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This article reviews available research studies of high-conflict divorce and its effects on children. Interparental conflict after divorce (defined as verbal and physical aggression, overt hostility, and distrust) and the primary parent's emotional distress are jointly predictive of more problematic parent-child relationships and greater child emotional and behavioral maladjustment. As a group, children of high-conflict divorce as defined above, especially boys, are two to four times more likely to be clinically disturbed in emotions and behavior compared with national norms. Court-ordered joint physical custody and frequent visitation arrangements in high-conflict divorce tend to be associated with poorer child outcomes, especially for girls. Types of intervention programs and social policy appropriate for these kinds of families are presented.
High-Conflict Divorce
Janet R. Johnston
This article reviews available research studies of high-conflict divorce and its effects
on children. Interparental conflict after divorce (defined as verbal and physical
aggression, overt hostility, and distrust) and the primary parent’s emotional distress
are jointly predictive of more problematic parent-child relationships and greater
child emotional and behavioral maladjustment. As a group, children of high-conflict
divorce as defined above, especially boys, are two to four times more likely to be
clinically disturbed in emotions and behavior compared with national norms. Court-
ordered joint physical custody and frequent visitation arrangements in high-conflict
divorce tend to be associated with poorer child outcomes, especially for girls. Types
of intervention programs and social policy appropriate for these kinds of families
are presented.
he intent of this paper is first to discuss the problem of identifying
important elements of conflict in divorce and, on the bases of
various definitions, to review the available research about their
incidence. The second aim is to examine the various factors that are
believed to contribute to high-conflict divorce and to propose a theoretical
model explaining how these factors interrelate. Third, the focus will turn
to what is known about the effects on children of interparental conflict, in
general, and what is known about the characteristics of children living in
high-conflict divorce situations, in particular. Fourth, dispute resolution
procedures and preventive and interventive programs, together with avail-
able data on outcome effectiveness, will be outlined. Finally, implications
of the current research base for social policy with respect to custody and
access in cases of high-conflict divorce will be discussed.
Definitional Problems
In much early research, no conceptual dis-
tinctions were made among types of con-
flict. Spousal and interparental conflict
were simply equated with divorce, or with
various measures of marital dissatisfaction,
hostile attitudes, and physical aggression.
This failure to distinguish among types of
conflict has confounded the debate about
the extent to which different kinds of di-
vorce conflict are normal and functional,
and the extent to which they signal pathol-
ogy and are dysfunctional, especially for
Divorce conflict has at least three im-
portant dimensions which should be con-
sidered when assessing incidence and its
effects on children. First, conflict has a
domain dimension, which can refer to dis-
agreements over a series of divorce issues
such as financial support, property divi-
sion, custody, and access to the children,
or to values and methods of child rearing.
Second, conflict has a tactics dimension,
which can refer to the manner in which
divorcing couples informally try to resolve
disagreements either by avoiding each
other and the issues, or by verbal reason-
ing, verbal aggression, physical coercion,
The Future of Children CHILDREN AND DIVORCE Vol. 4 • No. 1 – Spring 1994
Janet R. Johnston,
Ph.D., is director of re-
search at the Center for
the Family in Transi-
tion, Corte Madera,
CA, and consulting
associate professor in
the Department of Soci-
ology, Stanford Uni-
versity, Palo Alto,
and physical aggression; or it can refer to
ways in which divorce disputes are formally
resolved by the use of attorney negotia-
tion, mediation, litigation, or arbitration
by a judge. Third, conflict has an attitudi-
nal dimension, referring to the degree of
negative emotional feeling or hostility di-
rected by divorcing parties toward each
other, which may be covertly or overtly
The problem of measuring in-
cidence of conflict in divorce is compli-
in different cultures and ethnic groups?
And are children differently impacted be-
cause of age, gender, or temperament?
Finally, it is important to consider the
relationship of the various dimensions of
conflict to one another, especially when
designing programs and policies for di-
vorcing families. One critical issue is the
extent to which conflict in one domain
(such as financial matters) spills over and
activates conflict in another domain
Postdecree divorce conflicts
(such as custody and access). Especially
relevant is the extent to which postmarital
hostility decreases the capacity for copar-
are sometimes considered to be ental cooperation regarding the needs of
intractable and indicative of
preexisting individual and
cated further by the facts that a specific
domain of conflict may be perceived to
exist by one party and not by the other,
the parties may employ different conflict
tactics (for example, one may avoid and
the other may litigate), and one party may
harbor greater hostility than is recipro-
cated by the other.
family dysfunction.
Unfortunately, divorce research is still
in its infancy with respect to making many
of these conceptual distinctions and ad-
dressing these questions. In particular,
there are virtually no data available about
cultural and gender differences in the
parents of high-conflict divorce and about
effects on children of different ages. The
review of research which follows focuses
only on the domain of conflict over cus-
tody, access, and child rearing after mari-
tal separation.5
The duration and developing pattern
of each form of conflict are relevant to
its characterization as either normal or
pathological. For instance, higher levels
of most types of divorce conflict are ex-
pectable and relatively common begin-
ning at the time of marital separation and
filing for divorce and continuing until the
issuance of the final decree—that is, en-
compassing the time when the family is in
the process of fundamental reorganiza-
tion from an intact to a two-household
family structure.2,3 Postdecree divorce
conflicts, on the other hand, are some-
times considered to be intractable and
indicative of preexisting individual and
family dysfunction.
The question of which dimensions
and patterns of parental conflict are asso-
ciated with poor child adjustment is of
particular importance. For instance, are
In each study referenced, careful de-
lineation is made of the type and meas-
urement of conflict, and the nature of the
sample is specified. The reader is cau-
tioned against generalizing the findings
beyond the specific dimension of conflict
to nonrepresentative populations of di-
vorcing families.The review includes
only empirical studies which either used
standardized measures, had comparison
groups in the design, or made systematic
post hoc comparisons within the sample
(that is, the review excludes an extensive
and informative literature based on clini-
cal observations and theoretical specula-
tion about the children and families of
divorce, as well as articles motivated by
social advocacy).
Incidence of
High-Conflict Divorce and
Associated Factors
children negatively affected by ongoing
legal battles, by parents’ inability to coor- Estimates of Incidence of
dinate their postdivorce child-rearing High-Conflict Divorce
practices, by living in a hostile family envi-
Estimates of the incidence of highly con-
ronment, or by witnessing overt verbal and
flicted divorce ideally would be drawn
physical aggression? Is a mother’s conflict
from large studies designed to be repre-
behavior typically different from a fa-
sentative of the full divorcing population.
ther’s? Is conflict manifested differently
Unfortunately, the studies in this category
High-Conflict Divorce
provide scant information about the rates
of conflict of any kind. Tangentially, in a
national study, Furstenberg and Nord
noted that the most prevalent pattern of
child rearing two years after divorce is
“parallel parenting,” in which the only at-
tempt parents make to communicate or
coordinate their child-rearing practices is
around visitation arrangements.6
A recent California study by Maccoby
and Mnookin of 1,124 families with
1,875 children, recruited from divorce
filings in two counties and reinterviewed
one year and two and one-half years
later, has provided some estimates, albeit
ones that were not intended as incidence
statistics.7With respect to the amount of
legal conflict over custody and visitation
matters, these researchers identified a
“conflict pyramid,”
showing that, in half
the divorces, these issues were uncon-
tested; in nearly one-third more cases,
the issues, although contested, were set-
tled without the help of the court or its
related services.
The remaining one-fifth of the families
reached a settlement with respect to cus-
tody and access using the more formal
conflict-resolution procedures offered by
the court (11% in state-mandated media-
tion sessions; 5% after a formal custody
evaluation; 2% during trial; and 1.5% de-
cided by a judge). These “conflict pyra-
mid” proportions are clearly linked as
much to the objectives, principles, and
procedures of California’s (or the local
county’s) family law system as they are to
a couple’s propensity to dispute custody.
The figures could be very different in
states with different custody presump-
tions and different formal stages of dispute
resolution. Using a combined measure of
court data and parent interview data, these
researchers estimated that 10% of families
experienced “substantial” legal conflict,
and 15% experienced a greater degree of
“intense” legal conflict. Interestingly, the
most hostile couples were not necessarily
the couples locked in the most conten-
tious legal battles.
