Non-Residential Fathers

Many men who participate in fatherhood programs are not living with their children. The number of U.S. children living apart from their biological fathers has increased considerably over the last half-century. In 1965, about 10 percent of all U.S. children 18 years or younger lived with a single parent. Now, more than one in four fathers live apart from their children, with 11 percent living apart from some of their children and 16 percent living apart from all of their children.

Today’s non-residential fathers face diverse circumstances. Young fathers, divorced fathers, and fathers who have no formal relationship with their child’s mother all have different needs requiring understanding and attention. The challenges are more complex for fathers who have children with more than one mother.

Additionally, non-residential teen fathers may experience other unique challenges, such as navigating relationships with the child’s grandparents and affording child support. Fatherhood programs should be aware of these challenges and consider providing services such as navigating child support, co-parenting, or work-related assistance. All non-residential fathers may face a period of redefining what it means to be a good father as they increase their involvement with a fatherhood program.

Tips & Best Practices

  • Involve non-residential fathers in child welfare cases. Failing to engage noncustodial (“nonresident”) fathers in child welfare cases harms children by robbing them of many potential resources. Fathers may serve as placement resources, provide their children with meaningful adult connections, and offer financial, emotional, and other support. In cases where the father does not want to be involved with a child, or cannot be a positive presence in the child’s life, documenting this throughout the case will reduce delays in children’s permanent placement once the case reaches the termination of parental rights or adoption stages.
  • Support fatherhood initiatives and interventions to improve children’s safety, permanency, and well-being. Fathers have a critical role to play in children’s physical, emotional, and social development. They are essential partners in preventing abuse giving children a stable, permanent home.  Casey Family Programs offers a range of organizational strategies and resources to help programs better understand and engage non-residential fathers.
  • Establishing parenting programs for incarcerated fathers. Many men are separated from their children due to incarceration. More than half of incarcerated men reported having children under the age of 18. Many of these fathers reported living with and being active in their children’s lives before their incarceration. Helping these fathers stay engaged with their children promotes positive outcomes not only for the children but for the fathers upon reentry.
  • Check out additional resources relevant to supporting non-residential fathers. The Focus on Fathering curriculum helps programs design resources for non-residential fathers they serve. It includes Parenting Apart, designed to help non-residential fathers understand the important role they play in the lives of their children. Activities focus on the importance of effective communication with the resident parent and navigating parenting challenges. The Involving Non-Resident Fathers in Children’s Learning resource includes research findings, resources, and strategies for engaging non-residential fathers in their children’s development and education.


What is the difference between non-residential and non-custodial fathers?

Within the responsible fatherhood arena, fathers who are not living with their children are often referred to as non-residential or non-custodial fathers. Non-custodial fathers are fathers who do not have legal or physical custody of children, even if they live with them. Fatherhood practitioners tend to prefer the term non-residential fathers, which avoids the implication that children are objects.

What are some reasons fathers may live apart from their children?

Compared to the 1960s when divorce was the main reason children lived with a single parent, many children today have fathers who have never been married to, or even lived with, the mothers of their children. Other fathers are non-residential because they are incarcerated or away temporarily on military or other work assignments.

Why is father involvement so important, even if they do not live with their children?

Research shows that father involvement has positive impacts on a child’s well-being. Children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, show empathy, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers.

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