How Often Do Separated and Divorced Fathers Live with Their Children?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that more and more parents who reach separation or divorce agreements outside of court are opting for shared living arrangements, where their children reside more or less equal time with each parent. However, it has been difficult to assess the exact prevalence of this practice. Clearly, there is a trend towards more joint custody in court-contested divorces. In 2003, 44% of court-contested divorces resulted in joint custody, up from 21% in 1995 (Statistics Canada). However, joint custody seldom results shared living arrangements. Analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth (NLSCY) showed that, in 1998/99 shared living arrangements were in place in only 12% of children whose parents had separated in the previous two years (Department of Justice. 2004).

It has been more difficult to obtain data on living arrangements for the majority (72%) of parents (Statistics Canada, 2004) whose agreements are not decided by a court. However, a new study, published in the October 2009 edition of the Statistics Canada periodical, Juristat, sheds light on the parenting and living arrangements of the more general population of separated and divorced parents because it looked at both court-ordered and non-court-ordered parenting arrangements. This study showed that, among recently divorced parents with arrangements for spending time with children, about 3 in ten divorced and separated fathers were living with their children either full-time or in shared living arrangements. The other 70% lived primarily or entirely apart from their children.

Parenting Arrangements After Separation and Divorce

The study, by Paul Robinson, of the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, analyzed 2006 General Social Survey data pertaining to recently divorced and separated parents who had made arrangements for spending time with and making major decisions about their children. This included verbal arrangements and various types of written arrangements including court judgements, arrangements made by parents themselves, and agreements reached with the assistance of lawyers or court services (mediation, alternative dispute resolution etc.)

Of those parents (60% female, 40% male in this sample)

  • 14% reported shared living arrangements
  • 5% reported split living arrangements, meaning that different children in the family resided with different parents.
  • 81% reported that the children lived primarily with one parent
  • of parents reporting primary residency with one parent 87% said children lived primarily with the mother and 13% said primary residency was with the father.

Thus in this sample of parents with arrangements for spending time with their children after divorce, about 30%* of fathers lived with their children full-time or half-time and 70% of fathers lived apart for their children most of the time. This is very similar to the proportions yielded by the aforementioned Department of Justice research report, based on NLSCY data which found that, among divorced and separated families where the parents had not reunited, children lived with their mother 72% of the time (Department of Justice, 2004).
* this figure is the sum of fathers living with children full-time (11%), in shared living arrangements (14%), and in split living arrangements (5%). It should be used with caution because this calculation excludes the 39% of separated and divorced parents who did not report having arrangements for spending time with children.

Involvement of Non-resident Parents

Most non-resident parents (25% of respondents in this sample) reported being involved in their child's life.
  • 87 % reported weekly contact by e-mail or phone,
  • 95% reported regular involvement in their child's recreational activities and/or care.

Resident parents' perceptions of their ex-partners involvement were quite different. Only 32% of resident parents reported that their ex-partner was involved most of the time.

One factor affecting the level of non-resident parents' involvement was distance. 84% of parents who lived with in 100 kilometers of their child reported regular involvement versus 32% of parents who lived more than 100 kilometers away.

Just over half of non-resident parents reported being satisfied with the amount of time spent with their children. The most common reason for dissatisfaction was not enough time spent with children.


Data Limitations. This data is subject to the limitations which apply generally to samples from the General Social Survey. It also excludes the 39 percent of parent respondents who did not have an agreement (written or verbal) for spending time with children


Robinson, Paul. 2009 Parenting after separation and divorce: a profile of arrangements for spending time with and making decisions for children, Juristat, October 2009. Statistics Canada, Statistics Canada, Cat. No. 84F0213XPB

Department of Justice, 2004, When Parents Separate: Further Findings from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth  This study was based on 1998/99 data from the National Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth, Children lived primarily with their mother 63% of the time, with their father 7% of the time, and had shared living arrangements in 12% of cases. In 13% of cases parents had reunited and in 5% of cases the child's living arrangement was reported as "other," meaning that children did not live with either parent.