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Psychosocial adjustment and physical health in children of divorce


Abstract and Figures

To review the literature on the effects of parental divorce over the psychological maladjustment and physical health problems in children of divorced parents, thus contributing to the integration of existing scientific knowledge based on the biopsychosocial model of the impact of divorce on children's physical health as proposed by Troxel and Matthews (2004). Review of the literature using MEDLINE and PsycInfo (1980-2007) databases, selecting the most representative articles on the subject. Special attention was paid to contributions by internationally renowned investigators on the subject. Divorce may be responsible for a decline of physical and psychological health in children. The developmental maladjustment of children is not triggered by divorce itself, but rather by other risk factors associated with it, such as interparental conflict, parental psychopathology, decline in socio-economic level, inconsistency in parenting styles, a parallel and conflicting co-parenting relationship between parents and low levels of social support. Such risk factors trigger maladjusted developmental pathways, marked by psychopathological symptoms, poor academic performance, worst levels of physical health, risk behavior, exacerbated psychophysiological responses to stress and weakening of the immune system. Clear links were observed between experiencing parental divorce and facing problems of physical and psychological maladjustment in children. Divorce is a stressor that should be considered by health professionals as potentially responsible for maladjusted neuropsychobiological responses and for decline in children's physical health.
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Psychosocial adjustment and physical health
in children of divorce
Rui A. Nunes-Costa,1 Diogo J. P. V. Lamela,2 Bárbara F. C. Figueiredo3
1. Licenciado, Ciências Psicológicas. Mestrando, Mestrado Integrado em Psicologia Clínica, Universidade do Minho (UM), Braga, Portugal.
2. Doutorando, Programa Doutoral em Psicologia Clínica, UM, Braga, Portugal. Professor assistente, Escola Superior de Educação, Instituto Politécnico de Viana
do Castelo, Viana do Castelo, Portugal.
3. Doutora, UM, Braga, Portugal. Professora associada, Departamento de Psicologia, UM, Braga, Portugal. Coordenadora, Unidade dos Estudos do Divórcio &
Intervenção, UM, Braga, Portugal.
This study was carried out at Departamento de Psicologia, Universidade do Minho (UM), Braga, Portugal.
No conflicts of interest declared concerning the publication of this article.
Suggested citation: Nunes-Costa RA, Lamela DJ, Figueiredo BF. Psychosocial adjustment and physical health in children of divorce. J Pediatr (Rio J).
Manuscript submitted Jan 06 2009, accepted for publication Mar 04 2009.
Jornal de Pediatria
Copyright © 2009 by Sociedade Brasileira de Pediatria
In the late 1960s, Levine et al.1 developed an
experimental animal model showing that early stress
experiences may have effects over hormonal stress
responses in adulthood. However, signicant results have
been found in investigations with humans regarding
the relation between exposure to an environment
Objective: To review the literature on the effects of parental divorce over the psychological maladjustment and
physical health problems in children of divorced parents, thus contributing to the integration of existing scientic
knowledge based on the biopsychosocial model of the impact of divorce on children’s physical health as proposed
by Troxel and Matthews (2004).
Sources: Review of the literature using MEDLINE and PsycInfo (1980-2007) databases, selecting the most
representative articles on the subject. Special attention was paid to contributions by internationally renowned
investigators on the subject.
Summary of the ndings: Divorce may be responsible for a decline of physical and psychological health in
children. The developmental maladjustment of children is not triggered by divorce itself, but rather by other risk
factors associated with it, such as interparental conict, parental psychopathology, decline in socio-economic level,
inconsistency in parenting styles, a parallel and conicting co-parenting relationship between parents and low levels
of social support. Such risk factors trigger maladjusted developmental pathways, marked by psychopathological
symptoms, poor academic performance, worst levels of physical health, risk behavior, exacerbated psychophysiological
responses to stress and weakening of the immune system.
Conclusions: Clear links were observed between experiencing parental divorce and facing problems of physical
and psychological maladjustment in children. Divorce is a stressor that should be considered by health professionals
as potentially responsible for maladjusted neuropsychobiological responses and for decline in children’s physical
J Pediatr (Rio J). 2009;85(5):385-396: Divorce, children, health, interparental conict, immunology, stress.
Review ARticle
rich in stressors throughout the rst years of life and
psychophysiological vulnerability in later years.2-4
The experience of parental separation results in a
decline in individual and family well-being in children.
The literature is consistent in pointing out that most
children present decreased developmental outcome in the
386 Jornal de Pediatria - Vol. 85, No. 5, 2009
Figure 1 - Biopsychosocial model of the impact of marital dissolution on children’s physical
health as proposed by Troxel & Matthews9 (adapted)
Adjustment and health in children of divorce - Nunes-Costa RA et al.
two years following marital dissolution.5 Such adaptation
problems, however, tend to be ephemeral and may not
have signicant impact in the child’s future developmental
pathway.6 A conicted parental relationship is, in itself,
a risk factor enough to generate a high level of stress.
However, most investigations in the area suggest more risk
factors for a negative adjustment in the marital dissolution
process, such as alterations in the family socioeconomic
level, less frequent contact with the parent who does not
have parental rights, and interparental conict.5,7,8 All
these factors, usually transversal to divorce, may have
an impact over stress response and, later on, over the
physical and psychological health of the children implicated
in this reorganization of the family system.
Although there is empirical evidence on the impact
of marital dissolution over physical health, the scientic
community has developed very few conceptual proposals
of correlation between both constructs. One of the rare
theoretical proposals has been presented by Troxel &
Matthews9; namely the biopsychosocial model of the impact
of marital dissolution on children’s physical health (Figure
1). In summary, the model proposes that divorce is a
family stressor which causes, on one hand, disorganization
of parental practices and, on the other hand, a negative
impact over the family economic security. When associated
to factors of biological, family, interpersonal and social
vulnerability, these dimensions will contribute to emotional
dysregulation and insecurity in children. Such emotional
instability is the result of developmental variations on
affectional, behavioral and cognitive levels. These alterations
such as, the appearance of internalizing and externalizing
symptomatology, decline or inhibition of stress-management
strategies and stress-induced cognitive bias – will translate
in health-risk behaviors and in the neuropsychobiological
stress responses. As a consequence, these physical health
problems are reections of the signicant developmental
transformations to which children must respond in face of
a family change.
This article aims to review the literature regarding the
impact of parental divorce over children’s physical and
psychological health, in order to respond to the needs of
scientic update of pediatricians and other health care
professionals. The biopsychosocial model of Troxel &
Matthews9 was selected as the conceptual guideline for
Jornal de Pediatria - Vol. 85, No. 5, 2009 387
Adjustment and health in children of divorce - Nunes-Costa RA et al.
the organization of this review. The rst part of this article
is dedicated to vulnerability and risk factors which interact
in the (dis)adaptive behavioral responses of children to
parental divorce, with special focus on children’s individual
characteristics, the family nancial situation, parental
styles and quality of the coparental alliance, individual
characteristics and levels of adjustment of parents, and
interparental conict. After that, the impact of divorce
is assessed based on children’s academic achievement,
externalizing/internalizing disorders, stress levels, physical
health and immunologic response. The main conclusions
are then summarized, and guidelines are proposed for
future investigations.
