Scottish Sleepovers and Contact

Posted on March 25, 2013 by

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Scotland’s Sleepover and Child Contact Survey – 2007 

The legal framework

In Scotland, Sections 1 and 2 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 define parental responsibilities and rights (PRRs). All mothers and married fathers have automatic PRRs, and the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 extends this to unmarried fathers who jointly register the birth. Under the 1995 Act, it is a parental responsibility ‘if the child is not living with the parent, to maintain personal relations and direct contact with the child on a regular basis…but only in so far as compliance with this section is practicable and in the interests of the child.’ Section 2 of the 2006 Act gives a parent the right ‘if the child is not living with him, to maintain personal relations and direct contact with the child on a regular basis’.

In 2007 the Scottish regional government commissioned MRUK Research Ltd to undertake Scotland-wide research with adults who have a birth child under the age of 19 from a previous relationship.

The intention was to determine the nature of contact arrangements made (both formal court arrangements and private agreements) by divorced/separated parents and how well these arrangements were being maintained.

The survey points out at the very beginning that the vast majority of arrangements were of an ‘informal’ nature (so any reference to “non-compliance” in the report does not usually imply failure to adhere to official rulings but rather to a perceived divergence, of major to minor infractions, from an informal agreement).

Of immediate interest to divorced fathers is the section dealing with “Child contract arrangements: frequency and nature of contact, satisfaction with current arrangements, benefit to child, consultation with child” – although it has to be said that as per usual the touchie-feelie dimension of the “Experience and satisfaction with the Scottish court system” was also a main objective.

Summary of key findings in this section (Para 4.17):

  • Most arrangements were made within the last five years
  • The majority of respondents live within reasonable travelling distance from their ex-partners
  • Most of the children have weekly face to face contact with their non-resident parent
  • Most of the children have weekly “indirect” contact (e.g. telephone, email, etc.) with their non-resident parent
  • Most of the children have regular contact with their extended family

For 73% of resident and 76% non-resident parents, child contact arrangements were made within the past five years (Para 4.18).

NB. “indirect” contact is usually ignored or discounted by fathers’ groups as meaningless.

Methodology Concerns

The research base was made up of 500 in-home face-to-face interviews with randomly selected residents and which took place during February. The towns included were: Edinburgh (158), Glasgow (222), Aberdeen (70) and Inverness (50).

While a sample size of 500 is not insignificant, to have it spread so thinly is a concern and a further concern when the socio-economic backgrounds might be inadvertently over biased in one direction, i.e. only 200 households in a city of tens of thousands of households.

Confidence is strained when one learns that not only was the questionnaire designed to be answered within 10 minutes but had been designed “in consultation with the Scottish Government.” This smacks a little of advocacy research where the answer or goal is preordained and research is simply used to validate the preconception.

Confidence ebbs away still further when it is revealed that the two groups used in the survey were recruited separately, meaning that the methodology did not involve deliberately interviewing both partners from a previous relationship (once again the survey is more likely to reflect the views of the parent-with-care rather than a balanced one). Thus:

  1. Children were not interviewed as a part of this study.
  2. The questionnaire included two parts for different respondent types:-

            2 a). Resident respondents: had a birth child under the age of 19 who lived with them.

          2 b). Non-resident respondents: had a birth child under the age of 19 who lived away from them (i.e. with the other parent)

Key Findings

As one can predict with near certainty in this type of survey the sex bias is plain to see. Of the 500 respondents, 316 were resident parents and 195 were non-resident parents, i.e. fathers in the main one has to suppose. In percentage terms this equates to 63% and 37% respectively.

The unspoken socio-economic slewing becomes apparent in the marital data shown in the Table below:

Previous relationship with the other parent of ‘their’ (?) child
Status Previously married but separated or divorced Previously cohabiting but separated In relationship but never lived together Never in a relationship Total
Married

32%

 32%
Unmarried

50%

18%

4%

 72%
  • 32% had separated/broken up with their previous partner less than one year ago
  • 40% had separated 1 to 5 years ago and
  • 30% had separated over five years ago

Later the survey goes on to reveal that the majority of respondents, 88%, who were either currently living alone (68%) or living with a partner (20%). Of the 500 respondents over 40% were employed (full-time 32% and part-time 12%). This figure reflects ONS data of 1996 (Population Trends) for employment among SMHs. A further 30% were full-time parents, while 23% were unemployed – and again using earlier ONS data this would point to high or exclusive levels among women. Only 2%, i.e. ten respondents, were students (Paras 4.5 and 4.6). This accounted for 96% of  respondents (40 + 30 + 23 +  3 = 96).