Factors Associated with
High-Conflict Divorce
Coparenting Patterns
Three principal types of coparenting pat-
terns were identified in the Maccoby and
Mnookin study, generated by the pres-
ence or absence of discord (frequent ar-
guments, undermining and sabotage of
each other’s role as parents), and the
presence or absence of frequent attempts
to communicate and coordinate with re-
spect to the children.7Three to four years
after separation, there were three major
patterns: high communication and low
discord, called cooperative coparenting,
characterized 29% of the sample; low
communication and low discord, denoted
as disengaged coparenting, involved 41% of
the sample; and low communication and
high discord, labeled
conflicted coparenting,
was a feature in 24% of the cases. Over the
three-year period, it was unlikely for con-
flicted parents to become cooperative;
most remained conflicted, and a small
group became disengaged. Moreover,
those who had conflicted coparenting
styles were also more likely to be divorcing
parents who had experienced substantial
The most prevalent pattern two
years after divorce is “parallel
parenting,” in which the only
attempt parents make to commu-
nicate is around visitation
or intense legal conflict and who were
more hostile to one another, especially
mothers. It is important to emphasize,
however, that these groups (those with
high legal conflict, conflicted coparent-
ing, and hostile attitudes) did not com-
pletely overlap, confirming that these
dimensions of conflict are not identical; in
fact, they may be only weakly related to
one another.
In sum, using different measures (le-
gal conflict, hostility, and conflicted co-
parenting), Maccoby and Mnookin’s data
indicated that one quarter of divorces
were highly conflicted at an average of
three and one-half years after the separa-
tion, by which time almost all couples had
obtained their final decree.7 It is interest-
ing that these estimates are not greatly
disparate from smaller nonrepresenta-
tive samples. Two earlier studies—one by
Wallerstein and Kelly of 60 families re-
ferred for counseling and one by Ahrons
of 54 couples obtained from divorce
filings—concurred that almost one-third
of families remained very hostile and in
conflict over child-rearing matters three
to five years after separation.8,9
Families with Young and/or Many
What other factors are associated with
high-conflict divorce? Again, the 1992
Maccoby and Mnookin study provides
the best comparative data.7 No socioeco-
nomic, income, or ethnic differences were
found to distinguish divorces involving
high legal conflict and conflicted copar-
enting styles from those with low indi-
cators of conflict. Moreover, conflicted co-
parenting was just as likely to be experi-
enced by children living in dual residences
as by those who resided solely with either
mother or father. Families with very young
children were more likely to be highly
conflicted both legally and in terms of
day-to-day parenting. Larger families were
somewhat more likely to have coparenting
conflict than those with an only child.
These findings suggest that the need to
cooperate closely, especially in the care of
very young children and in coordinating
the separate needs of multiple children,
increases the strain on the coparenting
Concern About Ex-Partner’s
Parenting Practices
Most notable, however, are the findings
by these same researchers that pervasive
distrust about the other parent’s ability to
care for their child adequately and dis-
crepant perceptions about parenting
practices generally typify the couples who
are likely to be highly disputatious both
Pervasive distrust about the other parent’s
ability to care for their child adequately,
and discrepant perceptions about parent-
ing practices, generally typify the couples
who are likely to be highly disputatious
both inside and outside the court.
inside and outside the court.7 These ob-
servations are supported by a recent Cali-
fornia statewide study by Depner and her
colleagues of 1,669 mediation sessions
conducted in family courts, a sample
which included 93% of all disputes re-
garding custody and access mediated dur-
ing a two-week period.10 (California law
requires mediation in any case where par-
ents are disputing custody and visitation
matters.) Within these sessions, serious
multiple overlapping concerns about the
ex-partner’s parenting practices were
raised by separating and divorced indi-
viduals: these included allegations of
child neglect (38%), child physical abuse
(18%), child sexual abuse (8%), and
child stealing (6%). In addition, grave
concerns were raised about exposing the
child to the other parent because of his or
her substance abuse (36%) or criminal
activity (7%). It is not known if these alle-
gations could have been substantiated, or
if they mostly signified each party’s nega-
tive perceptions, hostility, and distrust of
the other.
It is commonly believed by family court
counselors, however, that these allega-
tions of neglect and abuse often do not
meet the criteria for mandatory reporting.
In fact, court counselors generally con-
tend that, when such investigations are
undertaken by child protective services,
the allegations are frequently dismissed by
overworked staff as being either indicators
of interparental spite, impossible to prove,
or insufficiently serious to require state
Depner and colleagues found that, in
a startling 65% of families, domestic vio-
lence was alleged by one or both parents
within the mediation session.
Two small
studies of high-conflict divorcing families,
by Johnston and Campbell (n = 80) and
by Johnston (n = 60), confirm this high
level of domestic violence.11,12 Both sam-
ples were drawn from family court refer-
rals for counseling that were made either
because mandatory mediation in court
had failed or because parents continued
disputing over the care of their children,
at times violently, despite a legal settle-
ment. Physical aggression had occurred
between 75% and 70% of the parents, in
the first and second studies, respectively,
during the past year, even though the
couples had been separated, on the aver-
age, 30 months and 42 months. In 25% of
the first sample and 20% of the second,
the aggression was termed moderate and
involved slapping, hitting, kicking, or biting.
In 35% of the first sample and 48% of the
second, it was denoted as severe and in-
volved battering and threatening to use
or using a weapon.
In a comparison sample of 60 cases
drawn from a more general sample of di-
vorce filings, where the couple had been
separated more than two years, physical
aggression was 36 times lower than in the
High-Conflict Divorce
court-referred samples.13 Taken all to-
gether, these studies suggest that, in di-
vorces marked by ongoing disputes over
the custody and care of children, both
inside and outside the court, there is often
a history of domestic violence in the fam-
ily and a likelihood that the violence will
continue after the separation.
Emotional Dysfunction and
Characterological Disturbance
The extent of emotional dysfunction and
characterological disturbance in indi-
viduals involved in high-conflict divorce
has seldom been studied. Early clinical
observations suggest that this group is
more likely to have severe psychopathol-
ogy, personality disorders, and substance
abuse problems.14-17
Using ratings from the third edition of
the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders (DSM-III), two-thirds of
the 160 parents in the first clinical study of
high-conflict divorce described above
were diagnosed as having personality dis-
orders and one-fourth as having traits of
same.11 Only 2% were diagnosed as psy-
chotic. One-fourth had substance abuse
problems. In the second clinical study of
120 parents, a standardized self-report
measure of emotional symptomatology,
the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI), was
used, and the results indicated that this
sample fell midway between a normal
population and a psychiatric population in
degree of disturbance.12,18 The use of
drugs and alcohol in this sample did not
differ from that in the general population.
In 1989, Schaefer reported on a four-
year follow-up study of 83 custodial par-
ents who had contested and won custody
(half were mothers, and half were fa-
thers) and noted that their scores on the
same standardized measure (BSI) in-
dicated a poorer clinical picture than
national norms.19 The critical question
raised by each of these studies is, how-
ever, whether the manifestations of
psychopathology represented ongoing
personality and emotional disorders, or
whether they were expectable reactions
to severe stressors that included the di-
vorce and legal disputes. For instance, it
is difficult to determine whether the
paranoia felt by a parent who is being
accused by an ex-mate is unreasonable
when that person is being evaluated in a
court process to determine who is the
better parent.
A Theoretical Model
Predicting High-Conflict
Currently, there are no adequate studies
that attempt to critically evaluate the
various factors which are hypothesized to
create and maintain highly conflictual
postdivorce relationships between par-
ents over the custody and care of their
children. The theoretical explanatory
model that is proposed here, however, is a
complex, interactive, and reciprocal one,
as diagrammed in Figure 1 and illustrated
in the accompanying inset (see Box 1).11
At the individual level, separation-
engendered conflicts (the humiliation in-
herent in rejection, the grief associated
with loss, and the overall helplessness in
response to assaultive life changes) inter-
act with vulnerabilities in the character
In divorces marked by ongoing disputes
over the custody and care of children, both
inside and outside the court, there is often
a history of domestic violence in the
family and a likelihood that the violence
will continue after the separation.
structure of some divorcing individuals,
making them especially prone to unre-
solved hostility and ongoing disputes. At
the interactional level, a combination of
the destructive spousal dynamics that are
a function of these intrapsychic conflicts,
the history of the prior marital relation-
ship, and the legacy of an ambivalent or
traumatic separation experience causes
the parties to construct negative, polar-
ized views of each other. Consequently,
these parents continue to be highly dis-
trustful of each other and are convinced
that they are fighting to protect the chil-
dren from the perceived negative effects
of each other’s parenting.
