Divorce Science Research Updates 6-22-2015


Children refusing to visit a separated or divorced parent is one of the most difficult issues affecting postdivorce adjustment.  Although this is a small group of children, there are many unanswered questions.  Below is some of the most recent work in this area.

Longer list of studies published regarding parental alienation between 2010-2015.  A more complete list of research report about divorce, remarriage and stepfamilies published in 2015 or between 2010-2015.

Parental Alientation

Polak, S., & Saini, M. (2015). Children Resisting Contact With a Parent Postseparation: Assessing This Phenomenon Using an Ecological Systems Framework. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 56(3), 220-247. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10502556.2015.1012698

Trend in Children under 18 Living with Single Fathers


More children are living with their divorced or never married dads in the last 40 years, but look at what happened during the recession– more divorced dads with children and a dramatic drop for unmarried fathers.  The employment status of unmarried fathers may have something to do with this change.  More US Census Bureau demographics about living arrangements of children.

Children under 18 living with single father

 

New Child Support Research Findings


Goldberg, J. S. (2015). Coparenting and Nonresident Fathers’ Monetary Contributions to Their Children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(3), 612-627. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12191

Kane, J. B., Nelson, T. J., & Edin, K. (2015). How Much In-Kind Support Do Low-Income Nonresident Fathers Provide? A Mixed-Method Analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(3), 591-611. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12188

 

Shared Parenting Guidelines: Consensus or Not?


There has been considerable debate among scientists about the best practice and policy regarding guidelines for shared parenting.  During the past few years there have been several reviews of the research evidence regarding shared parenting following divorce and the recommendations don’t always agree.  There are two new reports each with an array of scientists and practitioners.

So here is one interesting note.  Only Richard Warshak is on both lists.

One of these reports, authored by Richard Warshak, titled, “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children:  A Consensus Report” includes the endorsement of 110 scientists and practitioners.  In the introduction he writes,

“One hundred and ten researchers and practitioners have read, provided comments, and offered revisions to this article.  They endorse the article’s conclusions and recommendations, although they may not agree with every detail of the literature review” (Warshak, 2014, p. 46).

This is an impressive list of many of the major scientists who study divorce issues.  This list includes 79 professionals who list universities or research centers as their primary affiliation and 31 professional in clinical practice.  So what about the people who are not on the list:  There are a number of prominent scientists who are not on the list.  Were they contacted?  Did they refuse because they disagreed with the recommendations or were too busy to respond?  Perhaps they just didn’t like the whole idea of “endorsing” these conclusions.  Nevertheless, none of the other participants who compiled the following report and whose names are listed below are on Warshak’s “consensus” article, why not?  At least one answer is that there is not quite the consensus that Warshak presents.

The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts convened a task force to explore research regarding shared parenting.  In contrast to Warshak’s “consensus” view, the task force report provides various points of view, the disagreements and the research questions that need more study.  (This is the original unpublished Task Force Report.)  The most recent version of the report was made public in Family Court Review, April 2014. The editors write, 

“The Think Tank Report describes a series of research-based key points on which the multidisciplinary think tank participants agreed. Nonetheless, that agreement did not extend to how the consensus should be enacted into legislative or judicial policy to resolve contested parenting disputes” (Emery & Schepard, 2014).

Both of these reports are important to read and to study.  Perhaps the most important part of the Task Force report is the list of questions that still need more study.  There is still much to understand in order to provide guidance to practitioners and policymakers.

So here is the list of the AFCC Task Force Members:

Convenors: 

  • Arnold Shienvold, Ph.D. (Co-Chair),
  • Peter Salem, M.A. (Co-Chair),
  • Marsha Kline Pruett, Ph.D., M.S.L. (Co-Reporter),
  • J. Herbie DiFonzo, J.D., Ph.D. (Co-Reporter),
  • Bernie Mayer, Ph.D. (Facilitator),
  • Loretta M. Frederick, J.D. (Steering Committee),
  • Hon. Ramona Gonzales (Steering Committee),
  • Stacey Platt, J.D. (Steering Committee), and
  • Kyle D. Pruett, M.D. (Steering Committee).

