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July/August 2017Vol. 18, No. 5Evaluating Fathers' Views of Co-Parenting Relationships

Parents and Children Together (PACT) is a large-scale, multicomponent project to evaluate four responsible fatherhood (RF) programs that were funded from 2011 to 2015 by the Office of Family Assistance within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A new brief produced by the ACF Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation focuses on findings from two rounds of interviews conducted between 2013 and 2014 with a total of 87 low-income, predominantly African-American fathers in RF programs that were part of the PACT evaluation. The main topics of these interviews were based on the fathers' points of view regarding the nature of their co-parenting relationships with the mothers of their children; the changes that might have occurred in these relationships in the year between the first and second interviews; and the efforts made by the fathers to obtain legal, formal agreements for visitation, custody, or parenting time.

During the first round of interviews, the majority of fathers reported having conflicted and disengaged relationships with their children's mothers, including low levels of cooperation and communication. Most of the nonresident fathers also did not have (or were not able to obtain) legal visitation or custody agreements, which led to disengaged parenting as a result of lack of access to their children.

During the second round of interviews, however, about one-quarter of the fathers reported a slight improvement in their co-parenting relationships and credited the relationship and communications skills they gained from the RF programs. One-quarter of nonresident fathers had also sought a formal custody or parenting-time agreement between the first and second interviews, which changed the co-parenting dynamic and facilitated the communication needed between parents to implement law-enforced custody or visitation.

The brief concludes with two implications for the design of RF programs based on the findings of the two rounds of PACT interviews:

  • The prevalence of conflicted and disengaged co-parenting relationships confirms the importance of offering services that will help fathers navigate and improve these relationships. For example, RF programs can offer nonlegal mediation or counseling to help resolve disputes and facilitate improved communication.
  • Nonresident fathers need help attaining formal, legal arrangements that can support a greater degree of involvement with their children. For example, RF programs can partner with agencies willing to provide pro bono legal services to help low-income fathers who want a formal shared-custody agreement.

Fathers’ Views of Co-Parenting Relationships: Findings From the PACT Evaluation is available at (1,770 KB).