A new study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed that children of divorce might develop a more insecure relationship with their parents if the divorce occurs at a young age.

Two graduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign pioneered the study, and its goal was to determine how the timing of a divorce impacted the development of romantic and parent-child relationships in children. R. Chris Fraley, co-author of the study, said he hoped the research could help “predict the quality of people’s close relationships later in life.”

The Study, Part 1

For their research, Farley and co-author Marie Heffernan conducted a two-part study. In the first segment, the grad students analyzed data from 7,735 surveys on yourpersonality.net. Of the nearly 8,000 surveys, more than one-third of respondents had parents who were divorced, and the average age of divorce was 9 years old.

The survey also asked individuals to rate their relationships with family and friends, as well as other social aspects in their life. After looking at the data, Fraley and Heffernan discovered:

  • People who had divorced parents were less likely to view their current relationships with their parents as “reliable”.
  • Individuals whose parents got a divorce while they were between the ages of 3 and 5 were more insecure in their current relationships with their parents than those individuals whose parents got divorce after childhood.
  • A person whose parents were divorced was more likely to experience anxiety regarding romantic relationships.
  • Parental divorce had a higher likelihood of foreshadowing an increased amount of insecurity in a child’s relationship with their father than their mother.

Fraley said he was intrigued by the findings.

“A person who has a secure relationship with a parent is more likely than someone who is insecure to feel that they can trust the parent,” said Fraley. “Such a person is more comfortable depending on the parent and is confident that the parent will be psychologically available when needed.”

The Study, Part 2

For the second part of their study, researchers wanted to determine why children felt more insecure with their paternal relationship than with their maternal relationship. Researchers asked 7,500 participants which parent had been given primary custody following the divorce. Fraley and Heffernan believed the feelings of insecurity may have developed because mothers were more likely to earn full custody after a divorce. They found:

  • 74% of respondents said they lived with their mother after the separation, while only 11% said they lived with their father. 15% lived with a relative or caretaker.
  • Not surprisingly, participants were more likely to have an insecure relationship with their father if they lived with their mother after the divorce. A similar pattern was revealed when the roles were reversed.

Fraley said it was too early to use the findings in child custody decisions, but it can be used as a foundation to understand how children form relationships.

“This research brings us one step closer to understanding why it is that some people have relatively secure relationships with close others whereas others have more difficulty opening up to and depending on important people in their lives.”

Family Law Attorney Comments

Minnesota judges and legislature are cognizant of the impact that divorce may have on children. In divorces and custody proceedings, the court will require parents to participate in a parent education class. The law can specially be seen in Minn. Stat 518.157, regarding the Parent Education Program in Proceedings Involving Children, which states:

“The chief judge of each judicial district or a designee shall implement one or more parent education programs within the judicial district for the purpose of educating parents about the impact that divorce, the restructuring of families, and judicial proceedings have upon children and families; methods for preventing parenting time conflicts; and dispute resolution options.”

If parents follow through with these classes, they can help children overcome some of the insecurity that may develop immediately after a divorce.

Related source: MedicalNewsToday.com