Many children born outside of marriage are born to parents in unstable relationships and often live apart from their fathers.   

New research from the Journal of Marriage and Family says that children born outside of marriage are less likely to be visited by their father when the mother becomes involved in a new romantic relationship.  Fathers of illegitimate children are likely to not visit their child at all if the child’s mother forms a new relationship early in the child’s life, especially if the new couple lives together and the new partner becomes involved in childrearing activities.

However, if the relationship ends, fathers re-enter their child’s life.  Fair or not, a mother’s social decisions have a direct effect on the contact between a father and his child.

The study examined the interactions non-residential fathers have with their children when a non-paternal figure (or co-residential partner) enters the life of the child. The research suggests that non-residential fathers should continue visitation despite the more complicated parental roles and relationships that may arise when mothers enter new relationships.

The study notes rather strangely what millions of divorced fathers already know - biological fathers still make a unique contribution to their children even when their children have a new potential father-figure. More generally, this research also shows that decisions concerning parental responsibility and involvement do not operate in a vacuum, so efforts to promote responsible fatherhood need to consider both mothers’ and fathers’ behaviors.

The research, conducted by Dr. Karen Benjamin Guzzo of Kutztown University, looke at the significant decisions made by both parents when raising a child outside of marriage. It used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a nationally representative longitudinal study of nearly 5,000 children born in large U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000, the majority of whom are born outside of marriage.