Are Separated Fathers’ More Satisfied with Their Life If They Spend Much Time with Their Children or If They Are Re-Partnered?

Zsolt Speder, HDRI
Zsuzsanna Makay, Hungarian Demographic Research Institute

Our aim is to compare the life-satisfaction of fathers in „traditional” families (couple and biological children living in the same household) to that of separated fathers. Among the latter we distinguish those who have the custody of their children and those who don’t have it and live in different household arrangements (alone, re-partnered, re-partnered with children, etc.) and we built different logistic regression models to explain life-satisfaction. For fathers who don’t have custody of their children we take into account the frequency of contacts, time elapsed since separation and geographical distance.

The motivation of our research is to clarify some of these relations and to come up with a Central-European example in the subject of separated fathers’ life-satisfaction. The two main research questions are: 1) how does the relation with their children influence the life-satisfaction of separated fathers? 2) How does a new relationship after separation alter life satisfaction of fathers having minor children?

We use the fourth wave of Hungarian Generations and Gender Survey (GGS) and make use of the panel data, but also of a cross-sectional sample which was added to the survey in 2012. We study all in all almost 2.000 fathers of which a quarter has separated and has minor children.


Most studies find a positive and significant relationship between separated fathers’ involvement in the upbringing of their children and their level of life satisfaction. This holds without doubt for custody: having sole or even joint guardianship of children has been shown to have a direct effect on fathers’ well-being (Stone, 2001; Bokker et al, 2006). Sole custody is even associated with lower depression among separated fathers.

But the question is not only who is granted custody: satisfaction with the custody arrangements and satisfaction with post-divorce arrangements have all a positive effect of overall life satisfaction of separated fathers (Regging et al., 1999).

For noncustodial fathers, amount of time spent with children has especially high positive effect, at least for recently divorced fathers (Lon et al, 2006). But it is also documented, that these fathers have a less positive relationships with their children than custodial fathers and fathers still married (Stewart et al., 1986).

Some studies on the other hand found that involvement with children had no significant effect on fathers’ well-being which has rather to be explained by economic wellbeing, low frequency of conflict, and low importance of resource deprivation (Rettig, 1999; Stone, 2001).

The motivation of our research is to clarify some of these relations and to come up with a Central-European example in the subject of separated fathers’ life-satisfaction and relation with their children. Our two main research questions are: 1) how does the relation with their children influence the life-satisfaction of separated fathers? 2) How does a new relationship after separation alter life satisfaction of fathers having minor children?

Our aim is to compare the life-satisfaction of fathers in „traditional” families (couple and biological children living in the same household) to that of separated fathers. Among the latter we distinguish those who have the custody of their children and those who don’t have it and live in different household arrangements (alone, re-partnered, re-partnered with children, etc.) and we built different logistic regression models to explain life-satisfaction.

We take into account several factors related to the children, like the frequency of contacts, the geographical proximity, and some factors related to the separation (age of the child/ children at that moment, divorce or breaking up a cohabiting relationship?) We also consider the current household structure of the separated fathers and take into account the effect of re-partnering and new children.

We use the fourth wave of Hungarian Generations and Gender Survey (GGS) and make use of the panel data, but also of a cross-sectional sample which was added to the survey in 2012. We study all in all almost 2.000 fathers of which a quarter has separated and had minor children.

We suppose that the importance of the father-child contacts might be a significant factor in explaining life satisfaction of lone fathers who have not (yet) re-partnered. For those however who live in a new relationship this result might be altered by the importance of this relationship and especially by newly born children from the new union.

The first results support what has been demonstrated in the literature, namely that fathers who have custody of their children report a higher level of life-satisfaction than those who don’t have it. Concerning the effect of regular contact with their non-resident children however, our first results don’t show any significant effect. Family structure of separated fathers however plays an important role in their happiness. Fathers living with a new partner and newly born children report a higher life satisfaction than those having a new partner without children. These fathers are also happier than those who have custody of their previously born children but are not engaged in a new relationship.

Further correlations have to be explored and results will be interpreted taking into account the Hungarian context where supporting the family financially is still fathers’ important role (Spéder, 2011). In this context is the fathers’ role after separation rather to support his children financially or does he also have to provide care?

Presented in Session 1105: Families and Households