Study Hopeful About Children's Ability To Adjust To Divorce

December 31, 1996

Divorce does not have to lead to unhappy lives for children, according to a recently published book by Wake Forest University psychology professor Christy Buchanan.

In "Adolescents After Divorce," Buchanan, along with Stanford University researchers Eleanor E. Maccoby and Sanford M. Dornbusch, studied 365 post-divorce families to discover what factors predict better and worse adjustment for children following a divorce.

"The study provides insight into how adolescents adapt to different custody and visitation arrangements, to different patterns of parenting, and to being a part of two family systems," said Buchanan.

Among their findings was that children who maintain a close relationship with their custodial parent tend to be more well-adjusted than those who do not, said Buchanan.

The researchers looked at families about four years after the divorce. During the study, they interviewed more than 500 children between the ages of 10 and 18, living in each of the three most common custodial arrangements: mother, father, and joint custody. They looked at depression, deviant behavior and school functioning as indicators of adjustment, Buchanan said, "but the focus was on characteristics of post-divorce families‹the adolescents¹ relationships with each parent, their experiences in each household, and their coordination of life in two households."

The study revealed that adolescent children are remarkably adept at adjusting to joint custody and living in two households. "The logistics of living in two different homes didn¹t seem to bother the kids much, and to the children any annoyances were offset by the benefits of seeing both parents regularly," said Buchanan.

Regardless of the custody arrangement, Buchanan said the study indicates several ways parents can help their children cope with divorce. Don¹t ask kids to carry messages between parents, don¹t ask them for information about the other parent, and don¹t denigrate the other parent in front of the child. Adolescents who said they frequently felt caught between their parents were more depressed and somewhat more likely to be involved in deviant behavior than adolescents who did not report feeling caught, she added.

"What I would like parents to take away from this study is that there are things they can do to make divorce easier for their children," she concluded.

Wake Forest University

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