In addition, there are realistic con-
cerns about parenting capacity in indivi-
duals whose functioning and judgment
are compromised by their own emotional
distress and the continual criticism and
undermining of their parenting by the
ex-spouse. The dysfunctional family rela-
tionships that are a product of these in-
trapsychic and interparental conflicts,
Figure 1
A Model of Individual, lnteractional and External Factors Predicting High-Conflict Divorce and Custody Disputes
Preseparation Separation
Factors Factors Postseparation
Individual Level
Nature of Child
(gender, age, temperament)
Prior Psychological
Adjustment of
Divorcing Parent
Interactional Level
History of Courtship
and Marital Conflict
Prior Parent-Child
External Level
Demographic Factors
(income discrepancy and
cultural differences between
parents; family composition)
Source: Johnston, J.R., and Campbell, L.E.G. Impasses of divorce: The dynamics and resolution of family conflict. New York: Free Press, 1988.
High-Conflict Divorce
especially disturbances in parent-child re-
lationships, can result in emotional and
behavioral symptomatology in children
(particularly in vulnerable younger chil-
dren and boys). This, in turn, fuels the
interparental dispute. At the external so-
cial level, these disputes can be both pro-
voked and maintained by socioeconomic
and cultural stressors and by coalitions
formed with significant others: extended
kin, new partners, and mental health and
legal professionals. The traditional adver-
sarial process in the courts is particularly
fertile ground for the polarization of
perceptions and for the hostility and
combative stance which are hallmarks of
this group.
Children’s Adjustment to
Divorce-Related Conflict
Effects of Parental Conflict on
The studies reviewed in this section are
concerned with the general relationship
between parental conflict and child func-
tioning in the broader population of di-
vorcing families. Here, we are interested in
understanding under what conditions
children are affected by interparental con-
flict, and to what extent and in what ways
they are disadvantaged. These are crucial
questions with social policy implications.
An extensive literature has been generated
during the past two decades about the
effects of interparental conflict on chil-
dren, mostly within intact but also within
divorcing families (see reviews by Emery;
Grych and Fincham; Depner, Leino, and
Chun).20-22 A common shortcoming of
these numerous studies is that, with few
exceptions (for example, Cherlin and col-
leagues) they have not looked at the long-
term outcomes of living with interparental
conflict, nor have they looked at how con-
flict can interfere with the normal devel-
opmental course of children.23
Most early studies did not discriminate
among conflict domain, tactics, and hos-
tility (for example, Rutter).24 More re-
cently, however, there have been attempts
to compare the effects on children of ex-
posure to domestic violence with those of
living in highly conflictual but nonviolent
homes. Further distinctions are now being
made about the effects on children of
witnessing violence compared with being
directly abused (see review by Jaffe, Wolfe,
and Wilson).25 The consistent conclusions
of these reviews indicate that interparental
Case Illustration
Alan (11 years) is the only child of
bitterly disputing parents who
separated suddenly three years
ago and who have been in con-
flict over custody and visitation
ever since. Both parents are voca-
tionally successful but are eco-
nomically stressed by the divorce.
Both feel humiliated by the per-
ceived rejection inherent in the
failed marriage and especially by
the counterattacks in the custody
litigation that has followed.
The mother is overtly rageful
and vengeful; she has physically
attacked the father on occasion.
She has a focused paranoid be-
lief that her ex-husband is out to
destroy her and her child. In turn,
the father is smug, obsessively
controlling and financially with-
holding. He uses his ex-wife’s dis-
tressed behavior to thoroughly
denigrate her parenting, in care-
fully written documentation sub-
mitted to the court. The mother
also claims that Alan’s visits to his
father are negatively affecting
the boy and should be reduced
or eliminated.
Although Alan is not directly
asked to take sides in the fight, he
is presented with two starkly con-
trasting realities from parents both
of whom love him. Likewise, he is
attached to them both; he has
painful loyalty conflicts and fears
losing each of his parents.
In accord with his father’s ex-
pectations of him, in his father’s
home Alan is overly bright, com-
petent, and entertaining. When
Alan returns to his mother’s home,
he regresses to a dependent, de-
manding, and irritable child who
has many irrational fears and
panic attacks. Somatic symptoms
include tiredness, stomachaches,
and digestive problems, which
periodically keep him from at-
tending school. He is withdrawn
socially and engages in much
solitary play with his collection of
toy soldiers.
It is perhaps not surprising that
these parents are disputing in
court as to whether the boy is in
need of therapy.
Box 1
hostility and physical aggression are mod-
erately associated with more behavioral
problems, emotional difficulties, and re-
duced social competence in children,
compared with nonconflictual families.
Where gender differences have been in-
vestigated, boys tend to show more overt
behavioral disturbance and girls tend to
have more covert emotional disturbance.
These findings indicate that, in general,
children who are exposed to physical
aggression between parents are more
symptomatic than those who experience
nonviolent interparental discord and that
this symptomatology is even more pro-
nounced in children who have been di-
rectly abused.
It is important to note that, while
children from hostile and aggressive
families, as a group, have more adjust-
ment problems than normally expected,
the range of individual outcomes is
broad. Some children do very well de-
spite these adverse environments; others
appear to be reactive and negatively af-
fected. What makes for these differences?
In studies of divorced families, it has
been found that interparental hostility
and aggression mostly have indirect ef-
fects on children, mediated by the qual-
ity of the parent-child relationship, with
While children from hostile and aggres-
sive families, as a group, have more ad-
justment problems than normally expected,
the range of individual outcomes is broad.
the child’s relationship to the mother
being more predictive of child adjust-
ment than is the relationship with the
father.7,26,27 This finding implies that a
good parent-child relationship can buff-
er children from interparental conflict.
In addition, some characteristics of the
individual child (for example, a more
adaptable temperament, higher intelli-
gence, and better coping skills) are indi-
cators of more resilience. The problem
is, however, that conflict between spouses
tends to erode a couple’s capacity to co-
operate in the care and guidance of
children. As a consequence of divided
parental authority and lack of respect
given to one another, parenting tends to
become more problematic: discipline is
more coercive, and expectations are
more inconsistent, all of which are pre-
dictive of more negative and distant
parent-child relationships and an in-
crease in children’s emotional and be-
havioral problems.28
Children’s Adjustment in
High-Conflict Divorced Families
It is argued here that family laws as well as
court policies are often justified by re-
search findings from the broad popula-
tion and are insufficiently backed by
studies of the special subgroup of the di-
vorcing population to which they are
most frequently applied, that is, to fami-
lies of high-conflict divorce. High-conflict
divorce is characterized by all of the fol-
lowing: intractable legal disputes, ongo-
ing conflict over parenting practices,
hostility, physical threats, and intermit-
tent violence. To address social policy
with respect to the children of high-
conflict divorce, it is necessary to evaluate
the extent to which child outcomes are
multiply determined and to examine the
relative impact of interparental hostility
and physical aggression, parent psycho-
pathology, and the custody and visita-
tion arrangements on children’s func-
tioning. Only a few such studies can be
found scattered throughout the litera-
ture. These studies are summarized here
in some detail for the first time. Taken
together, they begin to paint a picture of
a subgroup of children at high risk who
have special social policy needs.
In 1988, Brotsky, Steinman, and Zem-
melman made clinical observations of 67
children (ages 1 to 15 years) from divorc-
ing families at one, two, and four years
after separation.
29 Almost half of the par-
ents were referred by the family courts for
counseling because of disputed joint
physical custody; the remainder were at-
tempting voluntarily to put together a
joint custody plan and had requested
help. The sample ranged broadly in terms
of socioeconomic status and was 80%
white. At the one-year follow-up, 12 fami-
lies were classified as “successful” in imple-
menting a cooperative joint custody plan,
20 were seen as “stressed” by this endeavor,
and 15 were rated as having “failed.”
