Factors Moderating Children's Adjustment to Parental Separation: Findings From a Community Study in England

Research findings show that there is marked variability in children's response to parental separation, but few studies identify the sources of this variation. This prospective longitudinal study examines the factors modifying children's adjustment to parental separation in a community sample of 5,635 families in England. Children's behavioral/emotional problems were assessed when children were aged 47 and 81 months; marital quality, maternal depression, socioeconomic circumstances, and demographic variables were assessed prior to the separation from maternal report. Results indicated that 346 mothers separated from their partners in the 3-year period. Preseparation differences were found for measures of family process and parent risk factors, with effect sizes ranging from small to trivial. Parental separation was associated with a significant but modest increase in behavioral/emotional problems, independent of marital quality, maternal depression, socioeconomic circumstances, and demographic variables. Moderation analyses showed that children of cohabiting parents had a greater increase in adjustment problems following parental separation than children of married parents. Further research elucidating the factors that moderate children's adjustment to parental separation is needed to improve our understanding of who may most likely benefit from preventive interventions.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We are extremely grateful to all of the mothers who took part and to the midwives for their cooperation and help in recruitment. The whole ALSPAC study team comprises interviewers, computer technicians, laboratory technicians, clerical workers, research scientists, volunteers, and managers who continue to make the study possible. This study could not have been undertaken without the financial support of the Wellcome Trust, the Department of Health, and the Medical Research Council, among others.

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Correspondence to Judy Dunn.

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Cheng, H., Dunn, J., O'Connor, T.G. et al. Factors Moderating Children's Adjustment to Parental Separation: Findings From a Community Study in England. J Abnorm Child Psychol 34, 230–241 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-005-9013-8

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KEY WORDS:

  • parental separation
  • marital relationship quality
  • longitudinal studies
  • child adjustment