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Divorce early in a child’s life impacts relationship with parents

Many parents who are considering divorce worry about the effect that divorce will have on their children. They worry that their children will not adjust to life after divorce or that their children will not be able to handle the emotional upheaval that accompanies such a dramatic life change. New research suggests that the time during a child’s life that parents divorce may have an effect on the way that children relate to their parents after the divorce.

A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed that the earlier in a child’s life that parents divorce, the more likely the children are to report insecure feelings regarding their relationships with their parents. The researchers’ initial study also revealed that children whose parents divorced between the time of their birth to the age of 5 years reported more insecure feelings about their relationships with their fathers than their relationships with their mothers.

In an effort to explore why children of divorced parents were less sure of their paternal relationships, the researchers followed up with another study involving 7,500 people with divorced parents. Researchers looked at which parent got primary custody of the study subjects after the divorce and predicted that the parent that did not have custody would be the one with whom the children would had reported less secure feelings about their relationships. Mothers seemed to be more likely to get custody, with 74 percent of study subjects reporting their mothers got custody after the divorce, which explains the greater report of strained paternal relationships.

Parents thinking of divorce should not take this research as a reason to avoid divorce if their marriages are truly beyond saving. In some cases, divorced people who are no longer fighting all of the time with their ex-spouses are happier and able to be better parents. The study can serve as a cautionary reminder to divorced parents to make every effort to foster relationships with children after divorce and to not interfere with their ex-spouses doing the same.