Vulnerability and risk factors
In a metanalysis including 92 studies conducted from
1950 to 1980, Amato & Keith8 have tried to identify the
reasons why divorce has negative effects on children,
comparing children of intact families with children who
had experienced parental divorce. The results, consistent
with later studies, underscore the delimitation of ve main
risk factors in children’s adjustment response to divorce:
i) factors intrinsical to each child; ii) decline in nancial
security following divorce; iii) psychopathological pictures
of parents, depression is especially relevant; iv) conicted
or uncommitted co-parenting; and v) intensity, tone and
frequency of interparental conict before and during the
period of marital dissolution.
Children’s individual characteristics
Hetherington et al.5,10-12 have consistently emphasized
two dimensions which are intrinsic to each child, during the
process of adapting to separation: temper and development
level. Children who have an easy temper, are intelligent,
responsible and socially sensible are those who show the
best capacity to positively adapting to this family transition.5
For some time the literature has been supporting the
hypothesis according to which dimensions such as self-
esteem, cognitive competence and autonomy of children,
along with social support systems, are positively associated
to children’s adaptability. According to recent investigation,
the quality of adaptation to parental divorce seems to also
be associated to the child’s developmental stage at the
moment of marital dissolution, although some caution must
be exercise in regarding this correlation.11 Some studies have
concluded that preschool age children are subject to higher
ecological and developmental risks for disadapted social
and emotional pathways in comparison to older children.14
Children’s immature cognitive and emotional structures
cause them to be, on one hand, less capable of realistically
assessing the causes, processes, and consequences of
divorce and, on the other hand, centralize in themselves
the responsibility for the marital disruption, in addition to
their inability to seek support from extra-family sources
in order to decrease their level of stress. Therefore, when
isolating the developmental level from other moderating
variables, it has been observed that the higher and more
integrated the level of development, the better the index
of child adaptation to parental divorce.7
Family nancial security
Marital dissolution often leads to a decline in nancial
security. Parents who have maintained custody of their
children experience drastic decline in nancial resources
available to provide for the family’s needs. Indeed,
the decline in nancial security is one of the main risk
factors for a child’s adaptation parental divorce, once a
reduction in family income may reect upon their own
real and subjective well-being, due to the reduction of
resources available for healthcare, education, after-school
activities, access to cultural and entertainment goods, and
purchase of everyday products.15,16 Beyond immediate
consequences on the perceived quality of life levels, the
nancial hardships caused by divorce, if persistent and
long-lasting, may also have a long-term impact, once they
prevent children from engaging in activities which are
essential to their cognitive and social development. In a
recent study, Fischer17 has concluded that a high income
fathers contribute to intensify the negative consequences
of divorce in children’s academic performance, while high
income mothers – the mother being granted custody in
most cases are associated to milder adverse effects
of the divorce. However, other studies have shown that
children of divorced parents who have not experienced
nancial impact present the same results, in terms of
adaptation level, as children of intact families.15,18 The
nancial security of the family, most importantly that of
the parent who has been granted custody of the child, is
a protective factor for the child’s development.
Parental styles and coparental relationships
According to the biopsychosocial model of Troxel &
Matthews,9 alterations in family structure force children to
interact with a context of psychosocial stressing factors which
can lead to risk for their physical health. Characteristics of
parental behavior have been associated to children’s levels
of adjustment; however, the impact of parental styles in
the adaptive pathways of children of divorced parents have
not been the subject of enough empirical investigation,
although some research has shown that parental practices
are particularly critical and could mediate the effects of
family instability over children.19
Campana et al.,20 in their innovative study on parental
styles and the global adaptation of children to marital
dissolution, present relevant conclusions on the topic.
First, a democratic parental style shared by both parents
388 Jornal de Pediatria - Vol. 85, No. 5, 2009 Adjustment and health in children of divorce - Nunes-Costa RA et al.
has a huge impact over the chances of well-adjustment
of children to divorce, a pattern which is marked by lower
prevalence of depression, higher self-esteem levels and
fewer reports of oppositional behavior Second, mothers with
a democratic parental style accept and encourage shared
custody with their ex-spouses. Finally, the worst adjustment
results in children whose parents do not share a democratic
parental style are due to the child’s difculty in emotionally
managing the mixed educational messages from parents,
which increases the rate of internalizing disorders.
Indeed, some parents present difculty in maintaining
educational consistency and a democratic parental style
in the initial stages after marital disruption,21 once they
are often focused on their own adjustment to the new
family reality. Co-parenting is another essential concept in
explaining children’s adaptation to parental divorce, and
is conceptualized as the father/mother dyad relationship
in the planning and execution of a joint parental plan for
their children.22 In summary, this concept is dened by
the joint and reciprocal involvement of both parents in
the education, background and decision-making about
their children’s lives.23 Cooperative parents prioritize their
children’s well-being, while creating and maintaining a
constructive relationship, with new, more exible boundaries
between one another.
According to Maccoby et al.,24 co-parenting is not
limited to sharing responsibility for the children’s education,
once it implies that parents effectively cooperate by
supporting each other’s decisions and adopting them in
their own individual relationship with their children. These
authors have identied three variations in co-parenting:
cooperative co-parenting, conicted co-parenting, and
uncommitted co-parenting, and recently divorced families
are more exposed to the risk of uncommitted co-parenting
relationships. Beyond the physical distance between the
parents, difculties in isolating the marital relationship of
the past from the co-parenting relationship of the present
and the reduced involvement of the parent who has not
been granted custody in the child’s life27 also contribute
to parental lack of commitment.
Investigation shows that most divorced parents present
with a disruptive co-parenting pattern, marked by high
levels of conict or lack of commitment in the children’s
education, which is translated by parallel, detached
parenting practices, thus undermining the child’s perception
of the parental alliance and contributing to parental
conict.28 Such loss in parental cohesion causes grave
consequences in children’s development, once children of
divorced parents are exposed to and involved in parental
practices that lack a common guideline, thus increasing
the probability of triangulation across generations of the
family. As an example of this, Macie23 has identied that
66% of divorced families presented clear and powerful
father/mother-child alliances, which was also associated
to high rates of anxiety in the children involved in this
tangled web of disruptive family relationships.