These three groups of couples were
distinguished by their capacity to respect
and support each other’s parental efforts
with the child and to keep separate and
modulate their own anger and ambi-
valence toward the ex-spouse. The “suc-
cessful” and “failed” groups clearly main-
High-Conflict Divorce
Table 1
Some Standardized Measures Used in Studies of High-Conflict Divorcing Families
Name and Purpose of Measure Factors Examples of Items
Conflict Tactics (CT) scales Verbal reasoning, verbal
(Straus, 1979)
aggression, physical aggression
18-item report on self and ex-spouse
Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI)
(Derogatis and Spencer, 1982)
53-item self-report by adults
Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL)
(Achenbach and Edelbrock, 1983)
112-item parent report on child’s
Somatization, obsessive-
compulsiveness, interpersonal
sensitivity, depression, anxiety,
phobia, paranoid ideation,
hostility, psychoticism
Depression, withdrawal, somatic
symptoms, aggression,
externalizing, internalizing
Discussed the issue calmly; insulted
or swore at the other; slapped;
punched, bit, hit the other; beat up;
threatened with/used a weapon
Dizziness or faintness; difficulty making
decisions; feelings easily hurt; feels
lonely, blue; feels fearful; feels uneasy
in crowds; feels watched or talked
about; has urges to beat, injure, or
harm someone; has idea that
someone else can control thoughts
Cries a lot; sad; worrying; refuses to
talk; secretive; feels worthless; stares
blankly; asthma; aches and pains;
disobedient; physically attacks
people; gets into many fights;
stubborn; sullen; irritable
The psychometric properties of these well-established measures can be found in the referenced publications.
Sources: Ahrons, C.R. The continuing coparental relationship between divorced spouses. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry
(1981) 51:415-28. Also, Derogatis, L.R., and Spencer, P.M. The brief symptom inventory (BSI) administration, scoring and procedures
manual: I. Baltimore, MD: Clinical Psychometric Research, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 1982. See also, notes 1, 18,
and 31 at the end of this article.
tained their profile at the four-year follow-
up; four-fifths of the “stressed” group had
become more cooperative and satisfied
with the coparenting arrangement.
The important finding for social pol-
icy is that, at each time of observation,
those parents whose joint custody ar-
rangements were court-ordered or court-
recommended were more likely to be
classified as “failed” or “stressed,” and
their children were more likely to be
symptomatic or at high risk in terms of
their behavioral, emotional, and social
adjustment. A cautionary note is sounded
in that this study employed a small sample
and did not report results based on the
standardized measures that were used.
In 1989, Schaefer reported on a four-
year follow-up of 83 children (ages 1 to 11
years at separation) whose parents had
reached a settlement of custody through
court-ordered evaluations and/or judicial
decree.19 In half of the cases, the fathers
had been awarded custody; these were
matched with sole mother-custody cases
according to age and gender of the child.
The socioeconomic status was predomi-
nantly middle- to upper-middle-class, and
families were predominantly white. The
children’s adjustment was assessed by the
Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) com-
pleted by the custodial parent.31 The par-
ents reported their own symptomatic
distress on the Brief Symptom Inventory
(BSI) and the amount of coparental com-
munication (see Table 1).9,18
The findings indicated that parents’
reports of their own emotional distress
were most strongly related to their reports
of the children’s adjustment. However, it
could not be determined whether this was
evidence of a true relationship or of the
parents’ emotional state having biased
their perceptions of their children. There
were few indications that coparental com-
munication was related to the children’s
adjustment. The custodial parent reported
significantly more internalizing symp-
tomatology (for example, withdrawal, de-
pression, somatic symptoms) when the
children had more frequent access to the
other parent. There were no significant
differences found in either the boys’ or
girls’ adjustment in mother-custody
homes compared with father-custody
homes on any of the measures. These
findings indicate that the custodial par-
ent’s own adjustment is the best predic-
tor of child adjustment and that children
of both genders do as well in the primary
care of their fathers as in the primary care
of their mothers, when these arrange-
ments have been made after careful psy-
chological evaluations of the best match
between parent and child. The value of fre-
quent access to the noncustodial parent
is, however, questionable.
Findings indicate that the
custodial parent’s own adjust-
ment is the best predictor of
child adjustment.
Johnston, Kline, and Tschann studied
100 children (ages 1 to 12 years) whose
parents were referred by the family court
because of ongoing disputes over their
custody and care at the time of litigation
and again about two and one-half years
later.32 The children were ethnically rela-
tively diverse (62% white) and from low-
middle socioeconomic backgrounds.
Children’s adjustment was measured by
an average of both parents’ reports on the
CBCL.31 Interparental conflict was as-
sessed by both parents’ reports on the
Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS), in which ver-
bal aggression and physical aggression
were combined (see Table 1).1 The cus-
tody arrangement was rated in terms of the
legal decree, the amount of access (days
per month) with the visiting parent, and
the number of transitions per week be-
tween parents. At the follow-up, 35% of
these children were in joint physical cus-
tody, 53% in mother custody, and 12% in
father custody.
There was no clear evidence that chil-
dren were better adjusted in either custody
type. However, as a group, children who
had more shared access to both parents in
joint custody arrangements and those who
had more frequent visitation with a non-
custodial mother or father in sole custody
situations were more emotionally and be-
haviorally disturbed. Specifically, they were
more depressed, withdrawn, and/or un-
communicative, had more somatic symp-
toms, and tended to be more aggressive.
When gender groups were analyzed
separately, these findings were significant
for girls but, in general, not for boys. This
longitudinal study showed that more
verbal and physical aggression was gener-
ated between parents when children had
more frequent access arrangements; con-
sequently, these children tended to get
more caught up in the interparental con-
High-Conflict Divorce
flict. Whereas girls’ adjustment was more
adversely affected by more access to both
their disputing parents, boys and older
children compared to younger ones were
more caught up and used in the parental
conflict that was generated as a conse-
quence of the more frequent access ar-
rangement, and this, in turn, was related
to poorer child outcomes.32
Apart from the small size of this sam-
ple, the main limitations of this study
were that only averaged parental reports
on the children were used as outcomes
(possibly obscuring differences between
mothers and fathers); that the effects of
verbal aggression were not distinguished
from those of physical aggression; and
that parents’ individual dysfunction (an
alternative explanation for the findings)
was not measured. Consequently, a sec-
ond study was designed to correct some
of these limitations.
In the second study, Johnston re-
ported on the adjustment of 75 children
(ages 3 to 12 years) in disputed-custody
divorces.12 Their parents were referred
from the family court because of inter-
parental violence or because there was
ongoing conflict of a nonviolent nature.
This sample was diverse in socioeconomic
status and 80% white. In addition to the
same measures used in the first study,
teachers rated the children, as did clini-
cians.27,32,33 Parents’ individual dysfunc-
tion was measured by the BSI.18 With
respect to the custody of these children,
36% were in joint physical custody, 57%
were in sole mother custody, and 7% were
in sole father custody.
Boys and girls appeared to differ in
their adjustment to the custody and access
arrangements. The overall results indi-
cated that girls were functioning better
when in the primary care of their mothers
in these high-conflict and physically vio-
lent families (according to ratings by
mothers, fathers, and clinicians, but not
those by teachers). There was some
weaker evidence that boys did better when
they had more access to their fathers (ac-
cording to fathers’ and some teachers’
ratings, but not to ratings by mothers or
clinicians). However, more frequent ac-
cess arrangements were associated with
more concurrent aggression between par-
ents, which offset some of the benefits of
access for boys.
When all factors in this study were
simultaneously analyzed, the findings
were that a history of physical aggression
in the family was strongly and consistently
associated with emotional, behavioral,
and social problems in children. It was
not only directly predictive of more child
disturbance, it was also associated with
mother’s diminished parenting, in that
mothers from violent relationships were
less warm and more coercive with their
children. In addition, the degree of both
mothers’ and fathers’ emotional dysfunc-
tion independently predicted child dis-
turbance, both directly and indirectly, as
it was associated with less warmth and
more coerciveness in parenting. Apart
A history of physical aggression
in the family was strongly and
consistently associated with emo-
tional, behavioral, and social
problems in children.
from the small sample size, the weakness
of this study is that, because family rela-
tionships and children’s functioning were
assessed at only one point in time, it re-
mains undetermined what is cause and
what is effect.
