“Sleepovers” in Denmark

Posted on July 22, 2012 by



One would have imagined that Denmark with a long tradition of operating a joint custody regime for divorcing couples would have data to match. Shared custody has, after all, been an option in Denmark since the 1980’s.

The Table below shows the state of affairs in 1996 when joint / shared custody was the norm but the emphasis on shared residence and time, contained in the 2002 and the 2007 Act had not yet been enacted.

Immediately one can see that Denmark is already exceptional in that 21% of children have daily visits with their other parent (5+16).

Save for this strong showing in daily visits there is little difference in the pattern from other European countries with fortnightly visits the largest single category at 48% and the monthly or less than that at 8%.

The once-a-week rate of visits has plummeted to 0%, no doubt in part due to high daily contact rate. Arguably another exception is the high rate of “never” this regime appears to produce, at 14%.

Another interpretation is focus on the purely fortnightly visits and to delete the 7% fond in the “Every 2nd week or once a week” category. This produces the figure of 41% (16 + 25) as opposed to 48%.

What is also apparent is the more ‘relaxed’ attitude fathers appear to adopt for children visiting the other parent compared with mothers. At the ‘Several times a week’ level children living with their father visited the other parentat a frequency of 24% whereas when mothers had custody of their children this fell to 15%.

The other gender difference appears in the ‘Never’ visits. Only 6% of children living with their father never saw their mother, yet 14% of children living with their mother ‘never’ saw their other parent.

British sleepovers

The comparable figures for Britain (Eng & Wales) show that even by 2009 less than 1 in 5 children (18%) had a sleepover facility with their father (or other parent). Tellingly there is no category listed by the ONS for daily visits – only weekly, fortnightly, and monthly visits were listed.

The parameters set in the Danish and English charts are not directly comparable, however, using the bar chart from 2010 (immediately below), a Table of sorts which approximates sleepovers is shown headed “Sleepovers: Denmark v England.” 

Though the result may be crude, a pattern does emerge. At one extreme the ‘never’ or once a year categories are markedly different. For Denmark it is high at 14% and for Eng & Wales relatively low at 4%. However, in the case of Eng & Wales reference to CSA data might reveal a far higher proportion of fathers who ‘never’ see their child.

Although having seemingly arrived at that conclusion, namely that there are more ‘never’ visits in Denmark than England (14% vs 4%), this is promptly contradicted by a footnote in the graph above indiciating that 58% of dependent children are not included in the chart.

There appears to be no English data on ‘daily’ visits and this reflects the type of award handed out by the Family Division in 99% of cases. The English Family Division doe not support shared parenting or shared residence whereas Denmark’s courts do. The difference in mental attitudes is evident in the tables shown here.

Weekend sleepovers every week, every 2nd week and every 3rd week, are unheard of in the English Family Division. And even when Fortnightly and Monthly English sleepovers are added together they struggle to make, at 13% (10 + 3), half the level found in Denmark in 1996.

Weekly sleepovers are more than double the rate in England than Denmark (18% vs 7%), but this comes at the price of daily sleepovers.

The Fortnightly sleepover for Denmark carries an asterisk because the data could just as easily fit into weekly and weekend sleepovers.

A further complication to comparing English and Danish data is that the English data is based on ‘dependent children’ meaning all those aged under 16, whereas the Danish study by Christoffersen is based solely on children aged between 3 – 5 year old and who lived with either their father or their mother. However, Cecilie Wehner, Mia Kambskard & Peter Abrahamson in their commentary (circa 2002) conclude: [1]

  • “The patterns sketched here are only evident for children aged 3-5 years. Nevertheless, it is likely that almost similar patterns exist for older children too.”

That said, it is by common experience far less likely that a father in England would have the possibility of sleepovers with his children if they were aged under 5 or 6.

The study by Nygaard Christoffersen, in 1996, came to the conclusion that:

  • “The child more frequently visits the non-resident parent and the well-being of the child is better if the parents share the custody.”