Co-parenting studies have, therefore, come to two
essential conclusions: i) the better and higher the
cooperation, respect and communication between parents
in conducting their children’s education, the better the
adjustment of children will be, and these elements operate
as genuine protective factors within families6,29; and ii)
the involvement of the parent who has not been granted
custody, when marked by strong and consistent emotional
bond and a democratic parental style can inuence the
well-being of children in dimensions such as academic
performance or health condition.26
Parental psychopathology and psychosocial
The literature is globally consistent in showing that
parental depression, a common event during and following
the divorce process, is a risk factor in internalizing (such
as anxiety and depression) and externalizing (such as
opposition) disorders in children and adolescents.5,30 The
existence of parental depression increases the probability
of decrease in material and emotional care of children.15,31
Mothers with depressive symptoms are more likely to display
negative emotions, negligent behavior, hostile behavior, less
educational consistency, less positive parental behavior,
less care for children’s health, less emotional availability
and engage in higher risk parenting behavior.32 As a
result, children of depressed or anxious divorced parents
present a higher probability of developing depression and
anxiety, more oppositional behaviors, lower self-esteem,
less social behavior, worse academic performance, higher
attention decits and more challenging interpersonal
Depressive pictures in the mother also have indirect
effects on children’s maladjustment. Depressive symptoms
in parents have even predicted the role inversion situation
within families, with children providing emotional care and
support for the depressed parent. Investigation has shown
that this situation does not promote adaptive development
for the children who are involved in this family interaction
pattern.34 Therefore, the reorganization of the family after
marital dissolution may drive parents to assign the role
of emotional provider, which was previously assigned to
the ex-spouse, to children, thus intensifying adaptation
problems, anxiety disorders, psychophysiological reactivity
and oppositional behaviors in children.35
Interparental conict
The interparental conict common to the divorce
process and to the period which precedes it is indicated
by the metanalysis of Amato7,8 as the greatest stressor
for children. Nowadays it has been empirically established
Jornal de Pediatria - Vol. 85, No. 5, 2009 389
Temperamental and developmental factors in children (such as self-appeasement, age, prematurity, and cognitive
High levels of conict between parents during the marriage;
Maintenance of high levels of conict after divorce;
Low socioeconomic level;
Parental psychopathological conditions;
Low levels of adjustment to parental divorce;
Less educated mother;
Low emotional and instrumental support;
Decline in nancial resources available;
Parental health risk behaviors (such as tobacco addiction, alcohol abuse, deregulation of routine and nutritional quality).
Table 1 - Risk factors for physical and psychological health problems in children of divorce
Adjustment and health in children of divorce - Nunes-Costa RA et al.
that parental conict is the main dimension involved in
children’s maladjustment to divorce.28 In other words, an
environment of interparental conict, regardless of how it
manifests anger, hostility and suspiciousness, aggressive
language, physical aggression, difculty cooperating in
care of and communication with children27 – creates an
atmosphere in which children experience high levels of stress,
dissatisfaction and insecurity.36-38 Other studies demonstrate
that interparental conict results in deterioration of parent-
child relationships.39,40 However, divorce may be a possibility
to evade an interparental conicted atmosphere, although
in most cases the reduction in the level of conict tends to
become evident only after the rst year post-divorce.6
Highly conicted parental dyads often transfer these
disruptive interaction patterns into judicial litigation. The
children with the worst levels of adjustment are those whose
parents are involved in court battles over parental rights
regulation during long periods.41
In most cases parental practices and routines disturbed
by the high interparental conict reect on permissive and
inconsistent discipline, emotional volatility, high levels of
educational hostility and impulsivity, lower responsivity and
emotional availability. Interparental conict after divorce is
therefore a driver for parental styles that clearly compromise
children’s adjusted development, such as the negligent,
permissive or authoritarian styles.20
Parental relationships between the former marital
dyad are regarded as having not only direct effects
over children’s psychological functioning, but also
indirect effects, mediated by the effects of parenting
quality. Psychological functioning is equated as the
result from child adjustment and inteparental conict,
therefore establishing itself as a lever for developmental
vulnerability, resilience or competency processes.
Moderating variables in this equation are family
ecology (such as family environment, parental degrees
of adaptation, socioeconomic levels) and characteristics
associated to children (such as intelligence, temper, age,
gender). Schick42 has found that children’s perception of the
parental conict destructiveness operated as a mediator for
the presence/absence of psychopathological symptoms in
children: the greater the perceived destructive interparental
conict, the greater the risk of adjustment problems in
children. Children involved in highly conicted parental
divorce inherently present more intense externalizing
behavior, if compared to children who experience low
litigation conict.28
Therefore, we understand that the conguration
of children’s pathway of (mal)adjustment to parental
divorce is the result of a complex contextual interaction,
in which the child is also in possession of characteristics
that mediate the impact of the said process over their
own development. The literature for this orientation is
abundant, with studies that show the attenuation factors
intrinsic to children. Children’s age at the moment of their
parent’s ofcial separation is highly associated to the type
and intensity of their reaction to the marital dissolution
between parents (Table 1).
Impact of divorce over children’s development
Children of divorce with low levels of hostility and
conict in co-parenting present good levels of adjustment,
comparable to those of children of intact families with low
levels of conict. Studies show that the degree and quality
of children’s functioning are not exclusively associated to
the type of family structure, but instead to the quality and
tone of the relationship between the marital/parental dyad.
390 Jornal de Pediatria - Vol. 85, No. 5, 2009 Adjustment and health in children of divorce - Nunes-Costa RA et al.
Hetherington26 shows, for instance, that pre-adolescents of
divorced parents achieve developmental results superior to
those of pre-adolescents of intact families with high levels
of conict.
The main effects of divorce over the physical and
psychological adjustment of children to parental divorce
are considered over the next section.
Academic performance and interpersonal
Along the past decades, some studies have shown that
children of divorce present lower academic motivation and
performance if compared to children of intact families.43 In
more concrete terms, children of divorced parents would
be less capable of nishing school projects, face more
challenges concentrating in complex tasks, present worse
academic results in languages and mathematics and lower
level of responsibility.44
Some authors suggest that decreased parental
involvement in children’s academic life is the main
factor behind decline in school results. In most cases,
marital dissolution leaves the discussion of school topics,
monitoring study at home and reviewing school tasks
under the responsibility of the parent who has been
granted custody.45 Marital dissolution forces families to
adopt a new structure and often requires parents to
increase their working hours for additional income, thus
making it harder for divorced parents to get involved in
their children’s school activities. Indeed, Bertram44 has
discovered that poor academic performance in children of
divorce were, on one hand, associated to poor parental
involvement and, on the other hand, correlated to reduced
levels of parental adjustment to divorce.
Internalizing and externalizing disorders: a
psychophysiological and behavioral perspective
Children who are continually exposed to episodes
of e xc essive inter pa renta l con flict presen t hig her
psychophysiological, behavioral, cognitive and emotional
reactivity.28 Such high levels of reactivity are associated to
the increase and accumulation of situations that represent
relative risk for the development of maladjustment to
divorce in children. The next step in the study was
to describe the relation between parental interaction,
physiological reactivity and children’s internalizing and
externalizing responses.