Each of the above studies (conducted
by Brotsky and colleagues, by Schaefer,
Johnston, and colleagues, and by
Johnston) were of children of high-
conflict divorce, whose parents had failed
mediation, undergone evaluations, or had
court-imposed settlements.12,19,29,32 Ac-
cording to Maccoby and Mnookin, these
categories represent a small proportion,
the top 10th percentile, of legal conflict in
the divorcing population.7
To what extent are these children
seriously disturbed? In each of the stud-
ies where standardized measures of
maladjustment were reported, these
children scored as significantly more dis-
turbed and were two to four times more
likely to have the kinds of adjustment
problems typically seen in children be-
ing treated for emotional and behavioral
disturbance as compared with national
norms. In general, boys were more symp-
tomatic than girls.
Caution needs to be used in inter-
preting and generalizing from these find-
ings. Each study used a relatively small
sample of unknown representativeness of
the population of high-conflict divorce.
Though all but one of these studies were
longitudinal in nature, only one used sta-
tistical analyses enabling causal directions
to be tested.12,32 Only two employed mul-
tivariate analysis to examine the joint and
relative effects of each factor.12,32
effects of age of child and ethnic differ-
ences were not explored. In sum, these
should be viewed as tentative correla-
tional findings to be confirmed by further
research. Despite the limitations, how-
ever, the findings of all these studies are
fairly consistent. Interparental conflict af-
ter divorce (for example, verbal and
An association between joint custody/
frequent access and poorer child adjust-
ment appears to be confined to divorces
that are termed “high-conflict.”
physical aggression, overt hostility, dis-
trust) and the custodial parent’s emo-
tional distress are jointly predictive of
more problematic parent-child relation-
ships and greater child maladjustment.
Court-ordered joint physical custody and
frequent visitation arrangements tend to
be associated with poorer child outcomes,
especially for girls.
It is important to note that the finding
of an association between joint cus-
tody/frequent access and poorer child ad-
justment appears to be confined to that
small proportion of families (about one-
tenth) of all divorces that are termed
“high-conflict” as defined above. Several
other studies of the broader population
of divorcing families, where custody ar-
rangements are generally made voluntar-
ily by parents, indicate that joint physical
custody and frequent visitation are not
more detrimental to the majority of chil-
dren. In some cases, especially where
parents are cooperative, they are more
Conflict Resolution
Procedures and Programs
Mediation here is defined as the use of a
neutral third party in a confidential setting
to help disputing parents clearly define
issues, generate options, order priorities,
and then negotiate and bargain differ-
ences and alternatives. In this method of
dispute resolution, the assumption is that
the mediator can contain and deflect the
emotional conflicts of the divorcing cou-
ple and help them to become rational,
focused, and goal oriented. In general,
mediation of disputes about the custody
and care of children after divorce has been
widely advocated as the forum of choice
because it empowers parents to make
their own decisions, avoids unnecessary
state interference in family affairs, and in-
creases satisfaction and compliance with
the agreements made. Most states now
have some provision for mediation in cus-
tody disputes either by statute, court rule,
or judicial referral.
Formal outcome studies of mediation
and court experiences indicate that rates
of success in reaching agreement range
between 40% and 70%.37-40 It is impor-
tant to note, however, that the “failures of
mediation” have all the characteristics of
“high-conflict divorce.” The failures have
been described as enmeshed and highly
conflicted couples who are ambivalent
about their separation and who have se-
vere psychopathology or personality disor-
ders.15-17 It is often argued that mediation
is inappropriate for many dysfunctional
families: where couples are chronically
litigious, where there is domestic violence,
where there are allegations of child abuse
and molestation, and when one or both
parents are alleged to have serious psy-
chological difficulties.41-43 Furthermore,
it is difficult for parents to arrive at some
consensus when they have highly di-
vergent perceptions of their children’s
needs and a pervasive distrust of each
other’s capacity to provide a secure envi-
ronment. In sum, high-conflict divorcing
families have often been identified by
their failure to make effective use of me-
diation methods that rely upon a rational
decision-making process.
Evaluation and Recommendations
When attorney negotiations and media-
tion are ineffective, the courts generally
rely upon the expert testimony of mental
health professionals to help in the time-
consuming task of fact finding and to of-
fer opinions as to how disputes over the
custody and care of children should be
resolved according to the current legal
standard, which is “the best interests of
the child.” It is generally believed that
mental health evaluators are most useful
High-Conflict Divorce
if they serve as impartial experts ap-
pointed by the court, or by stipulation of
both parties, rather than as an expert re-
tained by one party, who pits his or her
professional opinions against that of the
expert retained by the other party.
ations can be conducted within services
that are a part of the court system, or by
private practice professionals and com-
munity agencies outside the court. They
can involve a narrow focus on a particular
issue (for example, which school the child
should attend) or entail a complete family
evaluation (for example, psychological
testing of all parties, school and home
visits, substance abuse assessments, child
abuse and molestation investigations).
Studies of the outcome of the evalu-
ation process indicate that the final court
order is in accord with the recommenda-
tion in about 85% of cases. In actuality, in
about 70% to 90% of the cases, after hear-
ing the recommendations, the parties
reach a negotiated agreement which is
then entered as a consent judgment.4,7,44
Although evaluations appear to be very ef-
fective in reaching an initial agreement,
they often bring little relief for those high-
conflict couples who harbor great distrust
and hostility and have difficulty in cooper-
ating and coparenting their children on a
daily basis. A two-year follow-up study by
Ash and Guyer of 267 families showed that
families who had undergone custody
evaluations had a rate of relitigation that
was two and one-half times the rate for
families who had settled by themselves
(19% compared with 7%).4 Over approxi-
mately an eight-year follow-up period, a
recent study by Hauser and Straus of 700
families confirmed this difference. Among
families who had custody evaluations, 71%
relitigated compared with 41% of the di-
vorcing population in general.45
Visitation Enforcement Programs
Throughout the United States, a variety of
court-related services have been estab-
lished to deal with ongoing coparental dis-
putes over visitation and child care in
highly conflictual divorces.46 Typically,
they involve one or more of the following:
parent education (usually in groups); as-
sessment and mediation of the visitation
dispute; drafting more specific, enforce-
able court orders; and monitoring visita-
tion by letter or telephone. Increasingly,
these services are seen as having a proba-
tionlike function, and in some cases they
are specifically used as a diversion pro-
gram in lieu of prosecution for contempt
of court orders. In some jurisdictions, par-
ticularly litigious families are assigned a
“case manager” (for example, a judge or
court counselor) who is responsible for
coordinating the numerous court actions
with the many professionals and others
involved in the family dispute. The effec-
tiveness of some of these programs in en-
suring the child’s conflict-free access to the
noncustodial parent is currently being
evaluated. Of particular interest is whether
improved access leads to increased com-
pliance with child support orders.46
Therapeutic Remedies
It is evident that misplaced and escalat-
ing personal and spousal conflicts of di-
vorcing couples, whether emanating from
long-term difficulties or from separation-
engendered conflict, result in resistance
to mediation, questionable negotiation
strategies, unrealistic custody and access
demands in repeated litigation, and on-
going inability to cooperate on behalf of
the children. From a therapeutic view-
point, a more appropriate intervention re-
From a therapeutic viewpoint, a
more appropriate intervention
requires gaining some understand-
ing of why these parents are locked
into chronic disputes.
quires gaining some understanding of why
these parents are locked into chronic dis-
putes. Based on such understanding,
therapists can devise strategic, focused
therapeutic interventions aimed at the im-
passe, which will help these parents to
make decisions more rationally. Moreover,
based upon an understanding of the devel-
opmental needs of the individual child,
therapists can help parents focus on meet-
ing the needs of their children, separate
from their own psychological agendas.
