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Parent Psychoeducational Programs and Reducing the Negative Effects of Interparental Conflict Following Divorec

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This article reviews psychoeducational programs to reduce interparental conflict in divorcing families and the negative impact of conflict on children. The authors initially identify factors shown in the basic psychosocial research literature to be related to the effects of interparental conflict on children. They then review the content of programs currently being delivered and evaluate the evidence from well-controlled studies concerning their effectiveness. Finally, the article considers directions for future program development and evaluation.
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PARENT PSYCHOEDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS
AND REDUCING THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF
INTERPARENTAL CONFLICT FOLLOWING DIVORCE
Matthew Goodman
Darya Bonds
Irwin Sandler
Sanford Braver
This article reviews psychoeducational programs to reduce interparental conflict in divorcing families and the neg-
ative impact
of
conflict on children. The authors initially identify factors shown in the basic psychosocial research
literature to be related
to
the effects of interparental conflict
on
children. They then review the content of programs
currently being delivered and evaluate the evidence
from
well-controlled studies concerning their effectiveness.
Finally, the article considers directions
for
future program development and evaluation.
Keywords:
psychoeducational programs; prevention: parenting: interparental conflict; divorre
Interest in developing interventions to reduce the effects of interparental conflict in
divorcing families is motivated by findings that
10%
to
25%
of divorced families remain
highly conflicted long after separation (Maccoby
&
Mnookin,
1992),
that children from high-
conflict divorce families are at greater risk for adjustment problems (Hetherington,
1999),
and that high-conflict divorced families use
a
disproportionate amount of court resources
(Kline Pruett, Nangle,
&
Bailey,
2000).
The purpose of this article is to discuss current parent
psychoeducational programs in terms of their focus on interparental conflict. First, we pres-
ent
a
multidimensional conceptualization of interparental conflict and identify the different
potential targets
of
these programs. We then describe current approaches to reducing the
effects of conflict in terms of the content of the programs and evidence concerning their
effects. Our review includes programs that are targeted to the full population of divorcing
families (universal programs) and those that are designed specifically for high-conflict
divorcing families (targeted programs). Finally, we discuss directions for future research and
interventions to reduce the negative effects of interparental conflict in divorcing families.
RESEARCH ON INTERPARENTAL CONFLICT
KNOWLEDGE BASE FOR INTERVENTIONS
MULTIDIMENSIONAL CONCEPTUALIZATION OF
INTERPARENTAL CONFLICT
We conceptualize interparental conflict
as
including three main types: legal conflicts,
interpersonal conflicts, and attitudinal conflict. Legal conflict involves actions in the court
Authors’
Note:
Requests for reprints should be sent to
Invin
Sandler: Department
of
Psychology, Prevention
Research Center: Arizona State University, Tempe,
AZ
85287-1104:
e-mail: Irwin.sandler@asu.edu.
FAMILY
COURT
REVIEW,
Vol.
42
No. 2,
April
2004
263-279
0
2004
Association
of
Family
and Conciliation
Courts
263
264
FAMILY COURT REVIEW
Table
1
Multidimensional
Anu1ysi.s
of
Interparental Conflict and Children
S
Adjuvtmenr
Father’s Mother’s
Attitude Attitude
Interpersonal
Legal
About About Children’s
Conflict Conflict Mother Father Adjustment
lnterpersonal conflict
1
.oo
Legal conflict 0.39**
1
.oo
Children’s adjustment 0.30**
0.14
0.20
0.19
1
.oo
Father’s attitude about mother
0.35**
0.24*
1
.oo
Mother’s attitude about father
0.46**
0.24*
0.06
1
.oo
*I,
<
.05.
**p
<
.01.
system such as continued litigation, requests for change in decrees, and enforcement actions
for noncompliance with the decree. Interpersonal conflict involves a wide range of conflict
behavior between the parents including verbal disputes, physical violence, and badmouth-
ing. Attitudinal conflict involves the parents’ anger and hostility toward their ex-spouse,
including their negative attitude toward their ex-spouse in the parenting role. Within this
typology of interparental conflict there are also four important conflict dimensions to con-
sider: topics (i.e., child custody), tactics (i.e., physical aggression), intensity (i.e., degree of
hostility), and frequency (Johnston, 1994).
Table
1
displays the correlations between interpersonal conflict, legal conflict, attitudinal
conflict, and child adjustment problems from a reanalysis of survey data collected by Braver
and
Griffin
(2000)
of 94 matched pairs of mothers and fathers 4 to
10
months after the final-
ization of divorce. This sample was obtained as a random sample from public divorce
records. The following criteria were used to determine eligibility for participation: (a) both
members of the couple resided in Maricopa County, (b) both members of the couple were
willing to participate in an interview about the relationship (because we were seeking
matched reports between spouses), and (c) the couples had one child aged
4
to
12.
Parents
were paid
$20
each for their participation. Interpersonal conflict was assessed by a cornpos-
ite of mother and father reports on two measures. One of the measures was the 13-item Chil-
dren’s Perception of Interparental Conflict Scale developed by Grych and Fincham
(I
992)
(sample item: “The child knows that my ex and
I
argue or disagree
a
lot”) and the other mea-
sure was the 15-item Braver Conflict Breadth Scale developed specifically for this study (in
which the parents were asked how much conflict they currently had about such matters as
child support payments, discipline of the child, and dating relationships). Legal conflict was
measured by a composite of mother and father reports on one item (“Following your divorce,
how much conflict between you and your ex has been expressed through the legal system?”).
Mother and father reports of attitudinal conflict were uncorrelated, and thus were not
summed to
form
a composite measure. Attitudinal conflict was measured by the 4-item
Incompetent Parent Scale from Ahrons and Wallisch (1987) (sample item:
“I
have felt my ex
is an irresponsible parent”). Child adjustment problems were measured by the composite of
mother and father reports
on
the Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach, 1991). As depicted
in Table 1, interpersonal, legal, and attitudinal conflict were moderately related to each other.
Furthermore, only interpersonal conflict, not legal
or
attitudinal conflict, was significantly
related to children’s adjustment problems. This analysis suggests that the different types of
interparental conflict are interrelated, yet they have differing effects on child adjustment
problems.
Goodman
et
al.
I
PROGRAMS FOR INTERPARENTAL CONFLICT
265
PREVIOUS
RESEARCH
Legal interparental conflict.
Although
it
is logical to believe that ongoing legal conflict
between parents is associated with problem outcomes for children, there is relatively little
empirical evidence on this issue. Clinical observations indicate that children
in
extremely
high-conflict families (who are high on legal, interpersonal, and attitudinal conflict) are two
to four times more likely to have high levels of behavioral and mental health symptoms com-
pared to national norms (Johnston
&
Campbell, 1988). However, evidence is more mixed
concerning the relations between litigation and child adjustment in the general population of
divorcing families, with some studies finding that use of an attorney is actually related to
lower child adjustment problems (Kline Pruett, Williams, Insabella,
&
Little, 2003; Wolman
&
Taylor, 199 1). These relations are currently not well understood and may reflect a correla-
tion between litigation and other family variables such as parental socioeconomic status or
parental mental health.