Participants:

  • Nicholas Bala, J.D.,
  • Lawrence Jay Braunstein, J.D.,
  • Margaret F. Brinig, J.D.,
  • Bud Dale, J.D., Ph.D.,
  • Robin Deutsch, Ph.D.,
  • Hon. Grace G. Dickler,
  • Leslie Drozd, Ph.D.,
  • Robert Emery, Ph.D.,
  • William V. Fabricius, Ph.D.,
  • Hon. William Fee,
  • Jonathan Gould, Ph.D.,
  • Linda Fieldstone, M.Ed.,
  • Hon. Dianna Gould-Saltman,
  • Grace M. Hawkins, LCSW,
  • Leslye Hunter, LMFT,
  • Janet R. Johnston, Ph.D.,
  • Joan B. Kelly, Ph.D.,
  • Jennifer McIntosh, Ph.D.,
  • Anne Menard,
  • Irwin Sandler, Ph.D.,
  • Andrew Schepard, J.D.,
  • Richard A. Warshak, Ph.D., and
  • Justice R. James Williams.

Invited but unable to attend:

  • Chief Justice Diana Bryant (Family Court, Australia),
  • Jean Clinton, M.D.,
  • Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis (Colo. Sup. Ct., ret.),
  • Michael Lamb, Ph.D.,
  • Robert Marvin, Ph.D., and
  • Leslie Ellen Shear, J.D.

Shared Parenting: A Debate Among Experts


There is an extensive debate about the “right” custody policies and practices in courts and the research evidence for and against various shared parenting plans.  Much of the focus of the dispute is in regards to the evidence regarding overnight stays for young children in non-custodial parent homes.   Articles by Nielsen and Warshak make make strong critiques of the work by McIntosh that has highlighted possible negative outcomes for young children in these arrangements.  McIntosh and colleagues also present their own analysis of the evidence.  In their editorial statement for Family Court Review, Emery and Schepard note that there is not yet a consensus on all policy matters, but there are some areas of agreement.

See these articles for a deeper analysis of these issues.  

Braver, S. L. (2014). The costs and pitfalls of individualizing decisions and incentivizing conflict: A comment on AFCC’s think tank report on shared parenting. Family Court Review, 52(2), 175-180. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12079

Brinig, M. F., Frederick, L. M., & Drozd, L. M. (2014). Perspectives on joint custody presumptions as applied to domestic violence cases. Family Court Review, 52(2), 271-281. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12090

DiFonzo, J. H. (2014). From the rule of one to shared parenting: Custody presumptions in law and policy. Family Court Review, 52(2), 213-239. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12086

Emery, R. E., & Schepard, A. (2014). April 2014. Family Court Review, 52(2), 143-144. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12076

Jaffe, P. (2014). A presumption against shared parenting for family court litigants. Family Court Review, 52(2), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12081

Lamb, M. E. (2014). Dangers associated with the avoidance of evidence-based practice. Family Court Review, 52(2), 193-197. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12082

McIntosh, J. E., Pruett, M. K., & Kelly, J. B. (2014). Parental separation and overnight care of young children, part II: Putting theory into practice. Family Court Review, 52(2), 256-262. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12088

Miller, S. (2014). Judicial discretion and the voice of the child in resolving custody disputes: Comments on the think tank report. Family Court Review, 52(2), 198-199. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12083

Nielsen, L. (2013). Shared residential custody: Review of the research (part I of II). American Journal of Family Law, 27(1), 61-71. 

Nielsen, L. (2013). Shared residential custody: Review of the research (part II of II). American Journal of Family Law, 27(2), 123-137. 