This approach has generally been referred
to as “therapeutic mediation” and has
been most highly developed as a method
called “impasse-directed mediation” by
Johnston and Campbell.11,17,47
Typically, this dispute resolution
method involves both parents and their
children in a relatively brief, confidential
intervention (15 to 25 hours), which can
be adapted either to individual high-
conflict families or to groups of such
families. The strategy is two-pronged: On
one hand, parents are helped to develop
some awareness or insight into their psy-
chological impasse (or, there is an inter-
vention with the extended family and
significant others, including professionals,
which aims to avoid the impasse for those
parents who are too disturbed to benefit
from direct counseling). On the other
hand, parents are educated as to the ef-
fects of their conflict on their children
and counseled about how to protect their
children from the spousal disputes. Sub-
sequently, parents are helped to negotiate
a coparenting plan and are provided with
some assistance in implementing or modi-
fying their arrangements in scheduled, or
intermittent, follow-up sessions. A two- to
three-year follow-up of two studies of high-
conflict families (n = 80 and n = 60) who
received this treatment indicated that
two-thirds were able to keep or renegoti-
ate their own agreements regarding cus-
tody and access and, consequently, to stay
out of court. The group method was found
to be 40% more cost-effective than the
individual method.11,48
Coparenting Arbitration
This is a relatively new approach, which
has been developed for those high-
conflict families who need continual
structure and help with their parenting
and coparenting after divorce over a long
period of time. Essentially, it involves a
mental health specialist (variously called a
Supervised visitation programs
comprise a rapidly growing
new social service that has been
developed in direct response to
intractable divorce disputes.
court master, custody commissioner, co-
parenting counselor, guardian ad litem)
who is appointed by the court or by stipu-
lation of the parties. This person is then
available to the family on an ongoing or
“as needed” basis to help with decisions
about the children. Depending upon the
specific contract with the family, any or all
of the following methods may be used:
counseling, mediation, recommendation,
and arbitration. This kind of intervention
can be useful in a variety of cases: those
that involve chronic litigation and en-
meshed family conflicts; where there are
ongoing allegations of abuse (physical or
sexual) or there is concern about domestic
violence; where there is intermittent men-
tal illness of a parent that needs monitor-
ing; when a child has special needs (for
example, physical or mental disability)
that require close coordination between
parents; or, simply, when children are very
young (infants) and the parenting plan
must be reworked over time in response to
the changing needs occasioned by their
rapid development. To date, no known
studies have evaluated the effectiveness of
these kinds of approaches.
Supervised Visitation
Supervised visitation programs comprise
a rapidly growing new social service that
has been developed in direct response to
intractable divorce disputes. Currently,
there are more than 70 such programs
nationwide, brought together by a fledg-
ling organization called the Supervised
Visitation Network.49 Largely staffed by
trained volunteers or counseling interns
and funded variously by local, state, or
charitable grants and by advocacy groups
(for example, domestic violence agen-
cies), these programs provide a protected
setting for visitation to occur between
children and their noncustodial par-
ents.50 This supervision can take a variety
of forms, and its extensiveness can vary
over time. In the most extreme cases, the
supervision may be part of a therapeutic
intervention into the parent-child rela-
tionship and is undertaken by a trained
Where the children are at high risk
(because of a parent’s psychological dis-
turbance, substance abuse problems, his-
tory of emotional or physical abuse,
molestation, serious domestic violence, or
child abduction), visitation may occur only
under the continual surveillance of a neu-
tral third person in a closed setting. In
situations of less gravity, supervision may
be performed in an open setting (for ex-
ample, at a park, or in the noncustodial
parent’s home) by family members or
friends. Where there is no direct threat to
the child but there is a possibility of verbal
or physical abuse between parents, the su-
pervision may be limited to the time of
exchange of the child at a safe, neutral
place. There have been no formal evalu-
ations of these programs to date.
High-Conflict Divorce 179
Implications for Social
What kind of public policy with respect to
custody and visitation is supported by the
current body of research on high-conflict
divorce? The more conservative ap-
proach is to note the limitations of this
research and to conclude that there are
no policy implications (the studies are too
few, comprise small nonrepresentative
samples, have not adequately demon-
strated causal relationships between dif-
ferent custody/access arrangements and
child outcomes, have not differentiated
between children of different ages, and
have not examined cultural differences).
This conclusion, however, leaves no guide-
lines for daily decision making in family
courts. A more helpful approach is to pro-
pose a number of principles that should
guide custody decision making, recogniz-
ing that individual cases raise multiple
issues which require good clinical judg-
ment and judicial discretion. It is also
important to note that these policy prin-
ciples may change as more becomes
known about these families.
Key Principles
n Children need custody and access ar-
rangements that minimize the potential
for ongoing interparental conflict; they
especially need to be protected from expo-
sure to violence.51
n Children are better off in the care of a
parent who is relatively free of psycholo-
gical disturbance or substance abuse inas-
much as both of these conditions compro-
mise parenting.
A good parent-child relationship is the
best predictor of good outcomes in chil-
dren. It is this domain that should carry
considerable weight in determining a
child’s primary residential arrangement in
these families.
n The present research base indicates
that high-conflict divorced parents have a
relatively poor prognosis for developing
cooperative coparenting arrangements
without a great deal of therapeutic inter-
vention. The fourth principle, then, is
that custody arrangements should allow
parents to disengage from their conflict
with each other and develop parallel and
separate parenting relationships with their
children, governed by an explicit contract
that determines the access plan. A clearly
specified regular visitation plan is crucial,
and the need for shared decision making
and direct communication should be kept
to a minimum. This fourth principle im-
plies, therefore, that joint legal and joint
physical custody schedules which require
Children need custody and access
arrangements that minimize the
potential for ongoing interparental
conflict; they especially need to be
protected from exposure to violence.
careful coordination of the child’s social,
academic, and extracurricular activities
are generally inappropriate for this spe-
cial subpopulation of divorcing families,
as are frequent transitions of the child
between parents for visitation purposes.
This principle may need to be modified
for very young, preschool children who
have difficulty remembering an absent
parent unless access occurs at more fre-
quent intervals.
n Where there is concern about the ca-
pacity of both parents to protect the child
from the interparental conflict and their
own disturbed attitudes and behavior, it
may be appropriate to give more weight in
the custody/access decision to providing
the child with continuity in relationships
with supportive others (such as teachers,
peers, grandparents) and stability of place
(such as neighborhood and school). In
these more difficult cases, custody and ac-
cess awards can be made contingent upon
either or both parents’ obtaining appro-
priate counseling (for parenting, violence,
substance abuse, and the like). Finally, if
conflict continues, children themselves
may be better protected if a court order
assures them of direct access on an on-
going basis to their own counselor, one
who can maintain a positive or equidistant
relationship with both parents and help
the children directly.
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tody and access in domestic violence families.
... 2002, Zafar ve Kausar 2014. Boylamsal araştırmalar, boşanan çiftlerin yaklaşık %10 ile %15'inin iki ile üç yıl sonrasında da devam eden "yüksek çatışma" içerisinde kalabildiğini göstermektedir (Maccoby ve Mnookin 1992, Johnston 1994, Johnston ve ark. 2009). ...
... Boşanma sırası ve sonrası meydana gelen çatışmalar, genellikle boşanmadan iki ile üç yıl sonrasında azalmaya başlasa da bazı ebeveynler, bu çatışmaları uzun yıllar devam ettirebilmektedir (Moné ve Biringen 2012). Ebeveynler arasında devam eden çatışmalara maruz kalan çocuklar; sosyal, duygusal ve psikolojik açıdan olumsuz olarak etkilenebilmektedir ( Johnston 1994, Öngider 2013, Bilici 2014, Karadağ ve Özdemir 2020. Yapılan araştırmalar, boşanmanın çocuklar üzerindeki olumsuz etkilerinin ilk yıl içerisinde zirve yaptığını, boşanmadan iki yıl sonra ise ilişkilerin daha durağan hale geldiğini göstermektedir (Santrock 2014). ...
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Boşanma, kısaca, eşler arasında evliliğin hukuki açıdan sona erdirilmesi olarak tanımlanabilir. Çatışmalı ayrılık veya boşanma davalarında, ebeveynlerden birinin öfke/kızgınlık hissiyle birlikte sözleri, davranışları ve tutumlarıyla diğer ebeveyni kötülemesi, çocuklarının bu ebeveyniyle olan kişisel görüşme haklarını engellemesi sonucunda çocuklar, hedefteki ebeveyne karşı yabancılaşma geliştirebilmektedir. Alanyazında ebeveyn yabancılaşması (ebeveyne yabancılaşma sendromu), özellikle yüksek çatışmalı boşanma davalarında çocukların ebeveynlerinden biriyle (yabancılaştıran ebeveyn) güçlü bir şekilde ittifak kurması ve herhangi bir meşru gerekçe olmaksızın diğer ebeveyniyle (hedefteki veya yabancılaşılan ebeveyn) ilişki kurmayı reddetmesiyle sonuçlanan dinamik bir süreç olarak kavramsallaştırılmakta ve çocuklar açısından bu sürecin duygusal istismarın bir türü olduğu belirtilmektedir. Bu derlemede ebeveyn yabancılaşması sürecinde etkili olabileceği düşünülen faktörlerin dinamik etkileşimlerinin ekolojik sistem kuramı perspektifiyle gözden geçirilmesi amaçlanmıştır. Bu kapsamda çalışmada, ebeveyn yabancılaşması kavramının genel özellikleri üzerinde durulmuş ve her bir sistem düzeyinde (mikrosistem, mezosistem, ekzosistem, makrosistem, kronosistem) ebeveyne yabancılaşma sürecini etkileyebilecek risk faktörleri ile yabancılaşmanın çocuk üzerindeki genel etkileri gözden geçirilmiştir.