Research also has examined factors that influence the level of children’s adjustment prob-
lems
in
divorcing families experiencing high legal conflict. Johnston, Kline, and Tschann
(1989; Johnston, 1994) reported that within these high-legal conflict families, children with
more frequent visitation with the noncustodial parent tended to be more aggressive,
depressed, and withdrawn, and had more somatic symptoms. Further analysis indicated that
the relations of noncustodial parent visitation with children’s behavior problems was par-
tially accounted for by higher aggression between the parents and children being caught in
the middle of the conflict. Although the authors rightly recommend caution in interpreting
this finding, the statistical model they present is consistent with other findings concerning
the negative relation between noncustodial parent visitation and child adjustment in high-
conflict divorced families (Amato
&
Rezac, 1994).
Attitudinal interparental conflict.
Investigations of the effects of attitudinal interparental
conflict on child adjustment are few and far between because previous studies have failed to
make the distinction between the different types conflict. As described above, results from
the current study indicated that attitudinal conflict was not a significant predictor of child
adjustment problems after controlling for the effects of legal and interpersonal conflict. Sim-
ilarly, Kline Pruett et al.
(2003)
reported that having a positive view of the ex-spouse (i.e.,
low attitudinal conflict) was not a significant predictor of child internalizing and external-
izing problems. The results of their study also indicated that attitudinal conflict and inter-
personal conflict were significantly related, and interpersonal conflict was a significant pre-
dictor of child adjustment problems. Another study reported that parental hostility (i.e.,
attitudinal conflict) following divorce was significantly related to the amount of legal con-
flict (Maccoby
&
Mnookin, 1992).
To
date, the research provides no support for a relation
between attitudinal conflict and child adjustment in divorced families; however, further
research is needed to adequately study this issue.
Interpersonal interparental conflict.
A large body of research indicates that interpersonal
conflict negatively affects children’s emotional and cognitive functioning, placing children
at risk for externalizing and internalizing disorders (Davies
&
Cummings, 1994; Grych
&
Fincham, 2001). Illustratively, laboratory studies have shown that exposure to interparental
conflict and expressions of anger between parents leads to negative emotional
arousal
in
children and adolescents (Davies
&
Cummings, 1994). This research also finds that repeated
exposure to interparental conflict leads to greater distress when witnessing subsequent con-
266
FAMILY
COURT
REVIEW
flicts. These findings have important implications concerning
the
continuing high levels of
interpersonal conflict that occurs following some divorces.
Two models have been used to describe the internal emotional and cognitive processes
affected by children’s exposure to interpersonal conflict: the emotional security hypothesis
(Davies
&
Cummings, 1994) and the cognitive contextual framework (Grych
&
Fincham,
1990). Davies and Cummings (1994) described emotional security as a set goal by which
children regulate their own functioning and form internal representations of themselves and
their family as secure or insecure. Research has indicated that exposure to interparental con-
flict threatens children’s emotional security, which then leads to child adjustment problems
(Davies
&
Cummings, 1998).
The cognitive contextual framework implies that children’s internal representations of
the family are determined by their assessment of self-relevance, relative threat, and adequacy
of coping skills
in
response to interparental conflict. Research has supported this model by
showing that children who have been exposed to higher levels of interparental conflict tend
to evaluate conflicts more negatively and perceive interparental conflicts as more threat-
ening (Grych, 1998). Furthermore, the literature has identified several important cognitive
processes that affect child adjustment after divorce: positive illusions about the divorce si
tu-
ation, negative cognitive errors about the divorce situation (i.e., overgeneralizing; Mazur,
Wolchik,
&
Sandler, 1992), and fear of abandonment (Wolchik, Tein, Sandler,
&
Doyle,
2002).
Research has also shown that the effect of conflict on children is affected by messages
about conflict resolution. Cummings and Davies (1994), on the basis of numerous studies,
concluded that children’s negative responses to interparental conflict are significantly
reduced when the conflicts are resolved. They reported that children’s distress reactions
to
conflict were reduced even when apologies were delivered with an angry tone (Shifflett-
Simpson
&
Cummings, 1996) and when parents told the child that the conflict would be
resolved soon (Cummings
&
Wilson, 1999). In addition to resolution strategies, the fre-
quency of occurrence, intensity,
or
whether the conflict involves the child may also be impor-
tant factors (Grych
&
Fincham, 1990; Margolin, Gordis,
&
John,
2001).
Mediators and moderators
of
the effects
of
interparental conflict. Interparental conflict
may also affect children’s adjustment indirectly, through its influence on other processes,
particularly parenting (Davies
&
Cummings, 1994). The evidence indicates that inter-
parental conflict is associated with a deterioration
of
positive parenting practices (i.e.,
responsiveness), as well as an escalation of negative parenting practices (i.e., harshness;
Harold
&
Conger, 1997). In addition, research has identified parenting as a mediator of the
effects of interparental conflict on children (Fauber, Forehand, Thomas,
&
Wierson, 1990).
This process applies to father’s parenting (Kline
hett
et al.,
2003)
and mother’s parenting
(Sturge-Apple, Gondoli, Bonds,
&
Salem, in press).
From a family systems perspective, the effects of interparental conflict may be mediated
by the relationship the child has with both parents (Minuchin, 1985). That is, research
has found that one of the mechanisms by which the effects of interparental conflict affects
child adjustment is through the children being caught in loyalty conflicts between the parents
and by role reversal in which the child takes on a protective role with one of the parents
(Buchanan, Maccoby,
&
Dornbusch, 1991).
Another factor that may mediate the negative effects of interparental conflict on children
of divorce is parental mental health problems. Research has indicated that parents involved
in
high-conflict divorces are at greater risk for severe psychopathology and substance abuse
Goodman
et
af.
/
PROGRAMS FOR INTERPARENTAL CONFLICT
267
i
i
:
1
D
Figure
1.
Model
of
research-supported factors
that
influence the effects
of
interparental
conflict
on
children
of
divotre.
Interoarental Conflict
A
Ongoing Litigation
problems (Johnston,
1994),
suggesting that parental psychopathology may be part of the
chain of events that lead to child adjustment problems in high-conflict divorce families. In
support of this notion, interparental conflict has been identified as a significant predictor of
parental psychopathology, and the link between parental psychopathology and poor child
adjustment has been well documented (Zahn-Waxler, Duggal,
&
Gruber, 2002). Interest-
ingly, recent research supports a bidirectional effect between interparental conflict and
parental psychopathology. Thus, interparental conflict may exacerbate parental psycho-
pathology, while at the same time parental psychopathology may impede positive inter-
parental relations (Maccoby
&
Martin,
1983).
