In 2019, there will be around 1.5 million single or separated mothers and fathers with 2.2 million underage children living in Germany. As part of our work in the ‚Kompetenzbüro Wirksame Familienpolitik‘ (competence centre for effective family policy) of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, we have prepared the 43rd Family Research Monitor together with the Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research. The focus is the living situation of these families.
It shows a differentiated picture of the living environment of separated parents. New survey results on family life and negotiated responsibilities after separation, as well as longitudinal analyses over time, illustrate both the diversity and the variability of the living situation of separated parents. By also taking into account the year before separation, it becomes visible which characteristics of the household situation already existed beforehand and which may be perpetuated or intensified in single parenthood, and which changes occur, especially concerning employment, household income and transfer payments.
How is responsibility for children shared?
The vast majority of single parents share care of their child or children with the other parent by mutual agreement. After separation, however, many parents have to deal with serious conflicts in the division of responsibility for their children, in contact and care and especially in alimony payments. This results in a variety of constellations: from single parenting to shared care to the parity alternating model with almost equal shares of care.
How good is the relationship with the other parent?
The relationship with the other parent also varies widely after separation: from breaking off contact to a constructive relationship with cooperation and communication for the benefit of the child. Services offered by youth welfare offices or other agencies for family education and counselling provide valuable orientation and tangible support in this phase; they strengthen the family members and help to develop private and professional perspectives in the new phase of life as well as to turn the focus from parental conflict to the well-being of the child.
Partnership before separation
A partnership-based understanding of roles that facilitates the reconciliation of family and work and an equal division of tasks for both parents from the beginning of the family formation can also have a favourable effect on the separation situation. If, for example, both partners succeed-ed in (re)entering the labour market before starting a family and in the early family phase, they are more likely to remain employed and thus independent of transfer payments, even when raising a child alone or separately.
Satisfaction of single parents compared to couple families
Single parents are often among the families who are under the most pressure. The stress is also reflected in their life satisfaction. On average, they are less satisfied and report fears and – especially financial – worries more often than couple families. However, the vast majority also say they have a very close relationship with their children and are proud that they manage to take care of themselves and their children alone. Separated fathers who live without their child, however, often experience a great deal or a very great deal of stress about the separation from the child.
Family form of single parenthood
Some mothers or fathers are single parents permanently, some only briefly, others intermittently. In some cases, the parents find new partners who may bring children of their own into the relationship.
The financial situation is also complex. Although there are many parents in need of help among single or separated parents, the majority are mothers and fathers in stable economic and social circumstances.
It is particularly urgent to support and empower those single parents who have not yet been able to gain a foothold in the labour market. In any case, there is a need for needs-based childcare services and guaranteed places – both in pre-school and in school – to enable them to be flexible in terms of time for vocational training or further education or to realise more extensive employment aspirations and thus a sufficiently high income. The combination of child benefit and child supplement into a new, needs-based benefit, which is increasingly being discussed, would primarily benefit lower-income families or single and separated parents.
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