Respondents described their current living status as single and living alone in 67% of instances, living with a partner (20%) and partner living elsewhere (9%). Less than 1% described themselves as living with a partner and that partner’s children from a previous relationship:

The Table below shows how the  respondents described their ‘current living status’ in the Survey questionnaire:

 Current marital / living status
Status Single and living alone Living with a partner Partner living elsewhere Living with a partner and that partner’s children from a previous relationship Total
Married

Unmarried

67%

20%

9%

1%

97%

Perhaps unremarkably, but for obscure reasons apparent  only to fathers, the majority of respondents – 82% – and who had a new partner identified themselves as ‘never experiencing problems with contact with the other parent and their children.’

Slightly more, at 85%, of ‘resident parents’ stated that the other parent lived less than 50 miles from their child.

Twenty one percent (21%) of respondents in a new relationship had given birth to a child with their new partner.

Age influence

With the average age of marriage for females now in the region of 30 years of age the Table below (Figure 4.2), indicates that many or most respondees (50% +) were not married. Only 10% of resident parents were men and 90% were women (ref Figure 4.1) and in 50% of cases the time that had elapsed since each respondent had separated from other parent was less than 3 years (ref Figure 4.3).

A later Table (Figure 4.4), depicts 40% of respondents having children aged under 4 years old and only 10% of respondents had children aged 17-18 years of age. A similar age bias, i.e. the largest single category was that for those children aged under 4, was seen in earlier ONS Population Trends data of the mid-1990s relating to divorcees.

Figure 4.2: Age of respondents

Age_of_respond

Non-Court  Arrangements

The survey states that the overwhelming majority of contact arrangements were agreed between parents informally. Less than 5%, it says, had negotiated arrangements with the help of mediators, lawyers or through a court and less than 10% of both resident and non-resident parents had recorded the contact arrangements in written form to be made legally binding, e.g. registered minutes of agreement (again, this might reflect low-income levels within the survey).

This absence of agreed arrangements is perhaps not surprising given the overwhelming number of non-married couples in the survey (married couples usually go through a divorce court where ancillary maters include child allocation).

Addendum: April 2013 – At last an academic voice has joined our contention that the 10% figure is a nonsense. In written evidence to the Children and Families bill committee, Prof. Parkinson (author of Australia shared parenting law reform) poured scorn on the claim in child custody matters that “Only 10% choose to come to court over contact arrangements.”  In written evidence put before parliament he shows why it is wrong and unreliable (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmjust/739/739vw09.htm

This 10% figure has been cited extensively over the years and by Prof. Liz Trinder (and her inner circle of Jenn McIntosh), Peacey and Hunt (2008) and as far back as Joan Hunt & Ceridwen Roberts (2004).  For a brief review of its importance and impact see also “Parkinson’s cavalry crushes Norgrove’s big guns” http://equalparenting.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/16-2/.

 This situation is amplified by the data contained in Figure 4.16 where it is clearly seen that there is little difference between either the Resident parent or the Non-Resident parent in the mode of arrangements reached and in the informality, i.e. “agreed between parties.” None appear to have been formally struck by a court.

Figure 4.16: Ways in which contact arrangements were agreed between parents

method_of_agree

Resident versus Non-Resident

The continuing disparity between resident and non-resident comes to a head in Chapter 4 “Key Findings”  (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2008/03/12145638/4).

The Scottish Executive, Scotland’s parliament, has something of a track record for surveys that do not fully represent the situation under review – one thinks here of an earlier attempt to assess male victims of DV.

It should therefore come as no surprise that this current survey has similar difficult-to-believe data – in particular with regards satisfaction levels among non resident fathers, visiting times and custody matters generally.

For instance, when asked 55% of ‘resident parents’ stated that the other parent sees their child every day or at least once a week.

In comparison, a total of 68% of non-resident parents stated that they saw their child every day or at least once a week (Para 4.20). This depicted in Figure 4.7 below.

Figure 4.7: Frequency of direct contact between child and non-resident parent

Frequency_of_contact

The difficulty with this assertion is that it bears no resemblance to ONS data  for England and Wales and one has to assume that the selected family types are not representative – which is the conclusion ONS reached when the caveat to their figure for father contact of 18% (for Great Britain, a larger more inclusive region than ‘Eng & Wales’) was based on 58% of children never staying overnight missing (see below and  https://sharedparenting.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/17/).

pop_trends140

Sleepovers

A more direct comparaison with ONS data can be made with Scottish figures for over night stays “sleepovers”, see Figure 4.10.

