Study: Conflict between divorced parents can lead to mental health problems in children

Study Source: Arizona State University Research and Education Advancing Children’s Health (REACH) Institute

Conflict between divorced or separated parents increases the risk of children developing physical and mental health problems.

A new study from the Arizona State University Research and Education Advancing Children’s Health (REACH) Institute has found that children experience fear of being abandoned when their divorced or separated parents engage in conflict. Worrying about being abandoned predicted future mental health problems in children. The work was published in Child Development on Jan. 12.

“Conflict is a salient stressor for kids, and the link between exposure to interparental conflict and mental health problems in children is well established across all family types — married, cohabitating, separated and divorced,” said Karey O’Hara, a research assistant professor of psychology at ASU and first author on the paper.

“Conflict between divorced or separated parents predicted children experiencing fear that they would be abandoned by one or both parents. This feeling was associated with future mental health problems, especially for those who had strong relationships with their fathers.”

Based on studies including children from families with married or cohabitating parents, the researchers knew that children view interparental conflict as a threat, often wondering if their parents will get divorced.

To understand how children with divorced or separated parents interpreted interparental conflict, the researchers surveyed families participating in the New Beginnings Program, asking 559 children (aged 9–18 years) about their exposure to conflict. The questions included topics like whether their parents fought in front of them, spoke poorly of the other parent or asked children to carry messages. Children exposed to interparental conflict were more likely to report worrying about being abandoned by one or both of their parents.

“When parents who are married or cohabitating engage in conflict, the child might worry about their parents separating,” O’Hara said. “But children whose parents are divorced or separated have already seen the dissolution of their family. The idea that they might be abandoned might be unlikely, but it is not illogical from their perspective.”

The fear of abandonment was persistent: Exposure to parental conflict predicted fear of abandonment three months later. And, worrying about abandonment predicted mental health problems, as reported by the children themselves and their teachers, 10 months later.

Because quality parent-child relationships are known to buffer children against stress, the researchers expected children who had strong relationships with a parent to experience less fear of abandonment and mental health problems. But the team did not find a general buffering effect of parenting.

“A strong father-child relationship came at a cost when interparental conflict was high,” O’Hara said. “Having a high quality parenting relationship is protective, but it is possible that quality parenting alone is not enough in the context of high levels of interparental conflict between divorced parents.”

The goal of ASU’s REACH institute is to bring research promoting children’s well-being from the lab into practice, and the research team is currently working on designing an intervention to help children cope with parental conflict after divorce.

What is Gray Divorce?

These days, one in four divorces in America involves people over 50, and one in 10 divorces involve people 65 and older. As so many older Americans have gotten involved in divorce, the phrase “Gray Divorce” has become common.

Why is the number of Gray Divorces increasing?

There are several reasons. The social stigma of divorce has been largely eliminated, life expectancy has increased, women’s socioeconomic status as improved, people feel that they have more life ahead of them to live, and older people have developed, through the internet and other means, more opportunities to find a new partner.

What important financial issues does “Gray Divorce” create?

Although each instance is different, “Gray Divorce” can frequently have an adverse impact on a woman’s financial viability.

Despite women’s recent strides toward wage equality, the economic disparity between men and women generally widens with age. Even though more than 50% of women between ages 55 and 64 are employed, women still earn less than men, and women live longer than men. Thus, women face a greater financial risk.

Studies show that “Gray Divorces” have a disproportionate effect on women. As many as 27% of women in this situation live below the poverty line, compared with 11% of men. On average, women in a “Gray Divorce” receive less in Social Security than their male counterparts, and less than single women.

What are the key issues involving pensions, IRAs, property, and the like in a “Gray Divorce”?

For older adults, divorce brings the realization that their carefully nurtured nest egg must be divided. This can be painful. These divorces also present financial security issues because divorcing couples have fewer years remaining in their lives to recoup the financial losses occasioned by divorce. Therefore, the division of retirement funds is integral to divorce settlements. Social Security and Medicare options should be thoroughly explored.

Can people maintain their accustomed lifestyle after this big split?

For economically secure, healthy adults, a divorce may have a minimal negative impact. However, it is typically more expensive for two people to live separately than together.

Costs will increase when each person needs to pay for his or her housing and other everyday expenses. The cost burden can become a serious matter, and each spouse may have to face the decision to either return to the workforce, delay retirement, or reduce their standard of living.