Child Adjustment
Problems
SUMMARY
Figure
1
presents a model
of
the pathways by which interparental conflict influences the
adjustment
of
children of divorce. The box at the far left lists the aspects
of
conflict that are
found to influence child adjustment. The evidence is limited and mixed for ongoing litiga-
tion, but indicates that very high levels of continued litigation that co-occur with high levels
of interpersonal conflict are associated with elevated adjustment problems. Other factors,
such as repeated exposure to interpersonal conflict and involvement of the child in the con-
flict, are clearly linked to child adjustment problems in multiple studies. Notably absent is
evidence concerning what we have termed attitudinal conflict, the degree to which the par-
ents are hostile to each other
or
view parenting by the other in an unfavorable light. The mid-
dle box shows multiple factors that mediate or moderate the linkage between conflict and
child adjustment, including factors having to do with the child (i.e., emotional security or
cognitive evaluation of the conflict) or the parents (i.e.. the quality of parenting
or
psycho-
pathology). Notably absent are factors such as amount (rather than quality)
of
contact with
the parents, which are more complexly related to child adjustment, particularly in very high-
conflict families. The circle at the upper left indicates that these factors are potential targets
for
interventions to improve child adjustment following divorce. Multiple intervention strat-
egies might follow from this model, and we
know
little about their relative effectiveness.
For
268
FAMILY
COURT
REVIEW
example, children’s exposure to conflict may be reduced either by actually decreasing the
level of interpersonal conflict between the parents or by teaching parents to keep the child
out
of
the war zone by not enmeshing them in the conflict. Alternatively, giving the child
reassuring messages about the conflict (i.e., that
it
is not their fault, that the child will con-
tinue to be cared for by the parents, and that the conflict will be resolved) may be important in
reducing the negative effects of conflict exposure. In addition, the negative effects of conflict
may be reduced by directly strengthening the factors that mediate and moderate the effects of
interparental conflict on child adjustment. For example, one of
the
most consistent mediators
of the effects
of
conflict is the quality of parenting, and programs that directly support high
quality parenting by the custodial or noncustodial parent may reduce the negative impact
of conflict on children. We now turn to reviewing the intervention literature with divorcing
families to examine the variables actually targeted for change, and their efficacy in improv-
ing these outcomes.
PARENT PSYCHOEDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS
Multiple models
of
psychoeducational programs have been developed to address the
problem of continuing conflict between divorced parents. Our review will address two
issues: (a) What are the goals and the content of the programs? We will be particularly inter-
ested in the degree to which the programs address factors supported by research as affecting
either the occurrence or effects of interparental conflict. (b) What are the demonstrated
effects of these programs? We are interested in effects on any aspect of conflict, including
attitudinal conflict (i.e., attitude toward parenting role for the other parent), interpersonal
conflict (i.e., how much parents fight or involve the children), or legal conflict (i.e., ongoing
litigation). We also review factors that have been demonstrated to influence the degree to
which conflict affects children’s postdivorce adjustment, such as quality of parenting by the
custodial or noncustodial parent and children’s interpretations
of
the conflict. We will review
programs that are designed for all divorcing families (universal) because interparental con-
flict is related to child adjustment for the general population
of
divorced families, as well as
programs that are specifically targeted for high-conflict families (targeted). Finally, we will
consider a more comprehensive approach that brings together the strengths of different
programs.
UNIVERSAL
PROGRAMS
Content
of
Universal Programs
Parent education programs for divorcing parents have become extremely widespread
and, as of the late 1990s,
1,5
16 counties offered such programs (68% of respondents in a
national survey; see Geasler
&
Blaisure, 1999). These programs are generally short (mode of
2
hours for court-provided programs and
4
hours for community-provided programs), and
may either be mandated for all families or be widely available but not required. These pro-
grams are generally rated as positive and helpful by parents and court personnel (Geasler
&
Blaisure, 1999). Two surveys of short-term parent education programs provided information
about their content (Braver, Salem, Pearson,
&
DeLusC, 1996; Geasler
&
Blaisure, 1999).
Geasler and Blaisure (1999) report that many programs target reducing children’s exposure
to conflict
(64%),
improving parenting skills (55%) and decreasing legal complaints
(32%).
Goodman
et
al.
/
PROGRAMS FOR INTERPARENTAL
CONFLICT
269
Braver et al. (1996) report that three of the most intensively covered topics involved
interparental conflict (i.e., benefits of cooperation vs. conflict, impact of badmouthing, con-
flict resolution skills). Parenting skills received somewhat less coverage, and legal options
for dispute resolution received still less coverage. In addition, several studies of experi-
mental parent-focused programs designed to improve adjustment of children following
divorce have recently been published (i.e., Wolchik et al.,
2000).
Although these pro-
grams are not specifically designed for high-conflict families, they target factors that
affect children’s adjustment to interparental conflict (i.e., parenting skills and children’s
exposure to conflict).
Techniques to decrease interparental conflict.
Several change techniques are used to
reduce interparental conflict. We discuss them in order of least intensive to most intensive.
At the least intensive end of the continuum, most of the programs provide information
attempting to convey to parents that interparental conflict negatively affects children. This
information might be in written form or simply presented verbally.
Next, some of the short-term programs provide information about resources that may
help parents resolve their legal conflict. The PEACE program (Atwood,
2001)
provides par-
ents with a description of the legal process and how custody disputes are resolved. The Chil-
dren in
the
Middle Program (Arbuthnot
&
Gordon, 1996) provides parents with a list of dif-
ferent legal services and outlines not only the legal costs and benefits of these approaches but
also the cost and benefit to the parents and children.
Next, many of the programs attempt to motivate parents to decrease interparental conflict
by using videotaped vignettes to describe how interparental conflict affects children. The
Children First program
(L.
JSramer
&
Washo, 1993) presents several video vignettes of
interparental conflict and incorporates
a
discussion of the impact that conflict has on chil-
dren. The discussion and videos are used to motivate parents to put the needs of their children
before the conflict with their child’s other parent.
A fourth technique is that many programs specifically focus on how involving children
in
the conflict lead to increased child adjustment problems. For example, the Children in the
Middle Program (Arbuthnot
&
Gordon, 1996) shows parents video vignettes of children: (a)
carrying stressful messages between parents, (b) seeing their parents criticizing each other,
(c) becoming involved in money-related issues, and (d) telling a parent about the other
parent’s life. After the video, the parents discuss how the destructive behaviors affected the
children. Another program, New Beginnings (Weiss
&
Wolchik, 1998), addresses bad-
mouthing between parents and why parents might be tempted to bad-mouth each other.
The fifth, most intensive technique is that many programs teach parents problem-solving
and communication skills that will help them resolve their conflict. The Dads for Life pro-
gram (Braver, Griffin, Cookston, Sandler,
&
Williams, in press) illustrates effective and inef-
fective methods of resolving conflict using video vignettes. The program postulates that
conflict becomes unproductive when parents try to win the argument or when one of the par-
ents “checks out” or avoids conflict. The videos highlight and the parents practice productive
methods of resolving conflict. The New Beginnings program (Weiss
&
Wolchik, 1998)
encourages parents to develop self-statements (e.g., “Just because he is a jerk, I don’t have to
be one”) to help them manage their anger when their children are present. In addition,
it
encourages parents to practice talking to their friends and family about not bad-mouthing
their child’s other parent. Programs (i.e., Children in the Middle) also encourage
“I”
state-
ments to help parents clearly articulate what they want and not what the other parent is doing
wrong.
