Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Postseparation Parenting Education in a Family Relationship Centre: A Pilot Study Exploring the Impact on Perceived Parent-Child Relationship and Acrimony

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Postseparation Parenting Education in a Family Relationship Centre: A Pilot Study Exploring the Impact on Perceived Parent-Child Relationship and Acrimony

Article excerpt


This research investigated whether 31 parents who attended the Sydney City Family Relationship Centre experienced improvement in parent-child relationship and a decrease in parental acrimony following a brief postseparation parenting education program. It was hypothesized that the results would indicate an improvement in parents' perceived parent-child relationship six to ten weeks after the post-separation parenting education program and this was found to be the case. It was also hypothesized that parents would experience a decrease in parental acrimony six to ten weeks after the postseparation parenting education program. However the results did not support this hypothesis. The results indicated an inverse relationship between the constructs of interest; as acrimony decreased, parent-child relationship improved. Findings from this pilot study endorse the continuation of a brief postseparation parenting education component in the FRC model Implications for future research are discussed.

Keywords: postseparation parenting education; Family Relationship Centres; parent-child relationship; acrimony; reflective functioning


Family separation represents a significant life stressor for both parents and children, involving multifaceted psychological experiences and the potential for aversive effects on the mental and physical wellbeing of those involved (McIntosh, Burke, Dour, & Gridley, 2009). Often there are complex legal processes involved when matters relating to the separation are in dispute, which may include parenting arrangements, financial issues, asset allocation, and ongoing child support. Over the last decade, an agenda has been steadily emerging for postseparation family dispute resolution (FDR) to incorporate processes that embrace both the psychological and legal aspects associated with family separation (McIntosh, 2006).

The Australian FDR framework for separated families has undergone substantial transitions in recent years, most fundamentally through the introduction of the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006 (Cth). This legislation encompasses a series of provisions focusing attention on parental attitudes and competence (Family Court of Australia, 2009a; Kaspiew, 2007) and is underpinned by consideration of children's best interests in light of their parents' parental management capacities. Under the new provisions the Court must consider the ability and willingness of each parent to encourage and facilitate a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent (Kaspiew, 2007; Overington, 2009). The court is also required to consider the extent to which each parent has historically taken the opportunity to exercise parental responsibility, fulfil their obligation to support and physically maintain the child, and communicate with the child (Kaspiew, 2007). In addition, the Family Court has always had the capacity to refer parents for education, counselling, and conferences with the Court's family consultants, and the new provisions extend the option of one-off or multiple referrals to compulsory mediation and postseparation education (Family Court of Australia, 2009b).

In conjunction with these recent legislative changes, the establishment of community-based Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) was designed to assist families generally, though its main focus is on families in the process of separating (Moloney, 2006). The number of child-focused dispute resolution services increased significantly with the roll out of 65 Centres between 2006 and 2008 (Fletcher, 2008). From July 2007, FDR became a mandatory first-step for most parents who were unable to agree on parenting arrangements after separation (Kaspiew, Gray, Weston, Moloney, Hand, Qu, & the family law evaluation team, 2009) Within the FRCs, FDR is supported by parenting education about family relationships and the impact of entrenched conflict and parental acrimony on children (Moloney, 2006). …

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