Therefore it is important for each party and a great divorce to receive sound advice, early on, from a divorce attorney who understands the distinct issues involved, such as the likelihood of an award of alimony or spousal support and the effects of dividing assets, including retirement assets. This attorney will work closely with the persons financial planner to analyze all options under the law, helping to ensure financial security.

Intervening in child-custody with the child’s safety in mind

During child-custody mediation, parents should always keep the wellbeing of their child as a top priority. This negotiation process can be painful and difficult, but they require a give-and-take attitude, and most parents will make concessions and compromises with each other.

Family law assumes that parents will act to ensure their child’s best interest, and that usually, it is in the best interest of the child to have both parents in their life. However, what happens when there is a legitimate concern for the child’s safety or wellbeing?

Take a recent case, for example. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 7-year old Kayden Mancuso was murdered by her biological father, Jeffrey Mancuso, following a bitter custody battle with her mother, Kathy Sherlock. During their relationship, Sherlock discovered that Jeffrey Mancuso had a criminal record of multiple assault charges. Mancuso’s violent behavior also turned on her, both verbally and physically. Because she never thought that he would hurt his daughter, she established an informal custody schedule with him and made arrangements for child support.

However, when Sherlock moved in with her current husband, Brian, Mancuso asked for partial custody of Kayden. Mancuso’s sister said that he “hated seeing his daughter so happy in a new family,” according to an ABC News article detailing the case. This was the beginning of a bitter custody battle that lasted for over a year before Kayden’s tragic murder. Although Mancuso’s behavior was described as abusive and belitting by many character witnesses, Sherlock said that Judge Jeffrey Trauger did not take her seriously, and demanded court-ordered psychiatric evaluations for both her and Mancuso.

Trauger awarded Mancuso with unsupervised visits and no mandatory mental health treatment, even though a custody evaluator recommended it due to his diagnosis of “major depressive disorder…with narcissistic and antisocial personality traits.”

Over the weekend of Aug. 4, Kayden visited Mancuso, but did not come home on Sunday night. Upon investigation, they found both Kayden and Mancuso dead in what police found was a murder-suicide.

Kayden’s family said that those involved with her custody case did not heed any of the warning signs about Mancuso, which ultimately failed to protect her from his violent behavior. An online petition written to remove Trauger from the bench has received over 40,000 signatures.

Kayden Mancuso’s tragic case raises an important point: that the safety and wellbeing of children is always more important than the individual wants of each parent. So what does this mean for family law?

For more information, or to determine how to market your services in family law and child custody, please contact Paul Herrmann at 410-703-4993.

How Divorce Has Changed in the COVID-19 Era

The divorce rate in the United States sits at nearly 50%… and the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened to send that number even higher.

With couples forced to spend even more time together, many experts are predicting a surge in divorce filings once the pandemic begins to fade away.

But what if couples don’t want to wait that long? Divorce procedures – and court procedures, generally – have certainly changed significantly since the onset of the virus, and couples looking to file for divorce will have to adapt to a whole new set of considerations and protocols.

  1. Divorce Processes
    Just because many traditional proceedings have moved online, it doesn’t mean that divorce can’t happen. It just might look a little bit different.

    For example, while many offices are still functioning, their work has moved online (all or mostly). Where in-person court dates and proceedings may not be an option, Zoom conferences, phone meetings, and others may be a viable plan.

    However, it’s important to consider that due to large backlogs from early quarantine’s lockdown, there may be significant delays in scheduling any meetings or services.

  2. Custody Agreements
    In general, quarantine has kept family members, friends, and others apart. But what do divorced parents do about custody agreements for their kids when they’re separated between two locations?

    It certainly makes for a tricky situation, and its one that requires plenty of thought.

    While courts will most likely continue to rule on custody based on statutory best interest, many parents will likely have to agree on special provisions considering the nature of the pandemic.

    For example, parents may choose to utilize more virtual time over apps like FaceTime and Zoom.

  3. Financial Agreements
    COVID-19 has been hard on thousands of working Americans, many of whom have lost their jobs due to the economic fallout of the pandemic.

    For divorcing couples, this type of financial hardship becomes even more complicated.

    Couples facing these types of hardships will likely have to make special considerations when going through their divorce case.

    Issues like spousal or child support may need to be modified or revised in the interim while either or both parties seek stable employment and income.

Divorce in any case is a complex and painful issue; however, COVID-19 has only amplified them. To determine how to market your services during these difficult times, please contact Paul Herrmann at 410-703-4993.