Parental Alienation– An Update 2015

Parental alienation continues to be a disputed concept among researchers, clinicians and legal experts.  I have updated my list of research articles on this topic (2010-2015).

For a thoughtful history of the study and controversies regarding parental alienation see:

Rand, D. C. (2011). Parental alienation critics and the politics of science. American Journal of Family Therapy, 39(1), 48-71. doi:

New Report on State Laws About Shared Parenting

A national organization of parents who support “shared parenting” after divorce have issued a new report that rates states regarding their state law on this issue.  This map shows their rankings, see the report.  Shared Parenting Rating by National Parents Organization

Relationship Scientists Divorce– Some Advice

Rarely to the scientists who study relationships provide a glimpse into their own personally challenging relationships in such an intimate and powerful way… Charlotte and Patrick Markey begin their story about divorce as follows…

“We have been a romantic couple for almost 20 years, married for 13 years, produced two wonderful children, moved across the country for academic jobs, conducted numerous scientific studies examining romantic couples, and…will soon be divorced. How could two people who study why romantic couples fail or succeed be such utter failures themselves? The answer is easy: we are human. Like everyone else we have faults. We argue. We disagree. We neglect. We make bad choices. In the past, we have always been able to survive these shortcomings.”  for further reading…

Science of Relationships has many interesting articles about relationships.

Program for Society for Research in Adolescence– SRA, 2014

There are very few presentations about divorce and single-parenthood at the bi-annual meetings of the Society for Research in Adolescence, but here are the four sessions I found listed on their program.

Thursday, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm (Event 1-024) Poster Session 02 Governor’s Ballroom, Floor 4 Thursday, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm

# 16 Neighborhood Contributions to Positive Parenting and Youth Externalizing Problems in African American Single-Mother Families Jessica Cuellar, Deborah Jones, Stephanie Lane, Rex Forehand, Gene Brody (University of Georgia)

Thursday, 2:45 pm – 3:45 pm (Event 1-058) Poster Session 04 Governor’s Ballroom, Floor 4 Thursday, 2:45 pm – 3:45 pm

Coping with Parental Divorce: A Qualitative Exploration of Young Adults’ Retrospective Accounts  Marysia Lazinski, Marion Ehrenberg, Ashley Burbidge (University of Victoria)

Thursday, 4:15 pm – 5:15 pm (Event 1-076) Poster Session 05 Governor’s Ballroom, Floor 4 Thursday, 4:15 pm – 5:15 pm

# 62 Examining correlates of divorce attitudes: Gender, personality, relationship self-efficacy, and exposure to marital conflict  Dana Krieg (Kenyon College), Claire Greenfield, LeighAnne White, Emily Hage, Zoe Smith

Friday, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm (Event 2-024) Poster Session 06 Governor’s Ballroom, Floor 4 Friday, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm

# 53 Women like SAHD Ben, but men don’t: Gender differences in emerging adults’ perceptions of family arrangements.  Dana Krieg (Kenyon College), Zoe Smith, Claire Greenfield, LeighAnne White, Emily Hage


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

Loss of “mundane talk” creates challenges for non-residential parents

Professor Stephanie Rollie Rodriguez at Texas A&M– Corpus Christi has published an interesting examination of what she describes as the “mundane talk” that provides the foundation for “maintaining nonresidential parent–child relationships” and the challenges faced by non-residential parents.  She writes, Parents “who have limited interactions struggle to “know” their children, while those with frequent interaction with their children have access to the mundane stories of their children’s lives, which helps to maintain the relationships.”

This research emphasizes the need for non-residential parents to have many ways of maintaining communication with their children even if not physically present and the need for non-residential parents and their children to share information updates about the time they are not together.  This communication is key to continued close relationships.


Post-Divorce Coparenting of Children with Chronic Illness

Parenting Children With Special Health Needs

November 9, 2013 Time:   8:15 am – 9:30 am   Bonham C

Post-divorce Coparenting of Children With Chronic Illness

Presented by: Luke Russell, Lawrence Ganong, Marilyn Coleman, Debra Gayer

The CDC (2010) estimates that between 2.5% and 3% of all single-parent and stepfamily households include a child with at least one chronic illness.  Because family variables are related to children’s health outcomes and adherence to treatment plans, it’s important to better understand how post-divorce coparenting dyads arrange and organize their relationships (Chesla, 2010).  A grounded theory study was conducted with divorced parents of children with chronic illnesses.  Preliminary results suggest that parents who are more satisfied with their coparenting engage in minimizing accusations of incompetency, developing a “patch-it” mentality, and seeking relationships with medical providers as trusted consultants.

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.

Should both parents in high conflict divorces have parenting time?

High-conflict parents pose many challenges for the courts?  There has been much disagreement about whether both parents should continue contact or whether to award custody to one parent and try to reduce the conflict.  Embedded is this dispute is the issue of parent alienation.  Again a troublesome and controversial topic.

New research by Irwin Sandler and colleagues at Arizona State University provides some new insights into the factors that can guide decisions about parenting plans for high-conflict families.  In general, there is much evidence to indicate that high quality parenting by both mothers and fathers reduces the likelihood that children in divorcing families will have psychological problems.  The question posed by Sandler and colleagues is whether factors such as the amount of contact with parents, the amount of conflict and the parenting behavior of the other parent would change these typical findings.  For example, for the child continuing to be engaged with both parents may reduce emotional and behavior problems, but if continued conflict also results in greater exposure to their parents’ conflict, then the costs may outweigh the benefits.  Additionally, the scientists were interested in the how the amount of time each parent spent with the child and the impact this has on the child’s well-being.

Child Trends Data Related to Marriage and Parenting

Child Trends collects and organizes lots of data about children and families.  Below are some the indicators that apply to marriage and parenting.