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.

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Children Living with Cohabitating Parents, Europe 2010


Rates of cohabitation vary widely in Europe.  In general, the northern countries have higher rates of cohabitation.  The chart below illustrates the percentage of children that are growing up in households with cohabitating parents.  (Note: The percentage of children living with cohabitating parents in the US is 2.9%.)
Percent of Children living wih co-habitating parents Europe 2010

For more data about European families go to OECD Statistics.

Split: A Documentary on Children’s Reaction to Divorce


Due to be released soon, Split, an exploration of children’s journeys through divorce looks like an insightful examination of children’s feelings about divorce.  It is so important to hear children’s voices in understanding divorce.  Vicki Larson published an excellent interview with the producer of the movie, Emily Bruno on Huffington Post.

Donations to support the movie are begin accepted until Dec 17, 2012.

Do Teenagers Cause Divorce?


Every parent with teens has probably found themselves in a fight over what to do about their teenager, but could the behavior the teenager in your family result in you getting a divorce?  Turns out this may be the case.  There is a lot of scientific evidence that has demonstrated that children influence parents and visa versa.  When infants smile, their parents are more likely to continue to play or talk with them.  And the play and talk encourage more smiling and laughter from babies.  Positive emotions and behaviors in one member of the family seem to trigger positive responses in other members of the family.  Sometimes we forget that this also works for negative emotions and behaviors as well.

Mary Julia Moore and Cheryl Buehler studied a group of middle school children over a 4-year period through early adolescence to examine the ways in which their behavior influenced the behavior of their parents.  In particular, they were interested in the ways that problem behaviors may influence their parents’ likelihood of divorce.  The scientists were interested in testing the pathway through which troublesome adolescent behavior may undermine the parents’ marriage.  They hypothesize that when teenagers have trouble, this undermines parents’ feelings of effectiveness in parenting which may influence mothers or fathers to be less supportive to each other in trying to deal with the problem behavior.  This hypothesis makes sense based on other scientific evidence and it all makes commonsense.  If a parents feels like they are not getting their partner’s support in dealing with their teen challenging behavior, this seems likely to trigger feelings of resentment and overall distress.  All of which might lead to questions about one’s marriage.

The scientist measured adolescents’ problem behavior when they were in the 6th grade.  They measured both antisocial and hostile behaviors as well as behaviors such as depression.  Both mothers and fathers were asked questions about whether they had thought about divorce and other questions to get a sense of their divorce proneness and questions about their sense of effectiveness as a parent.  The analyses examined whether adolescent behaviors predicted parents’ divorce proneness 4 years later.  The sample in this study was primarily White and had some college education.  Some caution should be noted that these findings may not apply to all types of families.

As the scientists had expected, adolescents’ problem behaviors had a significant effect on the couple’s divorce proneness. This effect appears to be primarily through damage to mothers’ and fathers’ feelings about their parenting abilities. This is especially true for fathers; fathers who have difficulty managing their teen’s behavior feel badly and may give up trying to be a parent. The scientists also found that mothers and fathers’ feelings of effectiveness as parents influenced each other as well; when one parent was feeling less effective, the other, more effective parent begin thinking about divorce. It seems like when one parent gives up on trying to help manage the difficult behavior, the other parent perceives this as a lack of support. This lack of support seems to damage the marital relationship.  

These findings remind us of the complexity of family relationships.  All members of the family have an influence on each other.  This can run in a positive direction or in a negative direction.  These findings remind parents who are having difficulty with their children’s challenging behaviors to seek help with managing these behaviors.  There are many effective parenting self-help books and programs that can be of assistance in dealing with children and there are many professionals who can help.

What is a “good divorce”?


A paper written by Norval Glenn and issued by the Institute for American values includes an interesting discussion and findings regarding the effects of a “good” divorce on children.  I think the most interesting aspect of this study is the effort to define “bad” divorce.  Glenn goes back to the work of Constance Ahrons who published, The Good Divorce.  Glenn identified 8 factors that he suggests would characterize a bad divorce.  These are:

  • “a lot” of post divorce conflict
  • a parent kidnapping a child
  • a parent telling the child the other parent may kidnap them
  • a parent asked the child to keep secrets from the other parent
  • a child had to take sides in a parent conflict
  • the child did not feel protected from parental worries
  • the parents’ household rules were not the same
  • what the mother and father said was “true” was not the same.

In the sample he studied, he found that about 19% of the adult children whose parents had divorced reported none of these factors, about 23% reported 1 of these factors, 15% two factors, 14% reported 3 factors, 11% reported 4 factors, 10% reported 5 factors, and about 7% reported 6-8 factors.

Parenting Strategies that Positively Effect Children of Divorce


A recent review of the effects of divorce on children includes an extensive discussion of parenting strategies that can have a positive effect on children who face the challenges produced by divorcing parents.  Lauren Woodward Tolle and William T. O’Donohue, have written a chapter on “Post-divorce child outcomes” in a new book (2012) about custody evaluation.  This chapter provides one of the most extensive discussions of the research findings that demonstrate that there are practical ways that parents can make a substantial difference in the lives of children.

Parent Coordination Guidelines


“Parent coordination is  a nonadversarial dispute resolution process that is court ordered or agreed on by divorced and separated parents who have an ongoing pattern of high conflict and/or litigation about their children.”  APA, 2012.

This is the latest effort to provide more systematic and structured guidelines for professionals such as mediators, psychologists, therapists and attorneys who are providing parenting coordination for divorcing families who are unable to resolve conflicts.  One especially important aspect of these guidelines is an expectation that professionals involved in parenting coordination will work actively with other professionals who are involved in cases.  This is critical for families to not be buffeted by competing and/or conflicting advice from others involved in trying to help families manage or resolve conflict.

The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) has also produced a series of guidelines for parenting coordination.

AFCC has also produced guidelines and standards for divorce mediation, custody evaluation and other court related services to children and families.