A recent study by researchers at Arizona State University documents what many fathers have always known intuitively: that children of divorced parents are best off when the parents both live in the general vicinity, regardless of who has custody. This is a critical piece of information for any divorced dad who cares about keeping a great relationship with his children.
The study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, debunks the myth found today in courtrooms all around America that it is not a problem when one parent relocates, whether that parent has custody of the children or not.
The study examined fourteen variables related to the stability of college age students who had been subject to a divorce in their growing up years. These measures included the amount of college education contributions from their families, measures of their personal/emotional adjustment, their level of hostility toward their parents, their romantic and friendship choices, their overall personal health and their life satisfaction.
Here are some of the very interesting findings of this comprehensive study:
- Of the children of divorced parents involved in the study, 61% experienced a move of at least one hour’s drive by one parent at least once during their childhood.
- Of divorced children whose parents contributed to their college education, the average contribution for children whose parents stayed in close proximity was $6.154. For those who moved with their mother away from their father, the contribution dropped to $4,378. For those who stayed with mom when the dad moved away, the contribution was $5,197.
When measuring the inner turmoil and distress from the divorce, the researchers found that the scores were much lower for children whose parents both remained close by than when either the father or the mother moved, with or without the children.
Students studied had better total rapport with their parents when both were located close by than when one was located at least an hour away from the children.
Female students showed a much better ranking on overall personal health when both parents stayed in proximity. Their lowest health ranking was when they relocated with their mother away from their father.
It is certainly good to see a credible study verify what so many fathers know from their personal experience. Living near your kids as a non-custodial father is a difficult enough thing emotionally for a father. But being an hour or more away can drive unintended wedges. Often, visitation is less frequent and more complicated. Not being able to be with a child due to physical distance for important crossroads events like birthdays, recitals and holidays can cause emotional distance. And even with modern technology like Skyping, texting, FaceTime and Google Hangouts, it is just not the same as being there.
Kids need their fathers to be close - physically and emotionally. Even the best relationships become strained with added distance. When dad misses important events in their lives, and when time is not invested in the relationship - for whatever reason, kids and dads can find themselves drifting apart. But only coming to the big events is not enough. Dads need to make opportunities to have some one-on-one time with the kids that are not in his custody - time to talk, to listen, to share experiences and to build positive memories.
And that simply can't be done when many miles are between the father and his children.
The conclusion is clear—kids are better able to survive divorce when both parents stay located in close proximity to the children. So dad, if your kids’ mom wants to relocate for any reason, you have a significant reason to protest that move with the family court. And if you have an option to stay close by rather than moving away for a new job, a new promotion or a new family situation, consider staying close to your kids. It will make a big difference in your relationship with them.