270
FAMILY
COURT REVIEW
Techniques
ro
improve parenting.
Several different approaches are used to improve par-
enting. Some programs focus primarily on increasing contact between children and the non-
custodial parent (Arbuthnot
&
Gordon, 1996), but others attempt to improve the quality of
the relationship that the child has with the custodial and noncustodial parent (i.e., Forgatch
&
DeGarmo, 1999; Weiss
&
Wolchik, 1998). The programs that target contact use a variety
of
techniques to increase the amount of time that children spend with the noncustodial parent.
The Children in the Middle Program (Arbuthnot
&
Gordon, 1996) presents a video interview
with a parent describing why he avoids contact with his children. The program hypothesizes
that one reason why parents avoid spending time with their children is that they do not want
to argue with the other parent. As aresult, the program highlights communication skills such
as active listening that decrease the level of conflict with the other parent. It is notable that
this approach encourages parallel parenting by both parents rather than cooperation between
the parents.
Programs that target the quality of parenting teach positive parenting skills (i.e., warmth)
and negative parenting skills (i-e., limit setting) that relate to better child adjustment
in
divorced and nondivorced families (i.e., Wolchik et
al.,
2000). Consistent with the research
reviewed above, by improving the quality of parenting, these programs may dilute the im-
pact that interparental conflict has on children’s adjustment.
Helping parents plan family activities is one way these programs improve the positive
quality of parenting (i.e., Braver et al., in press; Devlin, Brown, Beebe,
&
Parulis, 1992;
Wolchik et al.,
2000).
For example, the New Beginnings program teaches parents to plan
short (15-minute) periods of one-on-one time with the child. During this period, the child
chooses the activity and the parent gives his or her child undivided attention and focuses on
what the child is doing well and does not criticize the child. During the program, parents
watch a videotape of a one-on-one activity and are given an opportunity to role-play. After
the role-play, the parents discuss the benefit that children receive from this activity and the
importance of warmth and acceptance are highlighted. Programs that were developed for
fathers also emphasize the importance of planning activities that allow parents to interact
with their child in natural environments. Another technique is to teach communication skills
between the parent and child (i.e., Braver et al., in press; Devlin et al., 1992; Forgatch
&
DeGarmo, 1999; Wolchik et al., 2000).
For
example, Dads for Life uses a video with a base-
ball metaphor in which listening skills are portrayed as catching the ball.
Other techniques focus
on
limit setting with their children (i.e., Braver et al., in press;
Devlin et
al.,
1992; Forgatch
&
DeGarmo, 1999; Wolchik et al.,
2000).
For example, the New
Beginnings program takes a three-tier approach to helping parents improve their discipline
skills. The first is to discuss the importance of clear, consistent, and age-appropriate limits.
The second step is to discuss the consequences for misbehavior. Attention is placed not only
on consequences that are meant to punish negative behavior but also consequences that are
meant to reinforce positive behavior. Parents are also provided with an opportunity to role-
play implementing these consequences and
are
encouraged to be consistent with these lim-
its. The last step
of
the program is developing a specific behavior plan for the child. Parents
are taught how to monitor progress, evaluate effectiveness, and actually practice implement-
ing their plan.
EVALUATION
OF
UNIVERSAL PARENTING PROGRAMS
The criteria we use for considering evidence of program effects are that the evaluation
report be available
in
the published professional literature (or dissertation abstracts), that the
Goodman
et
al.
/
PROGRAMS
FOR
INTERPARENTAL CONFLICT
27
I
research design includes
at
least a comparison between the program and a control group
(randomly assigned or other: the nonequivalent control group), that pretesting and post-
testing be included to assess program effects on change over time (particularly critical where
groups are not randomly assigned to conditions; see
Cook
&
Campbell, 1979), that a quanti-
tative measure be used to assess the outcomes, and that appropriate statistical tests be
employed to assess differences in change between those in the program and control condi-
tion. Although several evaluations utilize posttest-only assessment with a nonrandom con-
trol group, we did not include them because this design allows only very weak inferences
concerning program effects (see Braver, Smith,
&
DeLusC, 1997).
Table
2
includes results from four separate short-term parent education programs. None
of the studies used a randomized experimental design, which allows for the strongest con-
clusions concerning program effects. One study (DeLusC,
1999)
used a regression disconti-
nuity design that has been advocated as a powerful design for detecting program effects (see
Cook
&
Campbell, 1979), and the others used a nonequivalent control group design. The
sample sizes of the evaluations are large, with four of the five studies having sample sizes of
more than
100
and one study having a sample size
of
more than
400.
This indicates that the
studies have adequate power to detect treatment effects
(Cook
&
Campbell, 1979). Most of
the evaluations used only parent report measures to assess treatment outcomes, which may
positively bias the results because parents may be aware of intended program effects and
may respond in the direction that is desired by the program. One strength of these evalua-
tions
is
that three of the four programs were connected with local family courts and were pro-
vided in community agencies, showing that the programs were studied under “real-world”
conditions.
Short-termprograms.
Based on the studies reviewed in Table
2,
there is some support that
one of the short-term programs affected interpersonal conflict but only mixed support that
other programs affect interparental conflict. An evaluation of the Children in the Middle pro-
gram
(K.
M. Kramer, Arbuthnot, Gordon, Rousis,
&
Hoza, 1998) indicated that the families
who received the program, when compared to families who did not receive the program,
reported less conflict on two of the four different measures of interparental conflict. Parents
in the treatment group reported they improved their parental communication and reduced
their children’s exposure to conflict significantly more than a comparison group. There were
no significant differences in parents’ report of domestic violence or reports of actual overt
conflict. Another program, Children First, was evaluated in two separate investigations
(K.
M.
Kramer et al., 1998; L . Kramer
&
Washo, 1993). In one evaluation
(L.
Kramer
&
Washo, 1993), the study did not indicate that the families who received the program reported
lower levels of interparental conflict than the control group, but follow-up analysis sug-
gested that parents who were identified as high-conflict families may have benefited from
the program. The results
from
the other study
(K.
M.
Kramer et
al.,
1998) suggested that the
program had an impact on only one of the four measures of interparental conflict. A third
program, Kids in Divorce and Separation, was evaluated by a study that used six measures of
interparental conflict (Shifflett
&
Cummings, 1999). On three of these measures there was a
significant difference between the treatment and control group. However, the conclusions
from these analyses are limited because of large pretest differences between the groups
(more than 1
SO)
that violates the assumptions of an analysis
of
the nonequivalent control
group design (Reichart, 1979). Taken together, the results indicate that there is some evi-
dence that the Children in the Middle program influences interparental conflict, but only a
N
4
N
Table
2
Evuluutions
of
Short-Grm Psychoeducational Pmgrams
Study
High-
Interpersonal Attitude Legal Quality Children
Program
n
Design Measure Setting Conflict Conflict Conflict Parenting Adjustment
Sholt-term programs
Kramer& Wash0 (1993) Children First 21
1
Nonequivalent Parent Community
Kramer
&
Kowal (1998) Children Fin1
21
1
Nonequivalent Archival retrieval Community
Shifflett
&
Cummings
(
1999) Kids 39 Nonequivalent Parent Not reported
Kramer et
al.