... Interpersonal conflict can be constructive but also destructive, especially when it is prolonged and unsolved, as in postdivorce conflicts. Braver et al. (2005) suggest that conflict among divorced parents can be conceptualized as including three dimensions: legal conflict, behavioral conflict, and attitudinal conflict (Braver et al., 2005;Johnston, 1994). Legal conflict involves actions in the court system, such as a continued series of mediation and litigation, requests for change or noncompliance with court decisions, or written agreement in mediation. ...
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Background: Prolonged conflicts among postdivorce or noncohabiting parents are found to threaten the welfare of children, parents, and functioning in two household families. These family contexts are known in the literature as having intensified psychosocial risk, pressuring subject positions of family members, and having difficulty functioning as a family. Many resources are spent from an array of public institutions—court, health, and child and family welfare institutions—to promote cooperative coparenting, help resolve custody conflicts, and aid the functioning of the family. A need exists for a further understanding of children’s and parents’ positions in prolonged conflict and their views on family life. More knowledge about postdivorce families (in chronic conflicts) is important for policy-makers and various service providers for children and families. Overall aim: This thesis aims to explore the meaning constructions and subject positions of postdivorce families in prolonged conflicts. Social constructionism and the systemic perspective have been a meta-theory in this thesis, combined with a discursive framework and the use of positioning theory. In this thesis, the term postdivorce or separated families involves families with noncohabiting parents, with parents having been married, with others having been cohabiting, and with some having not lived together at all. The main ambition of this study is to expand the knowledge about postdivorce families in prolonged interparental conflicts and how these family circumstances seem to be constructed from children’s and parents’ perspectives. The possible consequences of various positions for the family, the professionals in family services, and society are discussed. Knowledge from the children’s and parents’ perspectives might help us discern how one can support their well‐being in (to them) relevant ways. We also add to the knowledge of how to aid and strengthen families embedded in enduring postdivorce conflicts. Research questions: The following research questions were asked to illuminate the overall aim in three papers. The first paper focused on child subject positions and asked (I) how do children position themselves for challenges in postdivorce family conflicts, and how does family conflict position children? The second paper focused on the parallel storylines and subject positions of conflicted parent couples and asked the following three questions. (II a) What storylines emerge when separated couples in prolonged conflicts talk about their coparenting relationship? (II b) What positions of the self and the other are constructed when talking about the conflicted coparenting relationship? and (II c) What does it mean for the duty of parenthood when separated parents are in prolonged conflict? The third paper focused on fathers’ stories in prolonged conflict and asked the following three questions. (III a) What storylines of parental agency emerge when separated fathers talk about their children who are in distress from the conflict? (III b)What positions of agency do fathers take up in these storylines, and in what kinds of subject positions are fathers other-positioning their children and ex-partner ? (IIIc) How do these storylines legitimize fathers’ own subject positions and actions towards their children and ex-partner? Methods and Data: The ontological and epistemological stance in this research project is from systemic paradigms—that of social construction (Gergen et al., 2015) and bringforthism (Maturana & Varela, 1992; Maturana et al., 1980). The research project uses a qualitative methodology. The empirical material is from in-depth interviews with children and their parents in prolonged-postdivorce families with frameworks from social construction, systemic theory, and the discursive framework of positioning theory. The interviewed families were participants in a family therapy program in Norway that aimed to assist families with parents with a history of more than two years of conflict and who had been unsuccessful in resolving conflict or their coparenting challenges through family mediation, counseling, or legal proceeding/court attendance. Findings: Paper I: Children take up three dominant positions to address family conflict: (1) keeping balance (in the storyline of the family conflict), (2) keeping distance (in the storyline of the troubling parent), and (3) keeping on with life (in the storyline of life—as more than family challenges). Arguably, each position is an act of resistance against threats from family conflict. Paper II: Two typologies of conflicted storylines from an overarching storyline of “The Troublesome Other and I” were prominent in the findings: (1) storylines of violations of trust, positioning the coparents in relation to traumatic events in the past, and (2) storylines of who is bad, positioning the coparent as either a disloyal coparent or a dysfunctional parent. The findings indicate that prolonged conflicts made it impossible to find available positions for cooperation. Paper III: Three positions of father agency emerged in the analyses: (1) The Savior, (2) the Jungle Guide, and (3) a Beacon in a Fog of Uncertainty. Each position exemplifies fathers’ “world views,” “microcosmoses,” or “moral orders” of postdivorce dangers that surround children and shows how fathers typically position their children and their ethical stance in terms of parental agency. Our understanding of fathers’ agency from the perspective of positioning theory is fathers’ storylines (world views) about their obligation to carry through a line of action (perform agency) in response to how they perceive their children and their needs. This could be viewed as an alternative to understanding actions of father`s in high conflict divorce families that are often explained through the lens of psychopathology. Discussion and conclusive reflections: The discussion chapter in this thesis discusses patterns across the individual papers. In addition, some implications for professional practice and methodological strengths and limitations are discussed. The findings highlight how prolonged conflict positions the family system and how different family members typically construct and take up available subject positions to address conflict-related challenges. Such knowledge is relevant for Norwegian family counseling services and all agencies in contact with children and parents of postdivorce families, such as schools and child welfare agencies. It is also relevant internationally for professionals and various forms of behavioral and mental health services that aid children and parents in postdivorce families. This thesis further argues that children with parents in prolonged conflict are not passive victims but agents dealing with conflict challenges. Prolonged postdivorce conflict is found to be a disruptive positioning force and a threat to parents’ agency. This thesis argues that family counseling services should aid postdivorce parents within the boundaries of their joint capacity of cooperation and that parents in prolonged conflict might more successfully practice parallel parenting to reduce conflict exposure. This thesis also states that prolonged postdivorce conflict is a responsibility of society and not of conflicted parents or families alone. Therefore, it is important that welfare institutions, such as family counseling services, apply a nonjudgmental and systemic framework and take into account the different subject positions in the family mean. Furthermore, this thesis also adds to our knowledge of how various subjects’ positions taken up by that family members in families embedded in prolonged conflicts restrain the possibilities of other members from taking up their preferred subject position as a child, as a parent vis-à-vis the child, or in relation to the other parent. This study uses positioning theory to add an interconnected perspective of discourses of postdivorce families and how families negotiate subject positions. In the final reflection, family counseling services are warned against professional diagnostics and the use of terminology that creates a linear and fixed/rigid positioning of family members in prolonged postdivorce conflicts. This thesis has broad relevance for understanding challenges and dilemmas that family counseling services face today, as well as the more specific need for more research that investigates the meaning-making of children and parents as service users and how different welfare services position the postdivorce family with conflict-related challenges.
... The research literature (Anderson et al., 2010;Haddad, Phillips, & Bone, 2016;Johnston, 1994;Kosher & Katz, 2022;Smyth & Moloney, 2019;Stokkebekk, Iversen, Hollekim, & Ness, 2021) shows great variation in terminology when describing parental conflict. Coleman (2014) labels prolonged marital disputes as intractable conflicts characterised by escalation, hostile interactions, sentiment, and a change in quality over time. ...
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This article explores professionals' understanding and experiences of parental high conflicts in Norwegian family counsellor and child welfare services. The data were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis, examining four focus group interviews with a total of 24 professionals. We used tame and wicked problems as a theoretical frame of reference in order to discuss how high conflict cases can be understood. The analysis shows that the complexity and experiences of high conflicts challenge professionals in their assessments and development of solutions. Our conclusion is that the nature of the complexity, unpredictability, and instability of high conflicts fits within the framework of wicked problems.