Nielsen, L. (2014). Woozles: Their role in custody law reform, parenting plans, and family court. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 20(2), 164-180. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/law0000004

Pruett, M. K., & DiFonzo, J. H. (2014). Advancing the shared parenting debate, one step at a time: Responses to the commentaries. Family Court Review, 52(2), 207-212. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12085

Pruett, M. K., & DiFonzo, J. H. (2014). Closing the gap: Research, policy, practice, and shared parenting. Family Court Review, 52(2), 152-174. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12078

Pruett, M. K., McIntosh, J. E., & Kelly, J. B. (2014). Parental separation and overnight care of young children, part I: Consensus through theoretical and empirical integration. Family Court Review, 52(2), 240-255. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12087

Salem, P., & Shienvold, A. T. (2014). Closing the gap without getting to yes: Staying with the shared parenting debate. Family Court Review, 52(2), 145-151. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12077

Scott, E. S. (2014). Planning for children and resolving custodial disputes: A comment on the think tank report. Family Court Review, 52(2), 200-206. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12084

Ver Steegh, N., & Gould-Saltman, H. D. (2014). Joint legal custody presumptions: A troubling legal shortcut. Family Court Review, 52(2), 263-270. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12089

Warshak, R. A. (2014). Social science and parenting plans for young children: A consensus report. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 20(1), 46-67. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/law0000005

New Stepfamily Research Findings.


Heintz-Martin, V., Le Bourdais, C., & Hamplova, D. (2014). Childbearing among canadian stepfamilies  . Canadian Studies in Population, 41(1-2), 61-77. doi:https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/csp/article/view/21636

King, V., Thorsen, M. L., & Amato, P. R.Factors associated with positive relationships between stepfathers and adolescent stepchildren. Social Science Research, (0) doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2014.03.010

Reducing Stepmothers’ Stress


Stepparents will tell you that this is a hard and stressful role.  Stepmothers in particular have many challenges.  Although there is much research that supports this finding, there is still relatively little understanding of the mechanisms and factors that contribute to this stress.  And there is even less information about what we can do about it.

Recent work by Danielle Shapiro at the University of Michigan provides some new insights about the parenting stress experienced by stepmothers.  She notes that in general couples with higher quality marriages report less parenting stress and writes, “…this was particularly pronounced for stepparents. In addition, stepparents with traditional gender views reported higher levels of parenting stress…  for stepparents, both nontraditional gender views and high marital quality jointly predicted the greatest protection from parenting stress. In fact, stepparents with both high marital adjustment and nontraditional gender views were indistinguishable in terms of parenting stress from biological parents, while stepparents who were low on one or both of these dimensions experienced substantially more parenting stress.”

Shapiro suggests that programs and treatment programs for stepparents should include attention to gender roles and marital quality as ways to address parental stress.

Shapiro, D. (2014). Stepparents and parenting stress: The roles of gender, marital quality, and views about gender roles. Family Process, 53(1), 97-108. doi:10.1111/famp.12062

More 2014 studies on stepparenting and stepfamilies…..

Doodson, L. J., & Davies, A. P. C. (2014). Different challenges, different well-being: A comparison of psychological well-being across stepmothers and biological mothers and across four categories of stepmothers. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 55(1), 49-63. doi:10.1080/10502556.2013.862094

Ganong, L., & Coleman, M. (2014). Responsibility inferences and intergenerational obligations to parents and stepparents: Are Step/Children less obligated when older adults are at fault for their problems? Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 55(1), 64-81. doi:10.1080/10502556.2013.862098

Nuru, A. K., & Wang, T. R. (2014). “She was stomping on everything that we used to think of as a family”: Communication and turning points in cohabiting (step)families. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 55(2), 145-163. doi:10.1080/10502556.2013.871957

Should infants sleep overnight with nonresidential fathers: The debate continues


One of the most complicated and often contentious issues for separating parents is whether or not very young children (under age 3) should spend the night in both households.  On the one hand, many advocates of continued father involvement encourage dads to stay involved and some of these dads want to keep their children overnight.  However, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that suggests that young children’s well-being may be adversely affected by frequent overnight stays for young children.

Samantha Tornello and colleagues (2013) published some important new evidence that suggests that frequent overnight stays by infants and toddlers with their non-reseidential fathers can contribute to insecure attachments.  (Note:  Attachment has been found to be a strong predictor of child and adult psychological adjustment and seems to be the foundation of positive relationships with others (See Bretherton, et al., 2011).  