A maladjusted pathway following parental divorce,
added to the mediating variables of the child and to the
availability of environmental resources, could result in a
deviant behavioral pattern of interaction with the parents,
and, later on, with other people.
Supported by this explanatory basis, some evidences
of longitudinal studies report that individuals who have
experienced parental divorce present more internalizing
and externalizing problems than those who have never
experienced parental divorce.46
Internalizing disorders are dened as the set of traces
such as depression, isolation or anxiety.47 Adults who,
as children, were exposed to negligent parental care or
chronic stress situations and who present any symptoms
of an internalizing disorder present baseline cortisol values
higher than average, especially at the end of the day.48-50
The study by Cicchetti & Rogosch51 found similar results
in school-age children, who had also been diagnosed
with some type of internalizing symptom. Schiefelbein
& Susman,52 in turn, in their longitudinal study, have
observed alterations in the normative cortisol levels in
children associated with anxiety problems in adolescence
and adulthood (especially in women). Such high cortisol
levels are related to hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis
dysregulation by a mechanism of downregulation in the
feedback process. In other words, a decrease in the
number of receptors for stress hormones is observed
in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Such decrease
in the number of receptors is implicated in a type of
“dysregulated cycle” described by Niehoff49 as “a self-
perpetuating and self-defeating cycle in which stress
causes cortisol levels to rise, high levels of cortisol
reduce neuronal sensitivity, non-reactive neurons lose
control over the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis, and
the suprarenal gland, unsupervised, continues to excrete
excess cortisol” (p. 292).
From a psychosocial perspective on internalizing
pathways of children, the investigation shows that lack of
adaptive behavior from the mother is generally associated
to permissive boundaries in the parental subsystem, which
gives way to parentication and consequent increase of
externalizing disorders in children of divorce. Depressed
mothers are likely to establish a relationship in which they
conde in their children, which tends to be associated to
depression issues in children.53 On the other hand, children
involved in highly conicted divorces present are two to
ve times more likely to present behavioral disorders
and emotional dysregulation, when compared to normal
Externalizing disorders, in turn, encompass behaviors
regarded as “acting out”, such as addictive, impulsive or
hyperactive conducts or antisocial behaviors. Malone et
al.55 suggest that male children who experience parental
divorce are more likely to present externalizing behavior
at school, especially during the year of the divorce, with
a decrease to baseline levels one year after marital
disruption, if compared to female children. Such conducts
are usually associated to low cortisol production. Studies
show, however, that this is not a linear relation,49,56 once
high cortisol levels can be observed in children diagnosed
with externalizing disorders.
Jornal de Pediatria - Vol. 85, No. 5, 2009 391
Adjustment and health in children of divorce - Nunes-Costa RA et al.
Psychophysiology and physical health
According to the model proposed by Troxel et al.,9 the
effects of the chronicity in stress responses over health must
be taken into account, and, once the divorce experience
is potentially a source of acute and chronic stressors, it is
vital that one understands the implications of such event
over health and its role in the increase of psychopathological
symptoms in children of divorce, both in the short and
Stress and psychophysiology
The subjective perception of a stress-inducing element
in the environment activates a cascade of biological actions
in order to produce an organic survival reaction from an
evolutionary perspective. Once it reaches the thalamus,
information from the various sensorial channels is forwarded
to the cortical and subcortical structures responsible for
the emotional assessment of stimuli, namely the prefrontal
cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex,
and insular cortex.
After assessing an event as negative – parental
divorce, in the present case –, the hippocampus activates
the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The
paraventricular nucleus in the hippocampus release
arginine vasopressin (AVP) and corticotropin-releasing
factor (CRF)57 which, in turn, activates the amygdala,58
nucleus accumbens, sympathetic nervous system, and
nally the pituitary-adrenal axis. The CRF causes the
anterior pituitary to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone
(ACTH) and beta-endorphins. After its production, the
ACTH enters the circulatory system (achieving maximum
increment at approximately 10-15 minutes) and activates
the suprarenal cortex. The suprarenal gland is in charge of
producing glucocorticoids (in the human species, cortisol),
whose maximum increment is achieved only after 15-30
minutes,59 and mineralocorticoids (aldosterone).60 The
function of cortisol is mainly to reinforce the formation of
glucose from amino acids and in anti-inammatory and
immunosuppressants (such as suppressing cytokines). This
is, however, a pluripotent hormone which acts in different
tissues, regulating countless aspects of the organism’s
metabolism, functioning and growth.
This system also causes the adrenal medulla to secrete
the catecholamines noradrenaline and adrenaline, thus
gathering the organism’s energies for action, preparing
it to imminent ight from potentially adverse situations
(such as interparental conict and parental inconsistency),
a process which is reected by increased heart rate, blood
pressure, hyperhidrosis, peripheral vasoconstriction,
increased sensorial, pupil and airway activity, in addition to
inhibition of functions which are irrelevant at a time of ight
or adjustment, such as digestion or growth hormone (GH)
action. These are quick and ephemeral responses which
allow for an increase of attention levels, due to an activation
of the mesocortical dopaminergic system, especially its
projections over the medial prefrontal cortex.59
The stress response to parental divorce, efcient
and physiologically exible, is adaptive on the short-run.
However, once continually subject to homotypical or severe
stimuli, children’s organisms suffer a drop in their capacity
for feedback response, establishing a positive correlation
with the risk of disease. This is expressed, for instance,
in the increased number of behaviors associated to
depressive states, insulin-resistant diabetes, hypertension,
immunosuppression, reproductive problems, and Cushing’s
syndrome.61 When children are subject to chronic stress
related to their parents’ marital dissolution, several studies
suggest a signicant increase in dendritic arborization in the
basolateral nucleus of the amygdala, capable of inducing
atrophy of the pyramidal neurons of the hippocampus,
especially in the CA3 region.62,63 This, in turn, suggests
that chronic stress can lead to unbalanced hypothalamo-
pituitary-adrenal axis, with gradual loss of inhibitory control
of the pituitary and a more intense exciting action of the
Through several feedforward cycles, during which cortisol
causes a boost in cortisol production, the concentration
of stress hormones in the blood is nely adjusted to the
requirements of the stress-inducing situation, a process
which can lead to a state of sleeplessness and hyperreactivity.