In the Scottish data the 2007 survey of 500 couples found that;34% of resident parents stated that their child stays overnight with the other parent at least once a week while 10% stated that they stay overnight at least once a fortnight.” (Para 4.30).

In addition, 46% of resident parents stated that their children never stay over at the other parents home. Fathers, or non-resident parents claimed in 44% of instances that their child stayed overnight ‘at least once a week’, and 10% ‘at least once a fortnight’ while 30% stated that they ‘never stay overnight.’

Figure 4.10: Frequency of overnight stays at Non-Resident parents’ home

frequency_o_night

For instance, when asked 55% of ‘resident parents’ stated that the other parent sees their child every day or at least once a week. In comparison, a total of 68% of non-resident parents stated that they saw their child every day or at least once a week (Para 4.20). This is depicted in Figure 4.7  above.

The only numerical similarities appear to be the 58% omitted in the ONS chart and the nearly 50% in the Scottish chart (Figure 4.10), who never see their non-resident parent.

The discrepancy between the two extremes in Figure 4.10 i.e. that of ‘at least once a week’ and ‘never’, highlights what will be increasingly be seen as a gender divergence in the data.

Mothers, it appears, tend to under-quote just how often fathers see their children and exaggerate how many times contact fails to take place. The above Table shows that mothers report ‘weekly’ contact in 34% of instances but fathers’ own assessment is closer to 44%. At the other extreme mothers accept that there is ‘no contact’ in 45% of cases but fathers responses are that it is in the region of 30%.

This unconscious gender-inspired skewing of responses and based on custody status of the parent was first noticed by the team of Bradshaw Stimson, Williams & Skinner at University of York in 1997 (see also “Non-Resident Fathers in Britain”, Bradshaw, SPRU, 1997, http://robertwhiston.wordpress.com/2008/05/09/8/ ).

Resident parents, i.e. mothers, were generally satisfied with contact arrangements – highest satisfaction was among those daily / weekly contact. However,  satisfaction was also very high among those whose ex-partner was never in contact. (91% and 92% respectively (Para 4.39, Figure 4.13).

Figure 4.13: Satisfaction with contact arrangements – Resident Parents

satisfaction_1

Non-resident parents who were ‘Quite or very satisfied’ ranged from 91% daily/ weekly contact (thought this might also include ‘indirect’ contact), which was very comparable with mothers opinions but dropped significantly to 18% in the ‘never’ category compared with mothers who were satisfied with ‘never’ 92% of cases. To appreciate this fully, Figures 413 anf 4.14 should be examined carefully.

Figure 4.14: Satisfaction with contact arrangements – Non-Resident Parents

satisfaction_2

When respondents were asked how often indirect contact was made (between children and the non-resident parent), well over half (59%) of resident parents, ie the mother, stated that the other parent had indirect contact ( that is to say by letter, phone, text, fax, e-mail, or sending cards and presents on special occasions). An addional 28% were said never to have had any ‘indirect contact’ with their children. (59 + 28 = 87%).

By comparison, 70% of fathers, ie the non-resident parent, stated that they had ‘indirect contact’ with their child either daily (21%), or at least once a week (49%), with 20% of non-resident parents stating that they never had indirect contact with their child.

./,,.

4.43 The majority of contact arrangements were agreed between parents with 74% being agreed in this way by resident parents. 21% of resident and 24% of non-resident parents stated that their child’s contact arrangements had never formally been agreed upon. ( NB, formally does not imply court-ordered; it also includes arrangements agreed between the parents).

4.52 Very few respondents had used the courts to organise child contact arrangements; seven resident respondents (2%) and seven non-resident respondents (4%). These 14 parents represented a total of 39 court cases. These findings are in-line with previous research stating that when parents separate, the vast majority of families make private arrangements for future childcare, with an estimated 10% of separating parents using the court system ( ONS 2003 6 and Neff and Cooper 2004 7).

.53 While only three resident parents identified needing to return to court (due to changing terms of agreement or due to either parent not complying with the previously agreed contact arrangements), all seven non-resident parents had returned to court.

Question for written answer E-000713/2013 to the EU Commission:

 

Subject:      Assessment of joint custody at European level

Children are the most vulnerable ones in situations of family tension and conflict.

Under Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, every child has ‘the right to maintain on a regular basis a personal relationship and direct contact with both of his or her parents.’

In practice, in the event of separation or divorce, this should mean a balanced and continuing relationship for the child with both parents.

Rule 117

Roberta Angelilli (PPE)

18. Very few respondents had used the courts to organise child contact arrangements; seven resident respondents (2%) and seven non-resident respondents (4%).

  • Under 3% of arrangements involved courts
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