(
1998)
Kramer et
al.
(1998)
DeLusC
(
1999)b
Long-term programs
Wolchik et al. (2000, 2003)
Wolchik et al. (1993)
Forgatch et al. (1999,
2001)
Devlin et al. (1992)
Children in the 189 Nonequivalent Parent Community
Children First
166
Nonequivalent Parent Community
Mandated Divorce 412 Regression Archival retrieval Community
Middle
discontinuity
New Beginnings
157
Experimental Multiple Method Research
New Beginningsb
70
Experimental Multiple Method Research
Parenting 238 Experimental Multiple Method Research
Through
Change
Education
for
Fathers
Parent
30
Nonequivalent Parent Community
Nonsignificant No lest No test Nonsignificant
No
test No test Nonsignificant' No test
3
of
6
significant' No test No test No test
2
of
4 significant No test No test No test
I
of
4
significant No test No test No test
No test
No
test Nonsignificant No test
Nonsignificant' Significantd
No
test 4of6
Nonsignificant Nonsignificant No test 60f9
No
test
No
test No test Significant
significant"
significant
No
test Nonsignificant No test 4of6
Yignificant
Nonsignificant
No test
No
test
Nonsignificant
Nonsignificant
No test
30f4
significant
significant
2of5
Significant
No test
a. Article reported group differences, but the analysis violates assumptions
of
an
ANOVA, which made the results difficult to interpret.
b. Dissertation.
c.
Relitigation rates
are
significant only
for
high-conflict families.
d.
Treatment by baseline interactions change the results.
Goodman
et
al.
/
PROGRAMS
FOR
INTERPARENTAL
CONFLICT
273
sparse amount of evidence to suggest that other parenting programs affect interparental
conflict.
Table 2 also indicates that some studies examined the impact that short-term programs
had on relitigation. One of the studies (DeLuse‘, 1999) indicated that parents who received a
short-term program did not have lower relitigation rates than comparison families. Another
study (Kramer
&
Kowal, 1998) also indicated that parents who received the program did not
have lower relitigation rates than a comparison group; however, the results did suggest that
high-conflict families who received the program relitigated less than
a
high-conflict control
group. Taken together, this suggests that whereas the short-term programs do not influence
relitigation rates for most families, they may influence relitigation rates for high-conflict
families.
The evaluations also indicate that there is no evidence to suggest that
short-term programs
impact high-quality parenting
or
attitudinal conflict. One reason that high-quality parenting
was not assessed is that the programs were not specifically designed to affect high-quality
parenting. The one study that did examine this (Kramer
&
Washo, 1993) did not report any
significant differences. None
of
the programs examined the impact that the short-term pro-
grams had on attitudinal conflict.
The evaluations also suggest that short-term programs do not affect children’s adjust-
ment. Four evaluations did examine how short-term programs affected children’s adjust-
ment, and none of the programs reported any significant differences between the treatment
and comparison families. This indicates that there
is
no empirical evidence to suggest that
short-term parenting programs improve children’s well-being.
Long-term
programs.
Table
2
also presents the results of the studies examining the effec-
tiveness of longer term parenting programs. The table indicates that the evaluations of these
programs were more rigorous than the evaluations of the short-term programs. For example,
three of the four studies listed used a randomized experimental design to examine the results.
In addition, four of these evaluations used multiple measures from multiple reporters as out-
come variables to test program effects. A weakness of these studies is that they were primar-
ily conducted in research settings rather than under real-world conditions of the courts.
The table indicates that none of the studies examined how the long-term programs
affected legal conflict, and only the New Beginnings program evaluations examined how the
programs affected interpersonal conflict. One of the studies indicated that the program did
not influence interpersonal conflict (Wolchik et al., 1993), and the other study indicated that
the program affected conflict for the high-conflict families but did not for the other families.
This weak effect may be attributed to the lack of emphasis the program placed on inter-
parental conflict (2 out
of
1
1
sessions) compared to high-quality parenting
(9
sessions). One
promising program (Dads for Life) that did put more emphasis on interparental conflict is
currently being evaluated, and initial analyses do suggest that it has
an
impact
of
reducing
interparental conflict as measured by parental report and behavioral observation (Braver
et al., in press).
Three of the four evaluations also examined how the long-term programs affected attitu-
dinal conflict, assessed as parental attitude toward the child’s relationship with the other par-
ent. The results indicate that for two of the evaluations (Devlin et al., 1992; Wolchik et al.,
1993), there were no significant differences between the treatment and control families
in
attitudinal conflict. Another evaluation (Wolchik et al., 2000) indicated that the impact is dif-
ferent depending on the initial level
of
conflict. This evaluation indicated that for parents
274
FAMILY
COURT
REVIEW
who initially had a more negative attitude, the program led to an improvement
in
their atti-
tude to the other parent.
Although the effect that longer parenting programs have on interparental conflict remains
unclear, there is strong evidence that several
of
these programs promote high-quality
parenting. All of the studies indicate that the programs had an impact on the majority of the
measures of high-quality parenting. Two of the studies indicate that impact is different,
depending on the parents’ initial relationship with their child (Wolchik et al., 1993, 2000).
The results for both New Beginnings studies suggest that parents who initially had worse
relationships with their children benefited more from the program than the parents who ini-
tially had better relationships with their children.
Additionally, the evaluations find that children benefit from the longer parenting pro-
grams (Martinez
&
Forgatch, 2001; Wolchik et al.,
2000;
Wolchik, Sandler et al., 2002). For
example, evaluation of the New Beginnings program found short-term effects for the pro-
gram to improve children’s externalizing problems, particularly for those who had higher
levels of problems at the time they entered the program (Wolchik et al., 2000). A long-term
evaluation of the program (Wolchik, Sandler et al.,
2002)
indicates that children benefit from
the program
6
years after the intervention on a wide range of measures, including reduced
levels of mental health problems and reduced use of alcohol, marijuana, and drugs. Further
analyses revealed that children who were at the highest
risk
of developing mental health
problems (due to high levels of parental stress, interparental conflict, and child externalizing
problems) benefited the most from this program (Dawson-McClure, Sandler, Wolchik,
&
Milsap, in press). Illustratively, there was a
46%
reduction in the prevalence of diagnosed
mental disorder
6
years later in the high-risk children whose mothers participated in the
program as compared with the high-risk children in the comparison group.
In summary, the results
of
the longer term programs provide encouraging evidence about
improving parenting and child adjustment, and a newly emerging program shows promise of
reducing the occurrence of interparental conflict. There is some evidence that short-term
programs reduce interpersonal conflict but no evidence that they improve parenting or child
adjustment.
TARGETED INTERVENTIONS
Psychoeducational Programs for High-Conflict Families
Targeted psychoeducational programs have also been developed specifically for high-
conflict families. According to a survey
of
court-connected parenting education programs
(Geasler
&
Blaisure, 1999), a substantial
(N=
75)
number of communities offer some type of
psychoeducational programs to high-conflict families.