The hippocampus, as the brain region with the most
glucocorticoid receptors, is also an extremely sensitive
region to neurotoxic concentrations of such substances.64
Excessive exposure to cortisol results in structural and
functional alterations in the hippocampus.65,66 The medial
prefrontal cortex and the prelimbic cortex also seem to
undergo structural reorganization after continual cortisol
stimulation, as observed in the hippocampus. It is estimated
that such alterations are responsible for a 40% reduction in
this region’s inputs, which may be associated to outputs from
the amygdala during a period of continuous stress.66
Stress and immunology
Most studies with humans on the effects of stress,
in naturalist context, suggest that, in face of stress-
inducing situations (such as parental divorce), the immune
system displays signs of decreased competence due to
the innervation of lymphoid tissue, both by sympathetic
projections and by parasympathetic nervous projections.67
Such effect implies a decrease in NK lymphocyte activity68;
proliferation of lymphocytes69,70; lymphocyde cytocity71; and
increased number of herpes virus antibodies.69,72 Studies
in laboratorial contexts with humans also seem to suggest
the same types of results.73
However, as shown by studies on the effects of mood74
or other stress-reduction interventions,59 the immune
392 Jornal de Pediatria - Vol. 85, No. 5, 2009
Increased risk of physical injuries, disease, hospitalization, somatization, and early mortality associated to parental
Increased health-risk behaviors, such as substance, tobacco, and alcohol abuse following parental divorce91,93-97;
Dysregulation of nutritional patterns and sleep patterns98;
Difculty in sphincter training99,100;
Greater vulnerability to obesity, caused by the effective decrease in parental monitoring101;
More vulnerability to respiratory diseases102;
Increased probability of early engagement in sexual activity and adolescent pregnancy103,104;
Lower frequency of access to health care due to decreased parental responsiveness as one of the causes of higher
prevalence of physical health problems105;
Parental divorce associated to chronic health conditions (hypertension, asthma, insomnia) in adultulthood106,107.
Table 2 - Main conclusions over the impact of parental divorce over children’s physical health
Adjustment and health in children of divorce - Nunes-Costa RA et al.
response may vary positively, depending on the individual
differences (such as coping strategies, personality and
behavioral patterns), mood, or social support network.
In contrast with the most important and oldest
investigations in the eld of psychoendocrinology, recent
laboratory evidence reveal a positive association between
laboratory exposure to stress-inducting factors and immune
response against pathogenic agents.75
Stress, divorce and immunology
Divorce alone does not increase the vulnerability for
diseases on the long-run, unless it is experienced in a
negative way (for example, associated to interparental
conict and a depressive psychopathology in parents) or
leads to losing touch with one of the parents.9
Reports of interparental conict are associated to an
increase in the search for health services76 and to an increase
in somatic symptoms and physical disease both on the short-
run77,78 and on the long-run.79 Parallel to these records,
Ballard et al.80 have found repercussions on a physiological
level in children of conicted families, namely the increase
of blood pressure and of catecholamines in the urine. El-
Sheikh & Harger81 have recently demonstrated that children
of highly conicted parents present with increased cardiac
reactivity when exposed in laboratory to audio recordings
of arguments. Likewise, another study reports high levels
of cortisol on the blood stream of children used to parental
conict and rare cortisol peaks in response to punishment
and argument situations.82 Parental conict also interferes
with the parasympathetic response, probably associated to
disadaptive interactions with the environment.83
The long-term relation between disruption in caretaking,
especially when associated to signicant reduction in the
time of contact with one of the parents and to physiological
functions, is mainly described in terms of increased blood
pressure84 and alterations in the hypothalamo-pituitary-
adrenal axis.2 On this level, however, Saler & Skolnick85
argue that long-term negative repercussions increase
when the quality of the relationship with the parent who
is present in the child’s everyday life is compromised.
As previously mentioned, depression associated to
a divorce process is also a risk factor in internalizing/
externalizing disorders in children and adolescents.30
However, the repercussion of depressive psychopathology of
parents over the physical health and physiological response
of children is not yet clear either in the short-run or in
the long-run. Some studies have been designed with the
purpose of making this relationship more clear, showing high
baseline cortisol levels in children of depressed mothers,86,87
as well as exacerbated cortisol responses in physiological
responses to stress.88,89
In summary, a solid set of evidence has been gathered,
focusing on the effects of divorce over children’s physical
health and psychosocial adaptation. Most of these studies
have found a signicant relation between divorce and risk
factors associated to it, with less adjusted developmental
results in children of divorce. As described by the model
of Troxel & Matthews,9 this review has presented and
described the psychobiological mechanisms responsible
for the negative reection of the psychosocial stressor
in question over physical health. As a conclusion, the
main consequences of marital dissolution over the health
and health behaviors in children of divorced parents are
presented in Table 2.
Final remarks
This article has described the impact of divorce over
the psychological development, physiological stress
responses, physical health and psychopathology in children.
Jornal de Pediatria - Vol. 85, No. 5, 2009 393
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Adjustment and health in children of divorce - Nunes-Costa RA et al.
The conclusion is that psychopathological behaviors of
children could have been generated in a conicted family
environment, marked by parental practices unsuitable for
their demands, as a result of a disadaptive family transition.
Such environment, rich in chronicity-susceptible stressors,
easily interferes in the physiological response to stress,
which, in turn, has an impact over children’s physical46,55
and psychological health.
However, this review does not primarily aim to raise
conceptual hypothesis to explain the visible relations
between these dimensions. This topic is fairly recent
in the eld of investigation, which is why there are
no transversal or longitudinal studies grouping and
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consequence, in the future it will be necessary to develop
studies with more encompassing methodological designs,
that aim to study the interconnections and causality
processes between separation, developmental level of
children, psychophysiological substrates of stress, physical
health levels and psychopathological symptoms, so as to
contribute to the empirical knowledge on the impact of
divorce over children’s developmental pathways.
Children’s psychological development is not affected
by the divorce itself. Clarke-Stewart et al., for instance,
have found that, in a sample consisting of children of
up to 3 years old, children of intact families presented
better performance in social and cognitive abilities, quality
of attachment, and less behavioral problems, when
compared to children of divorced parents. However, when
controlling the variables mothers’ educational level, level
of interparental conict, and family nancial condition,
developmental differences were signicantly reduced, so
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two groups.108 Guided by this line of investigation, several
studies have reinforced and supported the hypothesis
that divorce itself is not an automatic guarantee of
maladjustment; instead, the variables associated to
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can contribute, under certain circumstances, to improve
children’s well-being and level of physical health.110,111
It is essential to underscore, through the many evidences
presented, the existence of diversity in the developmental
processes and responses to divorce, given that, according
to the data under investigation, it is not adequate to state
that a single pattern of adjustment to divorce exists.
Granted, children of divorced parental dyads are, in most
cases, faced with more stressors and show more problems
in family interaction and personal adaptation than children
from intact families. However, most of these children are
resilient and able to cope with the impact of divorce over
their lives, thus returning to the levels of adaptation they
presented before the stress-inducing event. In some cases,
parental divorce may even operate as a lever for more
benecial developmental pathways, thus promoting optimal
The authors are thankful to Patrícia Silva, biologist and PhD
student in Clinical Psychology in the Neuropsychophysiology
Laboratory of the School of Psychology at Universidade
do Minho, for the orthographic adaptation of the original
article to Brazilian Portuguese.
