Annual Report 2007–2008

Shared parental responsibility

This section is an edited extract from a paper published in Family Matters no. 79, "Shared parental responsibility", by Ibolya Losoncz, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Recent reforms to the family law system and Child Support Scheme reflect and promote a major cultural change in relation to parenting after separation. Key themes of the reform package focus on the indissolubility of parenthood and emphasise:

This article describes the distribution of separated families from Growing Up in Australia4 on each of these four themes, followed by an analysis of the extent of change experienced by families within the period of two years, as well as using cross-sectional data from each wave. These analyses show that the arrangements of separated families is not static. There is a high level of instability over time in the arrangement of separated families for each of the four themes.

Joint financial responsibility

The theme of joint financial responsibility is captured by examining whether non-resident parents had paid their child support in the last month. The proportion of non-resident parents paying child support was approximately the same in 2004 (Wave 1) and 2006 (Wave 2), with over 60% of resident parents reporting that they received the full child support amount, and one-quarter reporting not receiving any of the expected child support amount in the month preceding the survey (see Figure 11).

Figure 11: Distribution of shared parenting indicators - graph

Figure 11: Distribution of shared parenting indicators, Waves 1 and 2

However, analysis of individual cases found that only two-thirds of cases remained in the same compliance category (full, partial, no compliance) over the two-year period. The most stable group appeared to be the group with full compliance in Wave 1, with 74% remaining fully compliant and 14% moving to partial compliance in Wave 2 (see Table 4). Of the partial compliance cases in Wave 1, more than half (53%) moved to full compliance in Wave 2. The trend among null compliance cases in Wave 1 was not so positive, with the majority (56%) remaining in the null compliance category two years later.

Table 4: Distribution of Wave 1 child support compliance in Wave 2

Wave 1

Wave 2

Total % (n = 589)

Full (%)

Partial (%)

No compliance (%)

Full

74.3

13.5

12.2

100.0

Partial

52.7

27.0

20.3

100.0

No compliance

38.7

5.3

56.1

100.0

Note: Components may not total 100% due to rounding.
Source: LSAC, Wave 1 (2004) and Wave 2 (2006)

Parent-child contact

In terms of parent-child contact over the preceding 12 months, approximately one-third of children saw their non-resident parent more than once a fortnight (37% in Wave 1 and 33% in Wave 2). Another quarter of the children (27% in Wave 1 and 28% in Wave 2) saw their non-resident parent once a fortnight or a month, while in both waves just under 20% of children had not seen their non-resident parent in the last 12 months (see Figure 11).

For two-thirds of children, the frequency of contact did not change from Wave 1 to 2. For those children experiencing a change in the frequency of visits, a higher proportion (20%) reported a decline in visits compared to those reporting an increase (14%). This less frequent contact was not balanced by longer visits, as average contact hours within each category changed very little between the waves, indicating a decline in the extent of contact with non-resident parent over the two years.

Shared decision making

Along with joint financial responsibility and contact with both parents, the Family Law Amendment Act 2006 encourages shared parental responsibility and requires that parents consult with one another before making decisions about major issues in their child's life. In our sample, in both waves, about one-quarter of resident parents reported often or always asking the child's other parent for his/her views when making major decisions about the child, while more than half of parents reported never or almost never asking the other parent's view (see Figure 11).

For 67% of parents, the level of consultation about major decisions remained the same over both waves. The most stable group appeared to be those parents who never or rarely involved the non-resident parent in their decision making in Wave 1, with 81% also not involving the other parent in Wave 2 (see Table 5). Conversely, the group that reported high consultation with the other parent in Wave 1 did not remain so stable. Only 51% reported the same level of consultation in Wave 2, and 40% dropped from often/always to never/rarely involving the other parent.

Table 5: Distribution of Wave 1 child support compliance in Wave 2

Wave 1

Wave 2

Never/rarely (%)

Sometimes (%)

Often/always (%)

Total % (n = 589)

Never/rarely

81.1

6.7

12.2

100.0

Sometimes

53.6

11.9

34.5

100.0

Often/always

39.6

9.9

50.5

100.0

Source: LSAC, Wave 1 (2004) and Wave 2 (2006)

Parental conflict

Another closely related factor that influences parent-child contact is parental conflict. Consistent with earlier findings, the level of parental conflict5 reported by the resident parent in the study fell between the two waves. Of those resident parents who had contact with the other parent, the proportion reporting medium or high conflict decreased from 40% and 16% respectively in Wave 1 to 38% and 14% in Wave 2. Conversely, the proportion of parents reporting low conflict increased from 44% in Wave 1 to 49% in Wave 2.

However, reduced conflict is not always evidence of an improved relationship between parents. It may indicate lack of contact. This research found an increase in the level of disengagement between separated parents over the two years, particularly among parents with high conflict. Nearly 10% of resident parents reported that they ceased contact with the other parent between waves, while less than 4% reported that contact resumed in the same period. In terms of the composition of parents moving to no contact, high-conflict parents in Wave 1 (12%) were twice as likely as low-conflict parents (6%) to cease contact with the other parent by Wave 2 (see Table 6).

Table 6: Distribution of Wave 1 parental conflict in Wave 2

Wave 1

Wave 2

No contact (%)

Low (%)

Medium (%)

High (%)

Total %(n = 361)

No contact

76.4

14.3

5.1

4.2

100.0

Low

5.7

65.0

25.5

3.8

100.0

Medium

11.8

34.6

41.2

12.4

100.0

High

12.4

11.3

41.8

34.5

100.0

Source: LSAC, Wave 1 (2004) and Wave 2 (2006)


Footnotes

4 The sample included those children (K cohort at Wave 1) who had one of their parents living elsewhere in both waves (n = 523 families).

5 A composite measure of parental conflict (if parents had any contact in the last 12 months) was constructed from the three variables of: how well parents get along with each other, how often they disagree about basic childrearing issues, and how often there is anger between them. The Cronbach's α value of .78 indicated an adequate degree of internal consistency for this scale.


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