Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Reducing Interparental Conflict among Parents in Contentious Child Custody Disputes: An Initial Investigation of the Working Together Program

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Reducing Interparental Conflict among Parents in Contentious Child Custody Disputes: An Initial Investigation of the Working Together Program

Article excerpt

Interparental conflict is one of the primary risk factors for negative outcomes for children whose parents separate, and it is likely to be high while parents are separating. Results are mixed regarding the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing interparental conflict. This study examined co-parents who were court-ordered to attend a 12-hr co-parenting intervention and completed pre-postassessments (n = 20) and 2-month follow-up assessments (n = 17). The results demonstrated increases in co-parents' relationship functioning and confidence in co-parenting. Both men and women reported decreased amounts of conflict in the presence of their children; however, only women reported decreases in general negative communication with the co-parent. These changes were generally maintained at a 2-month follow-up assessment. These findings suggest that interventions for high-conflict co-parents may increase their ability to work cooperatively.

In the United States, current estimates suggest that approximately 40-50% of couples will divorce (Bramlett & Mosher, 2002) and that nearly 75% of children born into cohabiting unions will see their parents' relationship end (Bumpass & Lu, 2000). This instability of parenting unions impacts the mental and physical well-being of adults and children. For instance, adults who go through relationship separation are at increased risk for depression and alcohol use, and their children are at increased risk for emotional and behavioral problems (Amato, 2000; Fincham & Beach, 1999; Grych & Fincham, 1999, 2001; Pruett & Hoganbruen, 1998; Waite et al., 2002).

For many dissolved unions, the heightened interparental conflict and lack of cooperation in parenting are primary sources of stress (Fincham, 2003; Grych, 2005; Lebow & Rekart, 2007; Pruett, Williams, Insabella, & Little, 2003). Increased parental conflict, especially in the presence of the children, threatens children's sense of emotional security and influences their views about family structure and relational commitment (Amato & Cheadle, 2005; Davies & Cummings, 1994; Mazur, Wolchik, & Sandler, 1992; Roseby & Johnston, 1995). Indeed, numerous studies have shown that good parental conflict resolution and clarity about parental roles and boundaries are associated with better child adjustment (Cookston, Braver, Griffin, De Luse, & Miles, 2007; Grych & Fincham, 1990; Sbarra & Emery, 2005; Shifliett-Simpson & Cummings, 1996).

Many parents are unable to agree about child custody and other co-parenting issues, and subsequently they rely on the judicial system for assistance (Pruett et al., 2003). In turn, the judicial system has frequently utilized mediators, parenting coordinators, and psychoeducation interventions to help co-parents reach agreements and learn to cooperate in the parenting process (Goodman, Bonds, Sandler, & Braver, 2004; Kelly, 2004; Pruett & Johnston, 2004). The use of psychoeducational group programs has received increased attention over the past two decades. Most of these programs have focused on two core elements in the co-parenting relationship: (a) interparental conflict and (b) quality of parenting. While the effectiveness of interventions aimed at increasing the quality of parenting has been largely supported (e.g., Devilin, Brown, Beebe, & Párulis, 1992; Forgatch & DeGarmo, 1999; Pruett, Insabella, & Gustafson, 2005; Wolchik et al., 2002), there has been less empirical support for the effectiveness of interventions to reduce interparental conflict (see Goodman et al., 2004, for a review).

Interparental Conflict Definitions and Review of Intervention Outcomes

Most studies in the co-parenting literature have separated co-parenting conflict into three distinct, yet related categories: (a) interparental conflict, which typically includes disagreements between co-parents and conflict in the presence of the children, (b) attitudinal conflict that reflects negative attitudes toward the co-parent or generally low co-parent relationship adjustment, and (c) legal conflict (e. …

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