A
review of these programs indicates
that long (i.e., Kibler, Sanchez,
&
Baker-Jackson, 1994; McIsaac
&
Finn, 1999) and short
formats (ie., Maricopa County Family Court,
2001)
are used to provide services to these
high-conflict families.
A
review
of
the targeted high-conflict programs indicates that they
include activities to reduce interparental conflict, but it remains unclear
if
they provide activ-
ities directed at high-quality parenting. The programs reviewed (i.e., Kibler et al., 1994;
McIsaac
&
Finn, 1999) discuss the impact that interparental conflict has on children and
present skills to reduce conflict, but they do not include activities that focus on the parents’
relationship with their children (i.e., parental warmth or limit setting). Although a substantial
number of counties implement psychoeducational programs for high-conflict families
(Geasler
&
Blaisure, 1999), we have not found any published evaluations using appropriate
Goodman
et
al.
/
PROGRAMS
FOR
INTERPARENTAL CONFLICT
275
control groups on the effectiveness of these programs. Future research, therefore, is needed
to determine if these programs indeed reduce interparental conflict and improve children’s
adjustment.
IMPLICATIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS
The goal of this review was to examine psychoeducational programs aimed at reducing
interparental conflict and preventing the harmful effects of interparental conflict
on
chil-
dren’s adjustment
in
divorced and separated families. We reviewed a broad range of pro-
grams, from those that are delivered universally to those that are targeted at high-conflict
families, and including shorter and more intensive programs. The findings from the review
will be summarized in terms of four questions: What factors are programs currently trying to
change?
How
does that compare to the factors that research supports as positively affecting
the adjustment of children to interparental conflict? What is the scientific evidence of the
effectiveness of these programs? and What are directions for future program development?
What factors are targeted for change?
Programs are currently targeting a broad range of
factors. The most prominent focus of programs is on reducing some aspect of interparental
conflict. Universal programs attempt to reduce conflict by providing information about how
conflict affects children and legal options to resolve conflicts, attempting to arouse motiva-
tion to not expose children to conflict, and teaching skills
to
reduce conflict. Short-term pro-
grams tend to focus more
on
providing information and motivational films, whereas longer
term programs spend more time on skill building. Programs that are targeted for high-
conflict families focus most intensively on strategies to reduce conflict.
Programs also focus, but to a lesser extent,
on
parenting. The greatest emphasis of the
short-term universal programs is
on
promoting contact between children and the
non-
custodial parent, either by emphasizing the importance of both parents or by teaching skills
to remove barriers to parenting. Although some programs attempt to teach cooperation be-
tween the parents, others focus on parallel parenting. Despite its demonstrated relations to
children’s adjustment, fewer programs teach quality of parenting, and those tend to be the
longer programs that focus extensively
on
parenting skills.
How
does the program content relate to the research evidence
on
factors that affect chil-
dren’s adjustment to interparental conflict?
Figure
l
provides an encouraging menu
of
fac-
tors that might be the targets of interventions. Programs are currently targeting multiple
aspects of interparental conflict that are identified in Figure
1.
However, it is less clear that
programs are targeting the multiple mediators or moderators of the effects of conflict on chil-
dren. For example, messages about conflict resolution, children’s cognitions or emotional
security, and quality parenting of the custodial and noncustodial parent provide important
directions for future program development. In addition, many programs focus on factors that
have no known relationship to improving children’s adjustment such as stages of divorce or
grief stages. More intensive programs do focus more on issues such as quality of parenting.
What is the scientijic evidence of program effectiveness?
There are very few studies that
provide scientifically credible evidence concerning the effects of these programs. Thus,
although the programs enjoy a high level
of
satisfaction from the public and by the courts,
we know relatively little about their effects. It may be appropriate and natural in the
276 FAMILY COURT REVIEW
development of new services to meet a public need that strong evaluation of the effects of
those services follows assessment of public acceptability of the program. However, now
that the programs have clearly established their acceptability to the public and are wide-
spread, evaluation of their effects becomes an urgent issue. Some evaluations
of
short pro-
grams provide evidence of reducing interparental conflict, but few programs report on
effects on ongoing litigation, parenting,
or
effects on children’s adjustment. The longer term
parenting programs have been evaluated in well-designed studies and have shown very
encouraging evidence to improve quality parenting and children’s adjustment. The most
intensive programs to work with high-conflict families have received only limited evaluation.
What are
the
directions forfuture program development?
Three directions for future pro-
gram development are suggested. First, there is a need for a stronger partnership between
program development and evaluation. Although it is difficult to conduct strong evaluations
for court programs with proper research designs and control groups, without such studies
we cannot learn whether innovative services are having their intended effects. Second, find-
ings from more basic research on interparental conflict provide significant leads about fac-
tors that might be targeted in future programs. Third, future programs might integrate and
combine effective strategies to better address the needs of divorcing families. For example,
short-term programs might be used to motivate parents to become involved in more intensive
programs that address their needs. Also, strategies with demonstrated efficacy might be
combined to develop multicomponent packages that best meet the needs
of
high-conflict
families. For example, strategies that are effective in reducing conflict might be combined
with strategies that improve the quality of parenting to have the maximal effect to reduce
conflict and improve the lives of children in these families.
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PROGRAMS FOR INTERPARENTAL CONFLICT
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... A second important implication relates to the courts, funding agencies, and consumers requiring program developers to provide evidence of program effects beyond attitudinal shifts and satisfaction surveys. Though parent education programs for divorcing parents generally have intuitive appeal and wide acceptance among the public and the courts (Goodman, Bonds, Sandler, & Braver, 2004), very few have been rigorously tested (Cookston et al., 2007;Goodman et al., 2004;Salem et al., 2013). Among those programs that were tested, most did not show significant reductions in parental conflict, or increases in co-parenting skills (Cookston et al., 2007), or were methodologically flawed such that their findings are suspect (Fackrell et al., 2011). ...
... A second important implication relates to the courts, funding agencies, and consumers requiring program developers to provide evidence of program effects beyond attitudinal shifts and satisfaction surveys. Though parent education programs for divorcing parents generally have intuitive appeal and wide acceptance among the public and the courts (Goodman, Bonds, Sandler, & Braver, 2004), very few have been rigorously tested (Cookston et al., 2007;Goodman et al., 2004;Salem et al., 2013). Among those programs that were tested, most did not show significant reductions in parental conflict, or increases in co-parenting skills (Cookston et al., 2007), or were methodologically flawed such that their findings are suspect (Fackrell et al., 2011). ...
Article
Two studies examine the effectiveness of Co-Parenting for Resilience, a program targeting divorcing or separating parents with a minor child in common. Study-one (N = 132) uses a within-group design to assess whether parent scores on key constructs improve across time. Study-two (N = 330) employs a control group to assess whether change can be attributed to the program. Within-group results indicate significant increases on parental hope and child adjustment, and decreases on parental stress and conflict with a co-parent. Between-group analyses find significant differences in parental hope, stress, conflict with a co-parent, collaborative co-parenting, and child adjustment. Implications for policy are discussed.
