Divorce, separation, and custody change can affect the relationships parents have with their children.
Sometimes these impacts reflect coparenting agreements. For example, when some parents have joint physical custody, they may be caring for their children for part of the week without the help of another parent for the first time in their lives. For others, their coparenting agreement may limit the amount of face-to-face contact they have with their child, which can impact their parent-child relationship.
The parent-child relationship is one of the key ingredients to helping children successfully manage a family transition. Positive parent-child relationships are considered protective factors for children through a variety of life stresses and are extremely important to children’s healthy development.
Following are some examples of research on the effects of divorce, separation, or custody change on parent-child relationships.
Custody Arrangements That Limit Time With a Parent Can Impact How Close Children Feel to That Parent Later in Life
Type of study: Young adults with divorced parents (n=566; Riggio, 2004)
Results: Youth experienced less closeness with their fathers and more closeness with their mothers. The authors interpreted this finding in light of the fact that a vast majority of the young adults lived with their mothers following the divorce.
Shared Custody and Equal Access to Both Parents (When Safe) Is Better for Children
Type of study: Overview of published research (Warshak, 2014)
Results: Although controversy exists about the minimum age to allow overnight stays, significant contact with both parents following divorce is strongly encouraged for healthy child development.
Warm and Positive Parenting During and After a Divorce Is a Protective Factor for Children
Type of study: Divorcing families (n=182; Sandler, Miles, Cookston, & Braver, 2008).
Results: Children whose mothers and fathers engaged in warm and positive parenting following divorce experienced fewer behavior problems than children of parents who did not engage in warm and positive parenting.
The More Engaged and Positive Nonresidential Fathers Are, the Better Children Do
Type of study: Meta-analysis of multiple studies (Adamsons & Johnson, 2013)
Results: Children who have non-residential fathers who engage in positive parenting practices, and multiple forms of child-related activities, do better socially, emotionally, academically and behaviorally than children with nonresidential fathers who do not engage in positive parenting practices.
Adamsons, K., & Johnson, S. K. (2013). An Updated and Expanded Meta-Analysis of Nonresident Fathering and Child Well-Being. Journal of Family Psychology, 27(4), 589–599.
Riggio, H. R. (2004). Parental marital conflict and divorce, parent-child relationships, social support, and relationship anxiety in young adulthood. Personal Relationships, 11(1), 99–114.
Sandler, I., Miles, J., Cookston, J., & Braver, S. (2008). Effects of Father and Mother Parenting on Children’s Mental Health in High- and Low-Conflict Divorces. Family Court Review, 46(2), 282–296.Warshak, R. A. (2014). Social science and parenting plans for young children: A consensus report. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 20(1), 46–67.
What Is the Impact on Children? — Learn how divorce, separation, and custody change impacts children.
Coparenting Relationships — Find out how coparenting relationships can effect child and family well-being.