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Bárbara Figueiredo
Departamento de Psicologia
Universidade do Minho
Campus de Gualtar
4710-057 - Braga - Portugal
Tel.: +351 (253) 604.223
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... If high-conflict or violent couples choose to end their relationship, and if these couples have children with one another, it may be especially important for these parents to seek therapeutic services to prevent high conflict after the divorce to aid in their ability to co-parent their children amicably. Even if couples decide to end their relationship after high conflict or violence, a positive co-parenting relationship can aid in the couple's individual levels of adjustment (Katz & Woodin, 2002), as well as the children's adjustment levels after the divorce (Nunes-Costa, Lamela, & Figueiredo, 2009). It is imperative that clinicians have an understanding of working with high-conflict divorcing families, as aiding these parents in positive co-parenting strategies will have positive impacts on all members of the family, especially on the children. ...
... Parent-Focused Therapy aimed to decrease destructive conflicts, or to make the conflicts more constructive, is needed, to minimize the negative effects of conflicts on children's well-being. Research shows that conflict intensity and escalation are related to (1) negative attributions (Fincham & Bradbury, 1987) (the tendency to make the other parent responsible for all negative situations and expressions of intense negative emotions) (Anderson et al., 2010), (2) parents' lack of acceptance of and/or lack of adjustment to the divorce, (3) perceived social network disapproval of the ongoing co-parenting relationship , and (4) children's lack of well-being and psychosocial functioning (Amato, 2001;Nunes-Costa et al., 2009). ...
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.
... Los efectos adversos de vivenciar este proceso se ha registrado tanto a corto (Askew, Schluter, Spurling, Bond, y Brown, 2013) como a largo plazo, incluso en la edad adulta (Fuller-Thomson y Dalton, 2015; Larson y Halfon, 2013). Investigadores de distintas especialidades han estudiado la relación entre la ruptura de los progenitores y alteraciones en la salud de los hijos e hijas o el desarrollo de patologías, pudiendo ser estas tanto de tipo agudo como crónico (Amato, 2000;Nunes-Costa, Lamela, y Figueiredo, 2009). a) Respecto a su salud cardiovascular, se ha relacionado la ruptura parental con una mayor incidencia de enfermedades de tipo coronario e hipertensión en los hijos e hijas (Guzmán-Pantoja et al., 2008;Krantz y Manuck, 1984). ...
... Vivencias como la separación o divorcio de los progenitores se ha relacionado con efectos negativos en el bienestar psicoemocional de los hijos e hijas (Amato, 2001;Amato y Keith, 1991;Nunes-Costa et al., 2009). Entre las consecuencias psicoemocionales se observa un mayor riesgo de desarrollar alteraciones tanto de tipo internalizante como externalizante (Weaver y Schofield, 2015). ...
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[Está disponible una adaptación en español de la tesis original] The family model concept has experienced substantial changes in the last century which has fundamentally affected its composition and has derived on important social and legal transformations. With reference to the multiple transformations that has affected what the family concept is, it is necessary to highlight relationship breakup incidences where children are involved, strengthened by the normalization and facilitation of marital annulment from the legal context. The aim of the present Doctoral Dissertation is to analyse the impact of parental rupture on children and adolescents. The three scientific articles, that compose the Dissertation, study the consequences of parental rupture on the physical health, the psycho- emotional, and social adjustment, and the academic performance of children and adolescents, as well as the impact of the socio-economic situation of the family. The objective of the first investigation was to estimate the risk regarding to the exposure of parental breakup and children ́s physical health, with a sample formed by 467 families. The family type was used as predictor variable (families with parental breakup, n=300 vs intact families, n=167), and physical health marks as dependent variable. The aim of the second study was to estimate the epidemiology and quantify the outcomes on the wellbeing of children of separated parents. The sample was composed by 346 children and adolescents, 173 separated parents, and 173 parents from intact families. In the third investigation, a field study was designed to identify and quantify damages on school adjustment and academic performance. A total of 196 children, who experienced parental breakup, formed the sample. The results show that the children from families with parental breakup have a bigger risk to develop health problems (OR=1.791), specifically gastrointestinal disorders (OR = 2.258), genitourinary disorders (OR = 1.770), dermatological disorders (OR = 1.983) and neurological disorders (OR = 1.997). In 11 relation to psychological adjustment, the results show more risks to suffer from discomfort (17%), anxiety (17%), depression (20%), hostility (27%), paranoid ideation (20%), and interpersonal alienation (19%), and a lower level of self-concept (Pillai’s Trace=0.23, F(5,146)=8.85, p<0.001, 1-β=1.00) for children who experienced parental break-up than children from intact families. Regarding social adjustment, the numbers confirm that the experience of parental divorce has its impact on interpersonal relations (Pillai’s Trace= 0.08, F(5,146)=2.36, p<0.05, 1-β=0.741), increasing the risk of losing self- control in social relations (16%) and having social withdrawal (21%). What refers to the academic and scholar adjustment, the analysis shows a deterioration academic achievement (χ2(1, N = 346)=9.87, p<0.001, φ=0.169), and higher rates of school dropouts (χ2(1,N=181)=3.85, p<0.05, φ=0.146). Finally, the results indicate that parental breakup affects negatively the socio-economical level of the families (χ2(1,N=186) = 22.42, p<0.001), increasing the probability of falling below the poverty line (OR=2.11). As a result, it can be established that parental divorce can be a risk factor for children’s wellbeing. These findings must be taken into account and social and sanitary policies must be put into practice, promoting detection mechanisms (in sanitary, educational, psychosocial and juridical fields) as well as prevention mechanisms (family mediation, parental coordination and psycoeducational programs based on positive parenting) which decrease the adverse effects of divorce on children and adolescents.
... Specifically, about 20-25% of children in divorced families, compared to 10% of children in intact families, demonstrate severe emotional and behavioral problems (Hetherington, 1993;McLanahan, 1999). moves), lack of a supportive network, financial difficulties in the single parent family and problems in parents' mental and physical health after separation (Amato, 2000(Amato, , 2001Bauserman, 2002;Finkelhor, Ormrod, & Turner, 2007;Green, Goodman, Krupnick, Corcoran, & Petty, 2000;Grych, 2005;Hetherington, 2003;Katz & Woodin, 2002;Kelly, 2000;Kelly & Emery, 2003;Nair & Murray, 2005;Nunes-Costa, Lamela, & Figueiredo, 2009;Rhoades, 2008). ...
... Numerous of studies in divorce related literature have shown that divorcees' relationships after separation had a great contribution to children's emotional well-being (Clarke-Stewart & Brentano, 2006;Nunes-Costa et al., 2009). In this particular study the supportive relationships between the ex-husbands aftermaths of divorce were positive related to children's behavioral or emotional regulation and social competence, such as the ability to develop positive relationships with others. ...