... Postdivorce acrimonious coparenting conflict is associated with poorer child adjustment, particularly when it places the child in the middle by deprecating or badmouthing the other parent (Rowen & Emery, 2018), making the child carry negative messages between the parents, and creating loyalty conflicts for children (Buchanan et al., 1991). It can also threaten children's wellbeing and emotional security by leading to a decrease in the quality of parenting by high-conflict custodial and noncustodial parents (i.e., a lack of responsiveness, harshness and instrumentalization; Goodman et al., 2004). ...
Article
Full-text available
Coparenting conflict is predictive of parents’ and children’s adjustment to divorce. An accurate assessment of postdivorce acrimonious coparenting relationships is critical for research, clinical, forensic, and public policy purposes. The Acrimony Scale (AS) is a measure commonly used to assess coparenting conflict. We translated and cross-culturally adapted the AS to the Portuguese context, testing its reliability and validity. Using a web-based survey, data were collected from a community and convenience sample of 196 unrelated divorced parents, assessing sociodemographic characteristics, coparenting conflict, and divorce adjustment. The study consisted of two phases: (1) forward-backward translation and cultural adaptation and (2) psychometric properties analyses: construct and criterion-related validity and internal consistency reliability. The 25-item AS was successfully translated and cross-culturally adapted to the Portuguese language. Principal component analyses (PCA) suggested a three-factor structure solution of 22-items, explaining 57.5% of the variance. Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) showed the goodness of fit of this tridimensional model. The results also demonstrated acceptable convergent and good discriminant validity and high internal reliability. Scores on the AS suggested good known-groups validity and high discriminative power with 86.7% classification accuracy. The area under the ROC curve was 0.91, establishing a very good predictive value of the scale. We suggest that the AS is a reliable multidimensional measure to assess coparenting conflict after divorce and may be useful, namely, in the psychological assessment of child custody and evaluation of the effectiveness of coparenting conflict-based interventions. We discussed future research and practical implications.
... For instance, our findings revealed that higher levels of constructive conflict and maternal responsiveness were associated with decreases in children's caregiving and cautious involvement. Implementing interventions and parenting programs designed to teach problemsolving and communication skills (e.g., Goodman et al., 2004) and facilitate responsive parenting behaviors (e.g., Landry et al., 2008) may reduce children's caregiving and cautious involvement strategies and, ultimately, their subsequent anxiety and social withdrawal problems (Thompson et al., 2021). These early empirical tests are a critical first step in the refinement of a formal process-oriented theory examining the multivariate interplay of children's early socialization experiences, involvement in interparental conflict, and subsequent mental health outcomes. ...
Article
Full-text available
Previous research has highlighted the value in parsing unidimensional assessments of children's involvement in interparental conflict into distinct forms for advancing an understanding of children's development; however, little is known about the underlying antecedents of distinct forms of involvement. The present study provides the first systematic analysis of the interparental conflict and parenting predictors of residualized change in maternal reports of three forms of children's involvement in interparental conflict (i.e., cautious, caregiving, coercive). Participants in this multimethod, multi-informant longitudinal study included 243 preschool children (Mage = 4.60 years), mothers, and their partners from racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse backgrounds. Multivariate analyses demonstrated selectivity in links between interparental conflict and parenting and children's involvement in interparental conflict. Findings from the interparental conflict analyses revealed that Wave 1 constructive conflict uniquely predicted lower Wave 2 cautious involvement, and Wave 1 hostile conflict uniquely predicted greater Wave 2 coercive involvement. Findings from the parenting analyses indicated that Wave 1 maternal responsiveness uniquely predicted lower Wave 2 cautious involvement and Wave 1 maternal vulnerability uniquely predicted greater Wave 2 coercive involvement. Although interparental conflict and parenting antecedents did not predict caregiving involvement, a series of follow-up analyses individually examining each form of interparental conflict and parenting as a predictor of children's involvement revealed that greater Wave 2 caregiving involvement was predicted by higher levels of Wave 1 disengaged conflict and lower levels of Wave 1 constructive conflict. Findings are interpreted in the context of developmental psychopathology models that emphasize children's response patterns to family adversity. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
... The children of parents who are involved in complex divorces pay a high price (Amato, 2001;Kelly & Emery, 2003). They face adjustment difficulties, such as aggression, depression, and emotional withdrawal from significant others (Goodman et al., 2004;Joyce, 2016;Kelly, 2014;Van der Wal et al., 2019), and stress-related illnesses, such as hypertension (Luecken, 1998;Luecken & Lemery, 2004). An important task therefore is to provide insights into the risk factors related to complex divorces. ...
Article
Full-text available
In this study, we examined whether regular divorces can be distinguished from complex divorces by measuring the intensity of negative emotions that divorced parents report when thinking about their ex-partner. We recruited two groups of parents: n = 136 in a regular divorce, and n = 191 in a complex divorce. Based on the existing literature, we predicted that parents in complex divorces experience more intense negative emotions than parents in regular divorces; especially emotions that motivate emotional distancing (contempt, disgust, anger, hatred, and rage) and emotions that impair self-regulation (fear, shame, guilt, and sadness). We also predicted that these emotions would hamper co-parenting, particularly in complex divorces. The results provided support for our predictions, except for fear and sadness. We found that parents in a complex divorce reported more co-parenting concerns than parents in a regular divorce. In contrast to our expectations, the relation between negative emotions and coparenting concerns was stronger among parents in a regular divorce than in a complex divorce. These findings underline the importance of emotions in the divorce trajectory and suggest that especially the intensity of emotional distancing emotions may serve as a screening tool to identify parents at risk for a complex divorce.
... Such changes may augment the quality of the co-parenting relationship, which, in turn, may have a positive effect on children's well-being. For HCD families, some psychoeducational programs are available, but in an overview of these programs, no published evaluations of the effectiveness of these programs were found (Goodman, Bonds, Sandler, & Braver, 2004). Therefore, Van Lawick and Visser (2015a) sought not only to develop an intervention based on previous research but to test effectiveness of their program and adapt the program based on research findings. ...
Chapter
It is likely that any social worker, couple and family therapist, or counselor will work with a couple who engages in high-conflict behaviors at some point during their career. High-conflict couples can be characterized by destructive communication between partners, fast rates of escalation during conflict, emotional reactivity between partners, unsuccessful conflict resolution skills, as well as the possibility of intimate partner violence (IPV) in the relationship. This chapter provides an overview of two systemic approaches for working with couples with high-conflict behaviors: Domestic Violence-Focused Couples Therapy (DVFCT) for couples who wish to stay together after experiencing low levels of violence in their relationship and “No Kids in the Middle” for high-conflict families after a divorce. DVFCT is a systemic couple’s treatment developed in the United States, and “No Kids in the Middle” is a systemic treatment developed in the Netherlands for divorcing parents. In this chapter, we review the current state of the literature, methodological practices, methodological challenges, future directions for research, and clinical implications derived from our current research on working with violent couples who wish to stay together, as well as high-conflict divorcing parents.
