrangements (joint vs. sole maternal) a "dramatic" and largely causal factor in projecting voluntary financial support.
The researchers noted that "fathers’ contributions steadily increased with the amount of access they had to their children" and that custodial mothers’ willingness to allow divorced dads to remain a part of their children’s lives during their childhoods plays a crucial role in determining how much voluntary college assistance fathers will provide.
Earlier research by Braver found that divorced dads who have jobs and who can see their kids rarely skip out on their child support obligations, and that "parental disenfranchisement"–fathers’ feelings that they have been stripped of the right to act as true parents to their children–has a large and harmful effect on child support compliance.
Braver’s research simply reflects common sense–parents are far more willing to work and sacrifice to support children whom they can love and be loved by than they are for kids whom they cannot see. However, family courts have been blind to the obvious, and while a massive enforcement bureaucracy pursues divorced dads for child support, courts do little to enforce these fathers’ access to their children. According to the Children’s Rights Council, a Washington-based advocacy group, more than five million children each year have their access to their noncustodial parents interfered with or blocked by custodial parents.
This new research powerfully suggests the need for egalitarian divorce measures such as the presumption of joint legal and physical custody of children after a divorce and the enforcement of visitation orders. Children need the love, strength and guidance that fathers give. They also need their financial support. Reforms that allow divorced dads to remain a meaningful part of their children’s lives will supply both.