In February 2014, Paul Millar and Edward Kruk published an article taking issue with some of the analyses and interpretations in the Tornello et al. paper.  Two of the authors of the original paper (Emery & Tornello, 2014) responded to the issues raised by Millar and Kruk.  Some of the critique by Millar and Kruk appears to be confusion about whether the findings.  Due to the mislabeling of a table (Table 5), Millar and Kruk interpreted these finding in the opposite direction of Tornello et al.  Many of their other criticisms such as the validity of the attachment measure and the limits of the sample are important and require careful interpretation of the findings, but await other evidence to determine whether these findings hold up.  At the moment 4 out 5 studies of this issue have found that overnight stays by infants and/or toddlers leads to attachment issues.

The one issue raised by Millar and Kruk that was not addressed by Emery and Tornello is the attachment of these children to other caregivers– the non-residential fathers, grandparents, child care providers, etc.  I have not looked carefully at the other information we know about the participants in the Fragile Families study, but these families were “fragile families.”  Could staying overnight with non-residential fathers represent the degree of chaos in the mothers’ household rather than “paternal involvement?”  How are the residents in the “father’s household”– grandparents or not? i don’t know the answers to these questions, but it would be good to find out more about these issues.

Finally, all of the studies to date have some limitations and this evidence cannot be described as definitive.  This is a complicated issue and no single study should be the basis for policy and practice by America’s court system, but this new work by Tornello and colleagues has provided a thoughtful analysis.  

For references and further reading on these issues see the following:   

Bretherton, I, Seligman, S, Solomon, J, Crowell, J. McIntosh, J. (2011). “If I could tell the judge something about attachment…” Perspectives on attachment theory in the family
law courtroom. Family Court Review, 49, 539-548.  doi: 10.1111/j.1744-1617.2011.01391.x

Emery, R. E., & Tornello, S. L. (2014). Rejoinder to Millar and Kruk (2014): Who assumes the burden of proof when there is no neutral null hypothesis? Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(1), 237-240. doi:10.1111/jomf.12070

George, C., Solomon, J. and McIntosh, J, (2011). Divorce in the Nursery: On infants and overnight care. Family Court Review, 49, 521-529. doi:  10.1111/j.1744-1617.2011.01389.x

McIntosh, J., Smyth, B., Kelaher, M., Wells, Y., & Long, C. (2010). Post-separation parenting arrangements and developmental outcomes for infants and children. Canberra, Australia: Attorney General’s Department.

Millar, P., & Kruk, E. (2014). Maternal attachment, paternal overnight contact, and very young children’s adjustment: Comment on Tornello et al. (2013). Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(1), 232-236. doi:10.1111/jomf.12071 

Solomon, J., & George, C. (1999). The development of attachment in separated and divorced families: Effects of overnight visitation, parent, and couple variables. Attachment and Human Development, 1, 2-33.  doi:  10.1080/14616739900134011

Solomon, J., & George, C. (1999). The effects of overnight visitation in divorced and separated families: A longitudinal follow-up. In J. Solomon & C. George (Eds.), Attachment Disorganization (pp. 243-264). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Tornello, S. L., Emery, R., Rowen, J., Potter, D., Ocker, B. and Xu, Y. (2013), Overnight Custody Arrangements, Attachment, and Adjustment Among Very Young Children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75, 871–885. doi: 10.1111/jomf.12045

Law and Scientific Evidence about Shared Parenting


A new report to be published in Family Court Review explores the state of the law and the scientific evidence regarding shared parenting.  This is an important review of the scientific and legal landscape.  See Closing the Gap: Research, Policy, Practice and Shared Parenting AFCC Think Tank Final Report  by MK Pruett, JH DiFonzo

NCFR Sessions on Coparenting & Divorce


Coparenting:  November 6, 2013 Time:   8:00 pm – 8:45 pm  Ballroom Corridor

Couples That Parent Together, Stay Together

Presented by: Kristy Soloski, Jared Durtschi

Using longitudinal dyadic data (N = 1,291 couples) from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, we tested if trajectories of coparenting and parental stress differed by those that did and did not dissolve their romantic relationships across the first five years of parenthood. Mothers and fathers that remained intact through the first five years of parenthood indicated higher initial levels of coparenting and greater increases in coparenting overtime. There were no significant differences when comparing the trajectories of parental stress between intact and dissolved relationships in the initial level or rate of change.

