Press release

Separation and divorce: Fathers see children more often when custody is shared

Researchers present findings on how separation and divorce affects families. 

Berlin, 7 May 2018 – By the time their first child turns 10 years old, every fifth couple in western Germany and every third couple in eastern Germany has separated or divorced. In the vast majority of cases, children live with their mother, which makes it challenging for fathers to play an active role in family life. Joint custody is an important factor. While nearly half of all fathers who share custody see their child at least once a week, this is only true for every fifth father who does not share custody. In both cases, regular contact between father and child diminishes over time. Ten years after a separation, 71 percent of fathers who share custody see their children regularly, while only 38 percent of those who do not share custody see their children regularly.

These are the findings presented in a collection of research briefs on families after separation and divorce in Germany, written by social scientists Esther Geisler and Michaela Kreyenfeld (Hertie School), Katja Köppen and Heike Trappe (Universität Rostock) and Matthias Pollmann-Schult (Universität Magdeburg). The publication is a digest of recent research findings on the everyday realities of families after separation and divorce. Because official statistics in Germany do not reflect many relevant aspects of family life after separation, research in this area has until now been quite limited. In particular, there are no data regarding non-married partnerships with children, which is particularly relevant in eastern Germany.

Regarding the social and economic situation of separated parents, the income of women after divorce remains considerably lower than the income of men after divorce. The 2008 reform of alimony laws, which limited the amount of support payable to a dependent spouse after divorce, worsened the situation for divorced women. In families where there are several children from the marriage, women in particular are at risk of falling into poverty. Two years after filing for divorce, mothers with three or more children earn only around 16 percent of the average German income. Due to their low income, it can be assumed that this group faces a high risk of poverty.

Fathers’ incomes after separation or divorce are higher than mothers. But separated fathers in general have not reached a high level of education, are more frequently unemployed and were younger than other fathers at the time their first child was born.

Find the publication “Families after separation and divorce in Germany” online at: (In German).

The Hertie School is a private university based in Berlin, Germany, accredited by the state and the German Science Council. It prepares exceptional students for leadership positions in government, business, and civil society. Interdisciplinary and practice-oriented teaching, first-class research and an extensive international network set the Hertie School apart and position it as an ambassador of good governance, characterised by public debate and engagement. The school was founded at the end of 2003 as a project of the Hertie Foundation, which remains its major partner.