... The growing acknowledgment of the adverse consequences of divorce created an increased need and acceptance of co-parenting education programs that are widespread (Brandon, 2006;Cookston, Braver, Griffin, De Luse, & Miles, 2006;Goodman, Bonds, Sandler, & Braver, 2004;Pollet & Lombreglia, 2008;Sigal, Sandler, Wolchik, & Braver, 2011). Co-parenting programs are typically between two to four hours in length and focus on increasing parents' recognition of the harm created when they place their child in the middle of their conflict and help increase parents understanding of developmentally appropriate responses to their children (McKenry, Clark, & Stone, 1999). ...
Article
Forty-six of the 50 states currently have mandates surrounding co-parenting programs; however, little is known about the specific mechanisms within a co-parenting class that facilitate a parent’s readiness to engage in positive co-parenting behaviors. This study used a qualitative design to understand how attendance of a co-parenting class affects a divorcing parents’ readiness to engage in positive parenting behaviors. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with parents (N = 13) to determine how parental experiences of attending a co-parenting class impacted their readiness to engage in a positive co-parenting relationship. Parents reported that the class facilitator’s ability to engage the class, the group dynamic of the class, and the content of the co-parenting class facilitated changes in their perceptions about their co-parenting relationship. Future research could examine the differences within and between co-parenting programs and program facilitators to increase our understanding on differences among co-parenting programs and how facilitators impact program effectiveness.
... Despite the importance of treating this conflict, there is comparatively little research regarding how to successfully intervene (Mutchler, 2017). The available models provide general guidelines (Ellis & Boyan, 2010;Goodman et al., 2004;Lebow, 2003;Lebow & Rekart, 2007), but none have examined the in-session process of working with high-conflict couples through the task analysis framework. Researchers sought to close this gap by conducting a task analysis of conflict de-escalation and re-engagement in a sample of coparents engaged in treatment as usual. ...
Article
Parents who are engaged in protracted conflict following a divorce are often referred to coparenting therapy. Episodes of intense conflict are common during these therapy sessions and often result in coparents disengaging from the therapist while they engage in escalating conflict with each other, potentially disrupting their progress in therapy. The purpose of this study was to identify how therapists successfully re-engage clients in the session. To understand this process, 24 disengagement events (12 successful and 12 unsuccessful) from 13 cases were analyzed using a task analytic approach. The sample included coparent dyads referred by the judicial system to a high-conflict coparenting therapy program. Task analysis was used to create a model of how re-engagement unfolds in treatment. The empirical model that resulted has five phases: (1) disengagement from the therapeutic process, (2) disruption of the conflict, (3) de-escalating the most escalated coparent, (4) de-escalating the other coparent, and (5) therapist buffered re-engagement. Successful episodes of re-engagement tended to have therapists who remained active throughout the conflict episode, used structuring interventions aimed at disrupting and then regulating the most escalated partner, blocked attempts to re-engage in conflict, and then repeated this process with the less escalated partner. Additional interventions that promote therapeutic re-engagement are described for each phase, and implications for clinicians and researchers are discussed. © 2019 Family Process Institute.
Article
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.
Article
Parent–child contact problems may arise in the context of high conflict separation/divorce dynamics between parents. In cases where there are parent–child contact problems and children resist or refuse contact with one of their parents, there may also be incidents of child maltreatment, intimate partner violence, or compromised parenting that can be experienced by a parent or child as traumatic. The circumstances around separation and/or post‐divorce often result in intense stress for families. In this paper we distinguish between the stressful circumstances that may arise as a result of high interparental conflict and pulls for alignment from a parent, and the real or perceived trauma as a factor which contributes to resistance or refusal of a child to have contact with a parent. Interventions to address both trauma responses and the resist‐refuse dynamics are differentiated and discussed. After screening and assessment, the intent is to treat trauma responses with short‐term, evidence‐based therapy, either before or concurrent with co‐parent and family intervention.
Article
Coparenting is examined as an explanatory link between marital conflict and parent-child relations in 2-parent families. Data were collected from 3 samples (pilot sample, n = 220 mothers; preadolescent sample, n = 75 couples; preschool sample, n = 172 couples) by using the Coparenting Questionnaire (G. Margolin, 1992b) to assess parents' perceptions of one another on 3 dimensions-cooperation, triangulation, and conflict. Main effects for child's age and for parents' gender were found for cooperation, and an interaction between parent and child gender was found for triangulation. Regression analyses were consistent with a model of coparenting mediating the relationship between marital conflict and parenting. Discussion addresses the theoretical and clinical importance of viewing coparenting as conceptually separate from other family processes.
Article
Children's appraisals of interparental conflict have been linked with their adjustment and their strategies for coping with conflict, but the factors that influence the appraisal process are less clear. This study examined cognitive and emotional responses of 60 7-12-year-old children to audiotaped conflictual interactions. Properties of the conflict, family factors, and child characteristics were related to children's appraisals; the most consistent predictors were the level of hostility expressed in the interaction, children's prior experience with physically aggressive interparental conflict, and children's age. These findings indicate that children's perceptions and interpretations of interparental conflict are influenced by the larger context in which a conflict occurs as well as the way the conflict is expressed.
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Marital Conflict and Child Development. Conflict in the Marital Dyad. Children's Reactions to Marital Conflict. Effects of Specific Aspects of Marital Conflict on Children. Interparental Conflict and the Family. Methodology and Message. Conclusions, Implications, and Guidelines.
Article
The Children First program, a two-session intervention that uses videotaped scenarios and discussions to help divorcing parents become more sensitive to children's needs, was evaluated. A series of three questionnaires was administered to 168 participants and 43 nonparticipants over a 3-month period. In addition to summarizing parents' appraisals of the helpfulness of the program, the authors addressed whether participation was associated with perceived improvements in parental and child adjustment, parent-child relationship quality, coparental relationship quality, engagement in adaptive and triangulating child-rearing behaviors, and the use of additional resources for divorcing families.
Article
The research evaluated the success of an educational program designed to improve the parental satisfaction of divorced or separated fathers, helping to maintain fathers' involvement with their children and make child support payments. Participants were 30 divorced or separated fathers, 15 in the workshop series of six weekly parent education sessions and 15 in the control group. Results showed a significant improvement of workshop participants, in contrast to control fathers, on a number of parent performance and communication measures.
Article
The present study explored the impact and consumer satisfaction associated with participation in a parent education program that specifically focused on divorce and parental conflict. The kids in divorce and separation program (k.i.d.s.) is a four-hour parent-focused psychoeducational program. The impact and consumer satisfaction associated with participation in the program were examined by comparing a treatment group of parents who participated in the program with an alternative treatment control group of parents who participated in another educational program for parents concerning general parenting and discipline information/techniques. Results indicated that participation in the program has positive effects on parents' self-reported knowledge and behavior with regard to interparental conflict, including their self-reports of the conflict behavior of non-participating exspouses. Moreover, participants also reported a high level of consumer satisfaction with the program. The implications of the results for the potential value of parent educational programs for divorced couples are discussed, and directions for future research are outlined.