When couples come into his Manhattan law office to hammer out a divorce settlement that seems likely to be especially contentious, attorney Todd Spodek adds something to the decor of the green-walled conference room that he hopes will calm things down: He scatters pictures of the couples' children across the surface of the hardwood conference table along which the two sides will face each other.
People work out crazy differences. About 30 percent of dissolving marriages involve couples who have minor children, which means that while two individuals are splitting up, it's unlikely many of them will be able to go their separate ways. Most of those with children will end up coordinating schedules and finances and meeting at events that are important to their children's lives for years, even decades to come.
Recommendations for what children need during and after a divorce continue to evolve with research, which increasingly points to choices parents make that can benefit or harm their children. Experts now say, for example, that absent abuse or neglect, children benefit from having strong relationships with both parents. They note that parents dissolving a union should make family-related decisions with a laser focus on what is best for their kids. They need to stay the grownups, and that's hard to do when they are in one of the most difficult periods of their lives.
Always put the children first, even when you are angry or distressed at what the other parent is doing or saying," says clinical psychologist Valerie Hale of Salt Lake City. When Gaylynne Gallegos then Fisher of North Salt Lake was in the middle of a divorce in , she knew she was making decisions that would change not only her life, but that of her three children, then 11, 12 and She decided every decision she made for the rest of their childhood would be about them.
So to maintain stability, they lived in the same home, went to the same church and had the same friends and activities as when the parents were together. The one big change she made was going back to college to finish an education that had been put on hold. That was kid-driven, too — it improved her ability to provide for them. Studies subsequently have backed her instinct that keeping life familiar and stable would help her kids thrive. A number of studies highlight instability as a "big factor in how well children adjust to divorce. Typically, children go through a long series of changes after divorce that make their lives more complicated and difficult," says Alan Hawkins, professor of family life at Brigham Young University.
Families may be uprooted and even change homes several times, disrupting school, friendships and more.
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And as divorced parents begin to date again, the children may see "a series of relationships. Research suggests that a stable single-parent situation is, on average, better for children than these kinds of family transitions," he adds. Absent abuse or a similar serious issue, divorcing parents should work together and make sure children maintain vibrant relationships with both parents. But while Hawkins notes a lot of research suggesting good co-parenting post-divorce is associated with better outcomes for children, he also points out it's not a cure-all. For example, he says, a respected study from Penn State found good co-parenting helps foster high-quality father-child relationships and fewer behavior problems.
Hale used to do custody evaluations and often asked kids what worried them most as their parents divorced. It was almost always that they wouldn't get to see both parents or that one parent would be sad. Kids need reassurance that even though things will be different, they still have two parents. If a child is going to live with one, the other can help by saying "I know you love me. In instances where one parent did something that prompted divorce, such as infidelity, and the children know it, the other parent should acknowledge "that the behavior was bad, but the parent is still good and loving," says psychologist Julie Davelman of Tinton Falls, New Jersey.
In divorce, children can lose cousins and aunts and uncles and others on one or both sides of the family because of conflict, says Fran Walfish, a relationship and family psychologist in Beverly Hills, California. The more people who love and care about your kids, the less painful the divorce will be. Allow your child to be loved by many people. Spodek describes divorce as a personal relationship that has components of a business relationship.
If splitting couples can communicate with each other within that framework, it avoids toxicity, he says. Good parenting communication is brief, factual and polite. She teaches clients the power of a single noncommittal sound, something between a "Huh" and "Hmm. The biggest taboo is bad-mouthing the other parent in a child's presence. That goes along with making children carry messages back and forth because you don't want to talk to each other. Gallegos credits taking child development classes in college well before she ever got married with helping her negotiate the tricky terrain that came with divorce.
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A prominent model explaining the processes promoting post-divorce stress is the divorce-stress-adaptation perspective, described by Amato The foundation of this perspective derives from family stress theory, which designates three variables that predict adjustment to divorce: Amato centered on the resources for coping with stress in order to demonstrate how some families cope with post-divorce stress and how other families do not.
According to the divorce-stress-adaptation perspective, adults and children experience one of two different processes of adjustment subsequently after divorce: With the short-term crisis model, post-divorce stress is relatively brief, with adults and children returning to pre-divorce stress levels.
For this model, divorce is a temporary crisis that impedes well-being only in the short term. However, the second process, the chronic strain model, illustrates that the stressors resulting from divorce remain, with the potential to compound over time Amato, According to Amato , protective factors predict which of the two processes individual family members experience.
For example, mothers who have a steady job have more resources to cope with divorce, which would predict the short-term crisis model. Mothers who do not have a steady job report more stress from increased financial strain after divorce, which would characterize the chronic strain model. The goal of the current study is to examine whether the relationship quality of post-divorce dating relationships may also be a protective factor predicting these two processes.
