Is there such a thing as a “good divorce?”

The term “good divorce” has often provoked controversy and heated discussion.  There are some who think that by suggesting there is a “good divorce,” then couples will be more likely to get divorced.  On the other hand, there are others such as Constance Ahrons who write, “Divorce is not good, but a good divorce can help reduce some of the inherent stresses of family restructuring and change.”

In a recent study [AbstractFull paper] by Paul Amato and colleagues, the idea of a “good divorce” is put to the test in a large representative sample of families.  Using the National Survey of Families and Households, they identified three groups of postdivorce families that they describe as “cooperative coparents,”  “parallel coparents,” and “single parents.”  They then looked at measures of children’s health and well-being to see if children in “cooperative coparenting” arrangements were doing better than those children in other family situations.

Overall, the findings were mixed.  On the one hand, children with cooperative parents had fewer problem behaviors and rated their relationships with their fathers more positively than children in two other parenting types.  However, on many other measures of well-being such as self-esteem, school grades, liking school, substance use, or life satisfaction, the children in all three parenting patterns were about the same.  As the researchers of this study note, these results provide only modest evidence that there is a pattern of postdivorce parenting that can be described as a “good divorce.”

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