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This study examined the relation between some of the major risk and protective factors of divorce and young children’s (4 to 7 years old) emotional well-being by adοpting an ecosystemic approach based on Bronfenbrenner’s theory and Kurdek’s model of divorce. Children’s well-being was assessed by a set of components such as attention, emotional and behavioural regulation, ability to take initiatives, positive relationships with others, parents’ sensitive response to child’s needs and cooperation with school. The study was conducted with a representative sample of 130 divorced parents from different regions in Greece. The questionnaire comprised of a cluster of scales and was completed by the custodial parent. Data supported that parent-child affective relationship, supportive co-parenting, parent’s life satisfaction and the availability of supportive social groups were positively correlated to children’s emotional well-being. On the other hand, pre-divorce intra-parental hostility, conflicts between the custodial parent and the child and child’s feeling of rejection were related to less favourable developmental outcomes according to parental perception. Τhe findings are discussed through the prism of the crucial role that divorce related factors play on the developmental process and their implications to divorce intervention programs.
... Another perspective is that family structure heterogeneity may supersede the structure itself, through underlying processes such as family cohesion and family climate (Covington et al., 2021;Herke et al., 2020;TM, 2012) which may influence adolescent EBRB and consequently their weight status. In the case of separated parents, lower levels of resilience, internalizing and externalizing problems due to the possible presence of interparental conflict and risk behaviours due to inconsistency in parenting styles may be related to inequalities in EBRB (Nunes-Costa et al., 2009;Schaan & Vogele, 2016;van Dijk et al., 2020). Also mental challenges important for weight development, e.g. ...
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Background Trends of increased complexity in family structure have developed alongside increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity. This study examines cross-national variations in the likelihood of living with overweight and obesity among adolescents living with one parent versus two parents, as well as the influence of living with stepparents, grandparents and siblings. Furthermore, the study explores how these associations relate to age, gender and individual-level socioeconomic status (SES) and country-level SES. We hypothesised that adolescents living in one-parent versus two-parents families, were more likely to live with overweight and obesity. Methods The study is based on nationally representative data from 41 countries participating in the 2013/14 Health Behaviors in School-Aged Children study (n = 211.798). Multilevel logistic regression analysis was used to examine the associations between family structure and overweight and obesity by age, gender, SES, and geographic region, among adolescents aged 11, 13 and 15 years. Results Living with one versus two parent(s) was associated with a higher likelihood of overweight and obesity (ORadj.1.13, 95%CI 1.08,1.17). Age, gender, individual-level SES, and living with grandparents were also associated with a higher likelihood of overweight and obesity, whereas living with siblings was associated with a lower likelihood of overweight and obesity. The effect of family structure varied also by age and gender with no significant associations found between living with one parent and overweight and obesity in the 15-year-old age group. Some cross-national variation was observed, and this was partly explained by country-level SES. The effect of family structure increased by a factor 1.08 per one-unit change in country-level SES (OR 1.08, 95%CI1.03, 1.12). Conclusion The study indicates that living in a one-parent family, as well as living together with grandparents, are associated with overweight and obesity among adolescents, particularly in the Nordic European region. Existing welfare policies may be insufficient to eliminate inequalities related to family structure differences.
... [13][14][15] Research highlights the importance of addressing the timing of parental separation 16 and in general, preschool children may be more susceptible towards stress following parental separation. 17,18 Long-term consequences may arise due to hormonal changes and elevated cortisol levels following chronic augmentation of the HPA axis. 19,20 This increased HPA axis activity may in turn suppress the HPG axis, since these interact, 21 and may thereby influence semen quality due to its effect on spermatogenesis. ...
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Purpose: Parental separation may be a stressful life event with the potential to influence hormonal regulation of offspring reproductive health and thereby affect semen quality in young men. We aimed to study the association between parental separation in pregnancy or in childhood and semen quality in young men and to study whether the timing of parental separation in childhood was important. Patients and methods: We conducted a follow-up study of 1058 young men born 1998-2000 from the Fetal Programming of Semen Quality (FEPOS) cohort nested within the Danish National Birth Cohort. Data on parental separation were obtained longitudinal by self-report. Parental separation in pregnancy was dichotomized, and parental separation in childhood was both dichotomized and categorized according to the timing of parental separation (from birth, from early childhood (0-5 years), and from late childhood (6-10 years)). Semen volume, concentration, total sperm count, motility, morphology, and testes volume were analysed using multivariable negative binomial regression models. Results: Parental separation in pregnancy was not associated with semen quality. The association between parental separation in childhood and semen quality differed with the timing of parental separation. Parental separation from birth was associated with higher semen volume of 25%, 95% CI (-5; 64); higher total sperm count of 62%, 95% CI (-6; 179); and higher proportion of morphologically normal spermatozoa of 59%, 95% CI (20; 111). Parental separation in early childhood was associated with lower semen volume of -14%, 95% CI (-24; -3); lower concentration of -15%, 95% CI (-28; 1); lower total sperm count of -17%, 95% CI (-32; 2) and lower testes volume of -11%, 95% CI (-18; -3). Conclusion: The timing of parental separation was important, and parental separation from birth was associated with higher semen quality, and parental separation in early childhood was associated with lower semen quality.
There are very few evidence-based parent education programs focused on divorce even though more and more state court systems are requiring them. This study builds the evidence-base by using a population of parents who were court-mandated to take a parenting class as part of their divorce proceedings. With over 800 parents in the study, we found the on-line parent education program increased parent knowledge of skills in effective communication and parenting immediately after the course, and parents retained their knowledge and skills 30-days after the course. Qualitative analysis indicated parent-reported changes in their behavior after the course as well.
This study assessed the relationships between psychological morbidity, social intimacy, perception of the parental relationship, lifestyle and physical symptomatology as well as the contributors of physical symptomatology, in adult children of divorced parents. Participants answered the Physical Symptom Questionnaire, the Anxiety, Depression and Stress Scale, the Lifestyle Questionnaire, the Social Intimacy Scale and The Perception of the Parental Relationship Scale. Results revealed that older participants showed lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress and that male participants perceived the parental relationship as better when compared to females. There was a negative association between depression and the duration of parental divorce. Adult children with greater physical symptoms and more anxious showed less social intimacy. The latter was associated with a less healthy lifestyle. As expected less physical symptomatology was associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. Anxiety was the only variable that contributed to physical symptomatology. Intervention should be gender sensitive and focus early on on the identification of psychological morbidity, social intimacy, healthy behaviors, and physical symptomatology, in adult children whose parents are in the process of divorcing.
