Parenting and contact before and after separation

About the project

High rates of divorce and separation have become a part of contemporary life in the UK. Estimates suggest that 45 per cent of all marriages will end in divorce (Wilson and Smallwood, 2007) and separation rates for cohabiting couples are even higher. Some suggest that just under half of all children born today will experience parental separation before they reach adulthood (Centre for Social Justice, 2012).

Divorce and separation are also affecting children at an increasingly young age. In 2010, around half of all divorcing couples had at least one child under age 16. Of all the under 16-year-olds affected by divorce that year, a quarter were under age five (ONS, 2011).

Politicians and researchers have long been interested in what exactly causes the negative outcomes often experienced by children of divorced or separated families. Is it the separation itself? Is it the single-parent family structure resulting from the separation? Or is it down to associated drop in household income? And what is the role of parenting practices in mediating these negative outcomes for children.

This project analysed data from the first four surveys of the Millennium Cohort Study, at ages 9 months, 3 years, 5 years, 7 years and 11 years. It looked specifically at factors related to parents’ contact with their children after separation, and how separation affects parenting activities and capabilities.

This project was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and ran from October 2013 to September 2014.

Key research questions:

  1. Are there links between parenting activities and attitudes prior to separation and contact failure, the nature as well as frequency of contact post separation and if so, what are they and do they vary, e.g. depending on the age of the child at the point of separation?
  2. Does separation affect parenting activities and attitudes of the parent with care and if so, how and does this effect change over time?
CLS contact

Lucinda Platt,

Former Director and PI of the MCS

Lucinda is Professor of Social Policy at the LSE and former Director and Principal Investigator of the Millennium Cohort Study. Her main research interests are ethnicity, migration, comparisons across ethnic groups, and child poverty, with a particular interest in longitudinal approaches. Email Lucinda

Principal Investigator

Tina Haux, School of Social Sciences, University of Lincoln