Just a little over six per cent of fathers have their children living with them permanently. These are the situations where the level of conflict between parents is greatest, a new survey shows.

Living with both parents after a break-up is becoming the norm

Roughly 56 per cent of Norwegian parents who have separated in the last two years choose this solution.

Norway has seen rapid changes in the percentage of children who live alternately with their mum and dad. This is often called joint custody.

In 2002, 8 per cent lived permanently with both parents after they separated.

In 2012 this percentage had risen to 25 per cent, while in 2020 it had climbed to 39 per cent.

And it looks as if this trend will continue in the future, says Signe Vrålstad, a researcher at the Telemark Research Institute.

She and colleagues have analysed figures from Statistics Norway.

The shorter the time since the parents separated, the greater the proportion who choose joint custody, she says.

“If we look at couples who have separated in the two years previous to the survey, a full 56 per cent of parents choose joint custody when a breakup occurs,” she said.

Not just those with higher education

In the past, this choice was clearly most common among parents with higher education.

Now joint custody has spread to different educational groups.

Another change is that children in all age groups now live alternately with both parents. In the past, this was primarily true for pre-teen children.

The analysis shows that parents who have an equal and established relationship with few conflicts more often choose joint custody than couples who have a less well-established relationship. A short distance between the parents’ residences also means a lot.

About the study

How do parents who don’t live together solve the challenges of everyday life for the children they have in common?

The Telemark Research Institute has recently published four reports that look at this exact issue.

The analyses conducted by Telemark Research Institute are based on a survey that Statistics Norway conducted in 2020 among a selection of parents who have children in common, but who do not live together.

Sciencenorway.no wrote about this in 2023.

This is a continuation of a survey from 2012. The researchers have compared the two datasets.

It looks as if this trend will continue in the future, says Signe Vrålstad, a researcher at the Telemark Research Institute.

Living with mum is still the rule

Geir Møller at Telemark Research Institute has also worked on the study.

He believes that the extensive use of joint custody is about changing norms in society.

“In the past, it was the norm that the mother looked after the children. This has changed with more equality in society,” he said.

But the situation has still not completely changed, he said.

“Not much has happened, as far as parents who don’t choose joint custody are concerned. There, the rule is still that children live permanently with their mother,” he says.

Society is ahead of legislation

The Norwegian Children Act states that the parents can agree between themselves where the child will live. If they disagree, the starting point is for the court to decide.

In today's Children Act, the court must look for "special reasons" for the child to live with both parents.

In 2020, there was a public inquiry (NOU) which examined proposals for a comprehensive new Children Act. This raises the question of whether joint custody should be given a greater emphasis — and perhaps even become a norm — in the legislation.

It looks as if society is far ahead of the legislation in this area, Møller said.

“The fact that joint custody has become so widespread means that the legislators also have to deal with this,” he said.

Father will contribute from day one

Lawyer Ramborg Elvebakk agrees to this. She has extensive experience with parental disputes and is a partner in the law firm Hjort.

Modern fathers have an expectation of joint custody which is not supported by the law as it is today, she said in an interview with Advokatbladet, a Norwegian online legal magazine.

She believes that there will be fewer parental disputes in the future, because many cases today concern equal parenting. There can be conflict if the mother wants to provide most the of care and the father wants his half, she said in the interview.

Elvebakk assumes that the situation will look different in five years.

It is still the rule that the children live permanently with the mother where there is no joint custody, says researcher Geir Møller.

“We now have a generation of fathers who don’t simply want to be visiting fathers and who want to participate in their children's lives from day one. From their perspective, equal sharing of time with the children is a matter of course,” she said.

Less arguing

The analysis from Telemark Research Institute shows that the majority of parents cooperate well and have a low-conflict relationship with each other.

The proportion who have a good relationship with the other parent has also increased from 2012 to 2020.

Møller believes that this is partly due to the increasing trend of choosing joint custody.

A high level of conflict between the parents has been used as an argument against joint custody.

But the arrangement may have the potential to reduce the level of conflict, Møller believes.

“A shared responsibility and togetherness can provide better cooperation and thus help to mitigate conflicts,” he says.

Most conflict where the children live with the father

The level of conflict seems to be particularly high in cases where the child lives permanently with the father, Møller said.

“Just over six per cent of the fathers in our sample have their children living with them permanently, but the results are still clear,” he said.

These are the situations where the level of conflict is greatest.

The researchers also found that more children now are involved in deciding where they want to live than in 2012.

But 63 per cent of the children still have no say in this matter, according to the parents.

The researchers think this number is high.

Least involved when living with mum

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is very clear that all children, even the youngest ones, have the right to express their views, and these must be given some weight.

The Norwegian Children Act states that when a child has reached the age of seven, the child must be allowed to express his or her opinion about which of the parents he or she should live with.

The law states that when the child reaches the age of 12, great emphasis must be placed on this opinion. Until a child is of legal age, that child must be given a lot of say in the decision making.

“But we actually see that more than 40 per cent of those aged between 16 and 17 are not allowed to decide where they will live,” said Tanja Askvik.

Askvik is also an author of the reports based on the Telemark Research Institute analysis.

The children who are the least involved in decision making are those who live permanently with their mother, Askvik said.

Translated by Nancy Bazilchuk


Geir Møller et.al.: Kjennetegn ved foreldre med mye og lite samvær med barna (Characteristics of parents with a lot and little contact with their children). Telemarksforsking, 2023. (in Norwegian)


Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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