Reconsidering the "Good Divorce"/Commentary/Commentary

By Amato, Paul R.; Kane, Jennifer B. et al. | Family Relations, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Reconsidering the "Good Divorce"/Commentary/Commentary


Amato, Paul R., Kane, Jennifer B., James, Spencer, Pryor, Jan, Ahrons, Constance R., Family Relations


This study attempted to assess the notion that a "good divorce" protects children from the potential negative consequences of marital dissolution. A cluster analysis of data on postdivorce parenting from 944 families resulted in three groups: cooperative coparenting, parallel parenting, and single parenting. Children in the cooperative coparenting (good divorce) cluster had the smallest number of behavior problems and the closest ties to their fathers. Nevertheless, children in this cluster did not score significantly better than other children on 10 additional outcomes. These findings provide only modest support for the good divorce hypothesis.

Key Words: coparenting, divorce, divorce interventions, parent-child relations.

A substantial body of research shows that divorce is associated with behavioral, psychological, and academic problems among children. Research also indicates, however, that children's reactions to divorce vary substantially. The quality of the family environment prior to separation, for example, is one predictor of how well children adjust to divorce. That is, children tend to show improvements in well-being when divorce removes them from high-conflict households and decrements in well-being when divorce removes them from low-conflict households (Booth & Amato, 2001; Jekielek, 1998; Strohschein, 2005). Family relationships after divorce also appear to matter. As we describe later, research suggests that children's adjustment is facilitated when nonresident and resident parents are positively involved in their children's lives within the context of cooperative coparental relationships.

This research literature has led some scholars to embrace the notion of a "good divorce." Ahrons (1994) described a good divorce as "one in which both the adults and children emerge as least as emotionally well as they were before the divorce" (p. 2). With respect to children, she stated:

In a good divorce, a family with children remains a family. . . . The parents - as they did when they were married - continue to be responsible for the emotional, economic, and physical needs of their children. The basic foundation is that exspouses develop a parenting parentership, one that is sufficiently cooperative to permit the bonds of kinship - with and through their children - to continue. OP- 3)

The belief that a good divorce can result in minimal distress - and even promote the development of children and adults- - has pervaded the thinking of therapists, family courts, family scholars, and the general public.

To demonstrate the widespread influence of this notion, a Google search using the term "good divorce" produced over 400,000 hits (conducted on November 26, 20 1 0). To examine the content of these Web sites, the authors randomly sampled 200 Web pages from the first 680 listed. The majority of Web sites (60%) were not relevant to the current topic (e.g., How to find a good divorce lawyer.) The remaining Web sites (40%) contained articles from Internet news services, magazines, or blogs that described or debated the notion of a good divorce, advice on how to have a good divorce, and reviews of relevant books dealing with this topic. The large number of Google hits indicates that the notion of a good divorce is widely discussed on the Internet.

Although an intriguing possibility, the construct of a good divorce has rarely been examined directly. We use a nationally representative sample and cluster analysis to identify general patterns of postdivorce family life. We assume that a group of families with most of the characteristics of good divorces can be identified empirically. We then examine the extent to which children's general adjustment and well-being vary between families with good divorces and those with other postdivorce parenting patterns.

BACKGROUND

Postdivorce Parenting and Children 's Well-being

The research literature indicates that divorce is associated with an increased risk of behavioral, psychological, and academic problems among children (Amato, 2000, 2010; Hetherington & Kelly, 2002; Kelly & Emery, 2003). …

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