... There has been a wide variety of positive child and family outcomes from supervised visitation discussed in the research. These include improved parental bonding, relationships and attachment (Ansay & Perkins, 2001;Johnston, 1994;McWey & Mullis, 2004); child well-being (Dunn, Flory, & Berg-Weger, 2004); child harm reduction (Field, 1998); increased reunification (Ansay & Perkins, 2001;Perkins & Ansay, 1998); decreased parental conflict (Dunn et al., 2004;Flory et al., 2001); and child safety for domestic violence victims (Field, 1998;Oehme & O'Rourke, 2012). Researchers have noted that more research on the impact of supervised visitation programs is needed (Birnbaum & Alaggia, 2006). ...
This paper describes how supervised visitation programs in Florida rapidly transitioned from in‐person supervised visits to virtual, online visits during the COVID‐19 pandemic to protect the health of families and staff. Structured telephonic interviews and an online survey revealed that although most program directors had not previously developed guiding policies or hosted such visits, within weeks they were providing hundreds of online “virtual visits” between children and their non‐custodial parents to maintain the crucial parent–child relationship in a safe manner. Vignettes from this data provide lessons regarding parent and child reactions to virtual visits, advantages and disadvantages of virtual visits from the programs' perspectives, and levels of enthusiasm for using virtual visits going forward. In addition, the data includes recommendations for new program guidelines and protocols for the ongoing use of virtual visits. Although it is too early to call these policies best practices, the study does offer insight into the challenges and opportunities afforded by virtual visits and can inform disaster planning that supervised visitation programs develop to prepare for inevitable future disruptions in services to families.
... Historikk med vold og andre krenkelser kan gjøre det saerlig krevende å etablere tillit. I andre tilfeller kan det vaere saertrekk i vaeremåten til en eller begge foreldrene, som for eksempel mellommenneskelig rigiditet, negativ oppførsel og/eller manglende foreldreferdigheter (Johnston, 1994;Samp, 2017) Kommunikasjonen er gjerne preget av sykluser med feiltolkninger, fastlåste forståelser, kritikk og krenkelser. Men, til tross for gjentagende og mislykkede forsøk på foreldresamarbeid fortsetter den «evige jakten etter å etablere det gode samarbeidet» i terapi og mekling (Watzlawick et al., 1967). ...
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This article presents the therapeutic approach “Strengthening Children in 2 Homes” and the authors’ clinical experience with families who have lived with long-term parental conflict after divorce or separation. Central concepts and goals will be discussed, dilemmas explored, and clinical illustrations presented. A resilience focus and the establishment of parallel parenting was experienced as contributing to reduced influence of parental conflict on the psychosocial functioning of the family. Increased parental coping and strengthening of child-parent relations in each household contributed to parents in the program reporting increased wellbeing. Keywords: family therapy, family conflict, divorce, child and family resilience
Divorce conflict is the main driver of adverse postdivorce health adjustments among divorcing families. Despite the growing potential of online divorce support programs, there is concern that such solutions might not be sufficient to impact health‐related disparities among high‐conflict divorcees. The present study examined the effectiveness of the digital “Cooperation after Divorce” intervention as a function of conflict among 1856 recently divorced Danish residents. Linear mixed‐effect regression modeling suggested that, although higher levels of divorce conflict at judicial divorce predicted worse health outcomes up to 1 year following divorce, the effectiveness of the digital divorce intervention did not vary as a function of the initial level of divorce conflict. Individuals in the intervention group with higher conflict in divorce still reported worse health at 12 months follow‐up than those with lower levels of divorce conflict; however, much lower than the control group.
Promoting the well-being and best interests of children in separated and divorcing families is a shared value among family court professionals and prevention scientists who develop and evaluate intervention programs. This article chronicles the development, evaluation, and implementation of two programs—the New Beginnings Program (NBP), a parenting intervention for separated/divorcing parents, and the Family Transitions Guide (FTG), an intervention designed to motivate high conflict separated/divorcing parents to attend the NBP. The development and evaluation of these programs was facilitated by a long-standing collaboration with Maricopa Family Court. We discuss the process of developing these programs, their underlying small theories, and the evaluation of their effects in randomized trials. We also describe our collaboration with the family court and ways that the court promoted the development and evaluation of these programs. Finally, we summarize lessons learned and discuss future directions to bolster the public health impact of evidence-based programs for separated/divorcing families.
Although many separating Australian couples make their own arrangements for property division, evidence suggests over 40% nominate either Family Dispute Resolution (FDR), lawyers or courts as their main pathway to settlement. Whereas it is compulsory to attempt FDR in parenting matters, this is not so for property matters. This paper examines client perspectives on property dispute resolution methods using interviews with 112 prospective FDR clients. Some proceeded to joint FDR and some did not, or proceeded for parenting matters only. Thematic analysis highlights the perceived benefits and disadvantages of FDR, compared to using lawyers or going to court, for property matters. We explore issues relating to the cost and character of each process, including implications for post-separation relationships. Often the initial motivation for choosing FDR was that of avoiding the legal alternatives, which were considered costlier, stressful and/or more acrimonious. After the fact, FDR participants could also identify advantages of the mediation process itself. We conclude that affordability and conflict mitigation are important to clients when choosing and evaluating pathways to property settlement. Those opting to use lawyers instead often wanted more guidance with regard to outcomes, or considered legal pathways more authoritative.
High levels of hostility often occur during and postdivorce and may significantly affect the quality of life, parent–child relationships, and social functioning of divorcees. Moreover, hostility may predict aggressive and violent behavior. This study sought to (a) compare average general hostility levels of a large sample of Danish divorcees to the norms of the general adult Danish population, (b) compare general hostility levels between male and female divorcees, and (c) investigate the explanatory value of various sociodemographic and divorce‐related factors on postdivorce general hostility and whether these factors differ across gender. Cross‐sectional baseline data (N = 1,856) from a larger randomized controlled trial study was used in this study. Normative data from a general sample of Danish adults (N = 2,040) was used for comparisons of hostility levels between our study sample and the Danish background population. This study found that male and female divorcees did not report significantly different hostility levels. However, participants reported significantly higher hostility levels postdivorce than the comparative Danish norm sample. Significant predictors of postdivorce hostility were lower age, lower educational level, infidelity as a reason for divorce, higher degree of postdivorce conflict, worse communication with the former spouse, the former spouse as the initiator of the divorce, and new partner status with neither divorcees having a new partner, or only the former spouse having a new partner. The predictive strength of the factors did not differ across gender. The findings may be especially relevant for interventions targeting problematic outcomes postdivorce (e.g., preventing aggressive behavior).
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Divorce and remarriage have become prominent features of American life. Nowadays many parents divide their attention and resources among two or more families, and children frequently grow up with multiple parents. Using a nationally representative household sample of children, we describe relations among parents, stepparents, and children after separation and divorce. Our results suggest that most children have little contact with their nonresident parents, and what contact there is tends to be social rather than instrumental. Contrary to popular impressions, however, when the former spouse remains active in the child's life, stepfamily life—at least in mother-stepfather families—does not seem to suffer.
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A model of family process was utilized to predict children's emotional adjustment and behavior problems during parents' divorce, in a sample of 178 children. Predictors included preseparation marital conflict, quality of parent-child relationships, child temperament, loss of a parent, and postseparation parental conflict. Four dimensions of the parent-child relationship during divorce were assessed. The relationship between marital conflict and child adjustment was indirect, mediated by the parent-child relationship; that is, parents who had less marital conflict had better relationships with their children after separation, which in turn was associated with more adaptive child functioning. Children with more difficult temperaments had more positive relationships with their fathers but also had more problematic emotional adjustment.
This longitudinal study examines direct and indirect influences of marital discord on the behavioral and emotional adjustment of 154 children two years after parental filing for divorce. Indirect effects investigated include parent-child relationships, parental conflict, and child access to the less-seen parent. Marital conflict contributes to problematic emotional and behavioral child adjustment, largely indirectly through poorer mother-child relationships. Disputing spouses also have higher postseparation conflict and children with more behavioral problems. These findings, consistent with those of previous studies of intact families, identify family processes that influence child development regardless of parents' marital status.
Responding to demand from separated parents and courts for ways to manage intractable child access disputes, services that supervise parent-child contacts are emerging across the United States and Canada. This article traces the evolution of this new social service, describes programs, and presents practical issues.