Fathers' Views of Co-Parenting Relationships: Findings from the PACT Evaluation

OPRE Report 2016-60
Publisher: Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation
Dec 14, 2016
Daniel Friend, Jeffrey Max, Pamela Holcomb, Kathryn Edin, and Robin Dion

Key Findings:

  • About 7 in 10 fathers who participated in in-depth interviews for the Parents and Children Together (PACT) evaluation are in co-parenting relationships that are marked by either frequent conflict or little to no communication between the parents.
  • About one-third of the fathers in the second round of interviews had conflicted co-parenting relationships that were marked by verbal disagreements and diverging views between parents on a variety of issues. Another 40 percent of the fathers had disengaged co-parenting relationships with their children’s mothers; that is, relationships marked by conflict and limited cooperation, often because there was little or no communication between the parents. Only about one-third of the fathers had a cooperative co-parenting relationship with at least one of their children’s mothers.

When parents collaborate, support each other, and share goals and beliefs about their children, fathers are more involved in their children’s lives. But a new qualitative study reveals some of the complex challenges fathers face in attempting to co-parent their children. As part of the PACT evaluation, conducted on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE), Mathematica researchers conducted three rounds of in-depth qualitative interviews with a subset of participants voluntarily enrolled in one of four Responsible Fatherhood programs. The first round of in-depth interviews included 87 fathers, most of whom were African American and did not live with their children. 

A large majority of the fathers interviewed in Round 2 are in conflicted or disengaged co-parenting relationships. Additionally, only a minority of fathers had formal visitation, joint custody, or parenting time agreements at the time of the second round of interviews, suggesting that fathers may need help attaining the formal legal arrangements that can structure and support a greater degree of involvement with their children.