Parental conflict during divorce.

Parental separation and #divorce is considered as an adverse childhood experience and contributes to increased risk for negative physical and behavioural health outcomes in adulthood. It is also a relatively common phenomenon that among children in the United States born to married parents, roughly 27% will experience parental divorce before reaching adulthood. Although children experience adversity during and after a parental divorce, the negative effects tend to be modest, and many children do well following parental divorce.

Researchers have documented many protective and risk factors for children’s outcomes in the context of parental divorce. Established literature indicates that a stronger co-parenting alliance and greater positive parenting practices are protective. Conversely, high levels of parental conflict correspond with a high risk of negative outcomes among children.


One area for exploration is how positive behaviour in one part of the family system indirectly influences another part. Theoretically, positive parenting might be associated with the characteristics of the co-parenting alliance and the degree or nature of co-parenting conflict through a spillover effect of stress reduction along with increased positive affect and social capital.

More supportive co-parenting was associated with less parenting stress, which dynamically predicted less harsh parenting practices and child behaviour problems, indicating some relationships among these variables in addition to direct effects.

Resilience is exhibited by “good outcomes despite serious threats to adaptation or development”. The first criterion of resilience is establishing that exposure to a developmental risk factor or a risk to adaptation has occurred. Divorce is a well-established risk factor for negative child outcomes including reduced academic achievement and increased internalizing and externalizing symptoms. The second criterion of resilience is establishing that a “good outcome” has occurred. Examples of good outcomes among children of divorce can include academic achievement or absence of developing behavioural health challenges.


Parental conflict is a risk factor for negative outcomes in children and can disrupt how families negotiate postdivorce family life and legal resolution to the process. Sometimes conflict is the impetus for divorce or the result of the divorce process; other times, there is little to no conflict. After a divorce, conflict tends to decrease over time, but an estimated 8% to 12% of co-parents remain highly conflicted in the years following a divorce. High levels of parental conflict can negatively affect father-child relationships.


The conflict between parents can also be reflected in the divorce process itself; which means more intense and negative litigation over assets and custody, in turn, fueling more conflict. Continued conflict can negatively affect healthy co-parenting behaviours.

Source: Positive Parenting and Parental Conflict: Contributions to Resilient Coparenting During Divorce.
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