Christoffersen’s studies also found that living “together with the non-resident parent has increased up through history.” However, Christoffersen does not make it clear whether this relates to cohabiting of step-parenting patterns. In the case of the latter he noted that:

  • “The existence of a step-parent in either the visit home or the child’s home also enhances the risk of less frequent visits.”

So re-marriage carries a penalty particularly among, it would seem, the under 4 year olds.

Running contrary to this is the observation that shared custody has gained ground in Denmark in recent years (Christensen & Ottosen 2002). A tendency was noted that future relations between parents could be characterised by a fall in parental conflict which would give rise to more visits with the non-resident parent and increase the well-being of the child.

Lone parenting

No one should imagine that single motherhood is unknown in Denmark. What is perhaps unusual is the proportion of children living with single fathers in single parent families.

However, as can be found in many European and English speaking countres this is not a permanent marital state of affairs. The lone parent might meet a new partner – or even several new partners – and the child will then find itself living in a new ‘re-blended’ family.

The following Table indicates, the percentage of children living with ‘Mother and partner’ or ‘Father and partner’ who through their childhood have experienced successive family re-blendings.

Overall 58% of Danish children experience only one family setting and 92% experience it in a ‘Father & mother’ situation.

By the age of seventeen 2% of children in Father & mother’ situations have lived in a second family setting and 4% have lived in a 3rd family setting.

This is quite exceptional when compared with children from Lone father and Lone mother environments. Children here experience a second family formation in 50% of cases and a further 30% experience a 3rd and 4th family re-blending.

One possible explanation given by the authors for these differences is that after living in the ‘Father & mother’ situation, i.e. in Family #1, the child has lived with a lone parent most usually the mother. Then the parent, i.e. mother, has met a new partner.

Assessing all the data and the Tables shown here the authors conclude that most Danish children live with their mother after their parents have divorced (or dissolved their relationship) and about two thirds of them (66%) live with their lone mother.

Mid 1990 figures from ONS ‘Population Trends’ shows a clear gender demarcation in England upon the reforming of marital unions. It was far more likely for a man to marry or cohabit with a woman who had children from a previous relationship than it was for a woman to take upon herself the responsibilities of looking after the children of the new man in her life. This demarcation is not obvious in the Danish data.

The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s and 70s seems to coincide with falls in fertility rates and other key social indicators including child well being. Whereas in 1980, 80% of children could expect to live with both parents this had fallen to 76% by 2001.

The Table, left, indicates a distribution among the lone parents and parents with new partners that has remained relatively stable during the 1990’s. As indicated above, most children live with their mother after the parents have dissolved their relationship and about two thirds of them is living with a lone mother.

For those instinctively frightened of shared parenting there are comforting words for those who think fathers will dominate or block access:

  • “As the table above shows 24% of children living with their fathers see the mother several times a week, whereas this is only the case for 15% of those living with their mother.”

Custodial allocation

Curiously, Ms Lund-Andersen & Ms. Jeppesen de Boer in their 2005 report into Danish parental responsibilities after divorce, i.e. custody, state that ideally judicial statistics should male clear who has been given what type of custody. They then comment:

  • “This information does not exist, however.”

As if to contradict themselves the next sentence states that statistics do show that 75% of parents who became divorced or legally separated in 1999 agreed on ‘joint parental authority.’

Since 2002 when joint parental authority was automatically granted to parents by a new law, they speculate that an even higher percentage can be expected.[2]

They refer to a 2001 study which showed that the father was awarded parental authority in over 42% of cases involving children and the mother over 58%. That was in the lower courts, the picture in the higher (appeal) court was 36% for fathers and 64% for mothers.

Sadly, what these percentages represent in numerical terms is never divulged in many papers and this one by Lund-Andersen & Jeppesen de Boer is no exception.


[1] “Demography of the Family – the case of Denmark” circa 2002. http://www.york.ac.uk/inst/spru/research/nordic/denmdemo.PDF

[2]  National Report: Denmark, http://ceflonline.net/wp-content/uploads/Denmark-Parental-Responsibilities.pdf

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