When Marriages Fail, The Home Is Often A Major Source Of Conflict

June 03, 1997

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Home may be where the heart is, but when homes and hearts break apart, the family home sometimes is less a haven and more a source of stress and conflict.

"While the home is rarely the direct cause of divorce, it often exacerbates pre-existing problems in the marriage," says University of Illinois architecture professor Kathryn Anthony. "Following the divorce, some parents and children still have a strong emotional attachment to the home they inhabited while the marriage was intact. For some, losing that home can cause severe grief resembling the loss of a loved one."

These are just a few of the observations Anthony reports in "Bitter Homes and Gardens: The Meanings of Home to Families of Divorce," published in the spring 1997 edition of the Journal of Architectural and Planning Research. Anthony, who is chair of the U. of I.'s Building Research Council, based her conclusions on two studies. In the first, she reviewed case histories at the Center for the Family in Transition in Corte Madera, Calif., and interviewed members of the center's research and clinical staff. That preliminary study formed the basis for the second, in which Anthony interviewed 58 parents and children receiving assistance from two divorce-support organizations in St. Louis.

Anthony's initial investigation revealed that "the physical housing environment can be problematic before, during and after divorce." Further, she found that children often experience similar problems with housing transitions, while parents' experiences differed, depending on whether they had custodial or non-custodial rights and whether they remained in the family home or were forced to seek new housing. Topping the list of problems reported by children was lack of privacy and inability to form friendships in new neighborhoods. For custodial parents who remained in the family home, "concerns about upkeep, maintenance and money problems were typical," Anthony said.

Among the key findings from the second study:

· For women and children who moved, living standards dropped; however, living standards declined for men as well.

· Mothers' levels of satisfaction with post-marital homes was close to what it had been in the marital homes, while children were less satisfied with their mother's and father's current homes.

· Following divorce, moving and house-hunting were the two greatest sources of stress for both mothers and children.

Anthony said architects can play an important role in aiding families in transition. Possibilities include "purpose-built housing" with onsite counseling and day-care services, and greater flexibility in architectural and interior design. Adaptable spaces and furnishings with multiple uses -- such as pocket doors and bays with windows that convert to sleeping areas -- could give children an important sense of having their own space when visiting non-custodial parents, Anthony added.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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