Children’s welfare may be affected by the absence of a parent—be it due to migration, divorce or death. These reasons for absence have largely been addressed separately in the literature; we present a unified framework. Using Demographic and Health Survey data from Malawi, we compare welfare indicators for four categories of children: those who live with both parents, and those who live with their mother but whose father is absent due to migration, divorce, or death. We find a clear pattern of welfare differences: children whose father is either present or a migrant are better off, and children whose father is deceased or whose parents are divorced, are worse off. Our findings indicate that concern about the welfare of migrants’ children might be exaggerated. By contrast, vulnerable children of divorcees are at risk of being overlooked in a policy environment that focuses on orphans.