Divorce in Early Childhood May Harm Adult Ties With Parents: Study07/16/13
TUESDAY, July 16 (HealthDay News) -- If parents divorce when
their children are young, the split can affect how secure these
children will feel about their relationship with their parents as
adults, new research shows.
"The disruptive consequences of parental divorce on the security of parent-child relationships are more acute when parental divorce takes place early versus later in a child's life," said study author R. Chris Fraley, a professor of psychology at the university of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Fraley analyzed data from 7,335 of men and women, average age
24, who participated in a survey about personality and close
relationships online. More than one-third of the participants'
parents had divorced.
On average, the children were aged 9 at the time of the
Men and women from divorced families were less likely to see
their current relationship with their parents as secure. Those who
parents divorced when they were under 5 were more insecure than
those whose parents divorced when they were older.
When a person feels they have a secure relationship with a
parent, Fraley said, they feel they can trust them and depend on
them and that the parent will be available psychologically.
In the study, published online recently in the journal
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, feelings of
insecurity were much greater for the adult children's relationships
with their fathers.
The divorce did not have an substantial effect on the adult
children's views of their romantic partners, Fraley found.
"This research suggests that the consequences of parental divorce are selective," he said, "Undermining the security that people have in their parental relationships more so than their romantic ones."
Fraley repeated the analysis with another group of 7,500 adults.
These men and women, if their parents divorced, told which parent
had primary custody. While 74 percent lived with mothers, 11
percent lived with their fathers. The rest lived with other
Participants were most likely to have an insecure adult
relationship with the parent they did not live with, Fraley
Fraley won't make recommendations based on the study. In the
paper, however, he writes that ''something as basic as the amount
of time that one spends with a parent or one's living arrangements
can have the potential to shape the quality of the attachment
relationship that one has with a parent."
The new results echo some found earlier by Jennifer Vendemia, an
associate professor of psychology at the University of South
Carolina. She was not involved with the latest study.
While the study new has strengths, she said one potential
weakness is the questionnaire used, which is not yet well known in
However, she said the take-home from the new study is that
"Fathers need to make an effort to stay involved in a child's
Another expert said the new study shows divorce has long-term
effects. "But at the same time, these effects are potentially
limited -- that is, likely to be most influential on one's
relationship with his or her parents," said Omri Gillath, an
associate professor of social psychology at the University of
While not minimizing the effect, he noted that the study found
divorce does not seem to affect all relationships as an adult.
"It is also important to keep in mind that although divorce can have many negative consequences, sometimes staying together rather than getting a divorce is actually worse for the child."
His advice for divorcing parents? Be as civilized as possible,
he said, acknowledging that can be difficult.
To learn more about helping children whose parents are
divorcing, visit the
American Academy of Child and Adolescent
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