When divorce or separation of a couple occurs, children will no longer live with both parents at the same time. There may be multiple causes for divorce, and both literature and our own experien ce as child mental health providers, report some short- and long-term consequences for children, especially where the divorce has been conflictive. In these cases, increased risk of developing be havioral disorders, poor school performance, and substance abuse has been documented as well as consequences in adult life with higher risk of psychiatric pathologies or difficulties in interpersonal relationships, if an intervention that addresses some potentially traumatic situations for children is not done. Pediatricians are in a privileged relationship with children and their families in order to detect signs of parental discord and altered mental health in children. Children behaviors as a result of divorce and parental conflict will depend on the age of the child and stage of development, and it is important to recognize them in order to intervene properly. This article proposes some guidelines for parents. Good management of high conflict situations related to divorce may prevent some of the consequences that these can have on children.
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Resumen El presente trabajo pretende estudiar cómo es el ajuste psicológico de los niños y niñas cuyos padres están separados, así como sus similitudes o diferencias con el de chicos y chicas cuyos padres permanecen casados. Se llevó a cabo un estudio con una muestra de 96 niños y niñas de entre 6 y 12 años, hijos de madres separadas, y una muestra paralela de otros 93 cuyos progenitores convivían, evaluando en ellos distintos indicadores de ajuste psicológico: competencia escolar, competencia cognitiva y social, problemas de comportamiento y autoestima. Los resultados encontrados evidencian: a) que los hijos e hijas de progenitores separados muestran, de media, puntuaciones de ajuste psicológico en los niveles medios de las diversas escalas; b) la existencia de diferencias a favor de los chicos y chicas que viven en una familia biparental, y c) que estas diferencias son de escasa magnitud y que hay una clara superposición entre ambas muestras. Palabras clave: Abstract This work try to study childrensdevolopment adjust who live with their divorced mother, and their similarities and differences with childrens who live with both parents. We studied 96 childrens who live with their divoced mother, and 93 childrens who live with both parents. We studied academic competence, cognitive and social competence, problematic behavior and self- steem. Results indicates: a) childrens who live with their divorced mother have a normal adjustment, b) differences indicate that childrens who live with both parents are better adjust than childrens who live with their divorced mother, and c) these differences between them are minimal and exist a clear overlap between both group of childrens.
This comprehensive book provides a balanced overview of the current research on divorce. The authors examine the scientific evidence to uncover what can be said with certainty about divorce and what remains to be learned about this socially and politically charged issue. Accessible to parents and teachers as well as clinicians and researchers, the volume examines the impact of marital breakup on children, adults, and society. Alison Clarke-Stewart and Cornelia Brentano synthesize the most up-to-date information on divorce from a variety of disciplinary perspectives with thoughtful analysis of psychological issues. They convey the real-life consequences of divorce with excerpts from autobiographies by young people, and they also include guidelines for social policies that would help to diminish the detrimental effects of divorce. © 2006 by Alison Clarke-Stewart and Cornelia Brentano. All rights reserved.
In this chapter, I examine how marital conflict, divorce, and remarriage affect parenting, parent-child and sibling relationships, and the adjustment of children as they move from early to mid-adolescence. The association between marital and family discord, marital transitions and child adjustment is well established. Children and adolescents living in contentious homes or divorced or remarried families in comparison; with those in harmonious nondivorced families are higher in externalizing behavior problems (antisocial behavior, aggression, noncompliance) and internalizing behavior problems (inhibited, withdrawn behavior, anxiety, depression) and lower in social responsibility, self-esteem, and social and cognitive competence (see Amato, 2001; Amato & Keith, 1991a; Cummings, Goeke-Morey, & Rapp, 2001; Hetherington, Bridges, & Insabella, 1998; Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 2000; 2002; McLanahan, 1999, for reviews). Although conduct disorders decline in young adulthood, substance abuse, alcoholism and troubles with the law remain higher in youths from conflicted, divorced and remarried families. Youths who have experienced their parent's marital transitions also are more likely to be single parents, to experience lower socioeconomic and educational attainment and to be on welfare. In addition, they have more problems with family members, in intimate relations, in marriage and in the workplace. Their divorce rate is higher and their reports of general well-being and life satisfaction are lower (Amato, 1999; 2001; see Chapter 8, in this book); Amato & Booth, 1996; Amato & Keith, 1991b; Hetherington, 1999a; 2003; Hetherington & Kelly, 2002).
This article describes the kind and degree of coparenting being maintained by a group of divorcing families approximately 18 months after parental separation. The sample was taken from court records of divorce filings in two California counties in 1984-85 and includes nearly 1,000 families who had children under age 16 at the time of filing. Three patterns of de facto residential custody (children living with mother, with father, or having dual residence) are compared. While dual-residence parents maintained somewhat higher levels of communication, their levels of conflict did not differ from those of primary-residence parents. The amount of conflict in coparenting is shown to be related to the intensity of interparental hostility at an earlier time.
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.
Parents who are not capable of producing high-quality children tend to invest more in daughters. When parents divorce, the investment per offspring inevitably declines. It was predicted that parental divorce would result in development of more manipulative, less altruistic interpersonal attitudes—except for the relationship between daughters and kin. It also was predicted that parental divorce would produce insecurity in adult relationships, lower academic performance, and increased sexuality. Students (N = 139) provided family demographics and personal information including American College Test score and grade-point average (GPA). They completed questionnaires measuring adult security of attachment, helping attitudes, Machiavellianism, and sexual restrictedness (sociosexuality [SOI]). Children of divorce had increased SOI scores, were less helpful, and had lower GPAs. Women whose parents had divorced were more Machiavellian towards people in general but not towards relatives, as predicted. Parental divorce was associated with reduced probability of being securely attached for women but not for men. Results indicate the need for more precise theory making different predictions for men and women.
Security of attachment and level of individuation from parents and peers was examined among 126 undergraduates, 42 with a history of suicidality, 42 who were currently depressed with no history of suicidality, and 42 normal controls. Suicidality was defined as history of serious suicidal ideation or suicide attempt. As predicted, students with a history of suicidality exhibited both the lowest security of attachment as well as the least degree of individuation in their current relationships with parents. In contrast, they were similar to depressed and control students on security of peer attachment and level of individuation from peers. Students with a history of suicidality rated their parents and mother as emotionally absent in childhood to a significantly higher degree than depressed and normal controls. This effect was independent of depression but not from gender. History of suicidality is more strongly associated with family instability than with parental divorce. Absence of parents as emotionally available attachment figures at a time when such availability is critical heightens adolescents' vulnerability to suicide.
We examined the impact of parental death and divorce prior to age 17 on physical and mental wellbeing in a national probability sample of middle-aged adults. The results suggest that, for men, parental divorce was associated with less positive relations with others, less self-acceptance, lower environmental mastery, and greater depression. Parental divorce predicted higher levels of physical health problems for both men and women. This relationship was mediated by income, education, drug use, and family support and was greater for men than women. Parental death predicted more autonomy for men and a higher likelihood of depression for women. The results contribute to understanding the developmental pathways involved in linking early life experiences to adulthood outcomes.