The literature on dating after divorce stems from studies on repartnering remarriages or transitions into cohabitation after divorce Anderson et al. In his meta-analysis on divorce and remarriage, Amato found that many studies reported higher adjustment for divorced individuals who formed new romantic relationships than for those who did not. Bzostek, McLanahan, and Carolson argued that many mothers do not remarry because there are a limited number of eligible partners, and mothers with steady jobs have the resources e.
Many mothers choose not to date because the presence of children alone is enough to provide company and support Skew et al. On the basis of these studies, dating may be beneficial for mothers but possibly not detrimental if mothers avoid it:.
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Only recently have researchers explored the quality of mothers' post-divorce dating relationships Langlais et al. A study by Symoens et al.
Using conflict, these researchers compared relationship quality across three domains: Although conflict with the ex-spouse was damaging for maternal well-being, the researchers found that, independent of conflict in the current dating relationship, new relationships were beneficial for maternal mental health. Although this study advances literature on repartnering by examining the influence of relationship quality, Symoens et al. In a meta-analysis of the Investment Model of Commitment Rusbult, , by Le and Agnew , relationship satisfaction, investment in the relationship, and attention to alternative partners were significant indicators of whether a relationship would last.
What the research says on parenting after divorce
Researchers regularly use variables from this model, such as relationship satisfaction and commitment, as indicators of relationship quality because these variables predict relationship stability than conflict does Hetherington, ; Reed, The current study uses measures of relationship satisfaction and commitment to examine relationship quality when mothers date. Presumably, being in a satisfying and committed relationship should be beneficial for maternal well-being:.
Previous studies have illustrated that transitions in and out of romantic relationships are associated with changes in maternal well-being Anderson et al. Few studies have examined the effects of entering in a new relationship after a dating or repartnering breakup. After divorce, mothers can date more than one partner, either serially dating one partner, breaking up, and then dating someone new after the breakup or simultaneously dating multiple partners at the same time; Langlais et al.
Both approaches have implications for maternal well-being. Mothers who leave a dating relationship in favor of a better relationship should improve maternal well-being, assuming that a mother upgrades, meaning entering a higher-quality dating relationship than the previous dating relationship, and maintains the new relationship. Capaldi and Patterson found that mothers who reported more relationship transitions after divorce were more antisocial, which increased familial stress.
Because serial dating may not involve as many transitions as simultaneous dating, serial dating may be beneficial for mothers, assuming that they upgrade their relationship, in contrast to mothers who simultaneously date and are likely to report multiple relationship transitions. Therefore, dating serially may be beneficial for maternal well-being, whereas dating multiple partners simultaneously may be adversely related to maternal well-being:.
Eligible families were those with an elementary-school-aged child i. The average length of marriage was All children who participated in the study were the biological or adoptive children of the parents who were ending the current marriage. The average age of the participating child was 7. Median age of mothers was Level of mothers' education varied from less than high school 9. There were no eligibility criteria in regard to repartnering status at the baseline assessment, nor was there a requirement for the child to know whether his or her parent was dating.
With regard to repartnering status, almost half of mothers were in a new relationship after divorce at baseline During the study, 27 mothers remarried and mothers reported cohabitation with dating partners. Descriptive statistics for the study sample based on mothers' dating approaches are reported in Table 1. Divorce petitions were obtained from public court records for a large metropolitan city in the southwestern United States during the year.
Any woman who filed for divorce over a period of 60 days during the spring of was mailed recruitment brochures to the most recent address provided mothers were mailed brochures. This brochure explained the purpose of the study to better understand divorce and related transitions and informed mothers that they would receive a follow-up phone call to answer any questions and describe the study in greater detail.
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A research firm made follow-up phone calls to each mother who was mailed a brochure to verify a family's eligibility. Subsequently, eligible families were invited to participate in a get-acquainted visit in the family's home to answer questions about participation. Baseline, month, and month interviews took place in mothers' homes, which incorporated interviews and self-report questionnaires completed by mothers and children. In addition, mothers completed monthly surveys over the course of the study, starting at the baseline assessment that continued for up to 24 months.
Mothers were given the option of completing the diaries online through a password-protected website or through the mail.
Mothers reported on their own well-being and information for one or multiple romantic relationships per survey if they were dating , including the date the relationship began or ended and relationship quality. The mean number of monthly surveys completed was Data for the current study come from mothers' monthly surveys, which provide more reliable and consistent data of mothers' dating after divorce than do the annual assessments.
Mothers reported their relationship status on each monthly survey for each partner they dated during that month. Mothers selected one of the following options concerning their repartnering status for each partner: This information was encompassed in a discrete-time, person-period data set, with each line of data corresponding to a monthly survey a mother completed.
When a mother was not in a relationship, the dichotomous variable and time variable alternated back to zero. A similar approach, but different variables, signaled when mothers began or maintained serial dating relationships a new dating relationship or simultaneous dating relationships dating two people on the same monthly survey. Mothers not dating had zeros for these variables. The date that the breakup occurred triggered a dichotomous variable to alternate from a 0 to 1.
This variable also included temporary breakups, where some mothers broke up and got back together with the same partner.