A third of divorced fathers over the age of 50 lose all contact with their adult children, according to new research presented Sunday at the convention of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco.
Children also blame fathers more than mothers when marriages end, and many fathers say their ex-wives block their efforts to have a good relationship with the kids, said the authors of two other studies presented at the convention.
Psychologist Charles Hoffman of California State University at San Bernadino said the findings indicate there should be an "affirmative action program for divorced fathers," who lose custody of their children in 90 percent of failed marriages.
"Sex roles won't change until [divorced] mothers and fathers parent equally," he said.
The study of older divorced fathers, conducted by sociologist Peter Uhlenberg at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that only half of the 261 subjects had weekly contact with their adult children, compared with 90 percent of married men.
But a third of the divorced men had lost all contact with at least one of their children.
"Adult children are the principal source of caregiving to older people," he said. "[Older divorced fathers] are not only lacking a spouse, they're also lacking children who will come in and provide support." Uhlenberg cited data from his study showing that only 20 percent of divorced men turn to their children in an emergency, compared with 50 percent of married men.
In another study, psychologist Kathleen Welch of Northridge in Southern California discovered that children usually side with their mothers after divorces and blame their fathers for the marital rift. That blame only gets worse as the children age, she said.
"Divorce loosens the bonds to fathers," said Welch.
Together, the new research suggests that fathers suffer more long-term problems after divorce than was previously thought. Earlier research focused on the economic problems suffered by women and children after divorce.
Hoffman's research on 142 divorced fathers between the ages of 22 and 67 showed that half said their ex-wives sabotage their efforts to maintain a good relationship with their children.
"They often say they want to be involved, and they say their ex-wives keep them from that involvement," said Hoffman, who cited earlier data showing that two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women.
Hoffman called on the courts to order joint custody of children far more often. "Mothers and fathers are equally capable to raise their children," he said. The father's active involvement is especially critical for boys, who suffer more psychological problems than girls when parents split up, Hoffman said.