Fathers’ Boundary Negotiations in Post-divorce Coparenting Relationships

Presented by: Tyler Jamison, Ashton Chaman, Rachael Doubledee, Richard Feistman, Marilyn Coleman, Lawrence Ganong

Following divorce, parents must renegotiate co-parenting and establish new boundaries that delineate parental responsibilities. This grounded theory study explored 20 fathers’ boundary negotiations in post-divorce co-parenting relationships. Fathers solicited participation and cooperation from their ex-wives to maintain co-parenting relationships and to maximize contact with their children. Fathers were open to their ex-wives’ input about childrearing, and it changed their parenting behaviors. According to these fathers, mothers were not as open to their input and often engaged in restrictive gatekeeping (i.e., limiting access to children). Fathers’ attempts to push back against these closed boundaries yielded mixed results.

Changes in Coparenting Associated With Changes in Relationship Quality

Presented by: Jared Durtschi, Kristy Soloski

The transition to parenthood has been shown to be difficult for some couples. We used longitudinal dyadic data (N = 768 couples) from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to test if coparenting and parental stress covaried across time with the trajectories of expected relationship quality for mothers and fathers. Results from a dyadic growth curve model with time-varying covariates suggested that significant shifts in the expected trajectory of relationship quality from when the first child was one year to five years old were associated with reports of change in parents’ coparenting and parental stress scores across time.

Communication Among Parents Who Share Physical Custody After Divorce or Separation

Presented by: Melinda Stafford Markham, Yolanda Mitchell, Jaimee Hartenstein, Ghadir Aljayyousi-Khalil, Denise Thompson

This study produces a grounded theory of how 30 divorced or separated parents experienced communicating with their former partners while sharing physical custody of their children. It was determined that communication, custody arrangement, and relationship with the former partner all influence each other. Five other factors (child, new partner, family background, time, and breakup) influenced the custody arrangement, communication, and relationship. The findings of this study suggest that communication in shared physical custody relationships is dynamic, can vary greatly, and is related to a number of different factors.

Family System’s View of School Readiness: Effects of Parenting, Coparenting, and Intimacy

Presented by: Adam M. Galovan, Erin Kramer Holmes, Jean M. Ispa

Using family systems theory and dyadic multilevel structural equation modeling, we explore the ways in which partner and coparental relationships influence kindergarten school readiness beyond parental provision of felt security. We consider how parenting similarity and couple intimacy may moderate the effect of parenting on school readiness. Moderation analyses suggest that greater coparental similarity in sensitivity allowed for a stronger influence of emotional intimacy on children’s school readiness. Thus, when the relationships most proximal to the child (parent-child relationships) are consistent, the couple relationship seems to have a stronger influence on children’s development of social skills and academic competence.

A Measure of Maternal Gatekeeping

Presented by: Daniel Puhlman, Kay Pasley

Maternal gatekeeping is an important concept that describes how mothers influence the involvement of fathers on children.  A measure accurately depicting a three dimensional conceptualization of this construct has not been tested.  This study tests this three dimensional construct introduced by Puhlman and Pasley (in press) and establishes a valid and reliable measure for mothers and fathers.  The development of this measure allows scholars to further understand the role of maternal gatekeeping as a coparenting construct and its influence on father involvement.

Maternal Gatekeeping and Coparenting: Similar or Distinct?

Presented by: Lauren E. Altenburger, Sarah J. Schoppe-Sullivan, Claire M. Kamp Dush

The family system is an interdependent network of individuals and subsystems.  The coparenting subsystem emerges across the transition to parenthood and has been defined as the extent to which parents collaborate in childrearing.  Maternal gatekeeping, or mothers’ beliefs and behaviors that may thwart parents’ efforts to share childrearing more equally, also develops during this period.  Both constructs have been linked to father involvement and child development, though they have largely been studied independently.  The current study uses an expanded conceptualization of maternal gatekeeping to examine their relationship, and thus, provide information that can be used to refine measurement.