Non-Residential Father–Child Involvement, Interparental Conflict and Mental Health of Children Following Divorce: A Person-Focused Approach

Abstract

Variable-centered research has found complex relationships between child well-being and two critical aspects of the post-divorce family environment: the level of non-residential father involvement (i.e., contact and supportive relationship) with their children and the level of conflict between the father and mother. However, these analyses fail to capture individual differences based on distinct patterns of interparental conflict, father support and father contact. Using a person-centered latent profile analysis, the present study examined (1) profiles of non-residential father contact, support, and interparental conflict in the 2 years following divorce (N = 240), when children (49 % female) were between 9 and 12 years of age and (2) differences across profiles in concurrent child adjustment outcomes as well as outcomes 6 years later. Four profiles of father involvement were identified: High Contact–Moderate Conflict–Moderate Support, Low Contact–Moderate Conflict–Low Support, High Conflict–Moderate Contact–Moderate Support, and Low Conflict–Moderate Contact–Moderate Support. Concurrently, children with fathers in the group with high conflict were found to have significantly greater internalizing and externalizing problems compared to all other groups. Six years later, children with fathers in the group with low contact and low support were found to have greater internalizing and externalizing problems compared to children with fathers in the high conflict group, and also greater internalizing problems compared to children with fathers in the low conflict group. These results provide insight into the complex relationship among non-residential fathers’ conflict, contact, and support in child adjustment within divorcing families.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (1R01MH071707-01A2, 5P30MH068685, 5P30MH039246 (Trial Registration: clinical trials.gov; Identifier: NCT01407120), T32MH018387). We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of our research team and the families who gave their time to this project.

Authors’ Contributions

K.E. participated in the design and interpretation of the data, performed statistical analyses, and drafted the manuscript. I.S. conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, and drafted the manuscript. S.W. conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, and drafted the manuscript. J.Y.T. participated in the design and coordination of the manuscript and provided statistical consultation. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kit K. Elam.

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Elam, K.K., Sandler, I., Wolchik, S. et al. Non-Residential Father–Child Involvement, Interparental Conflict and Mental Health of Children Following Divorce: A Person-Focused Approach. J Youth Adolescence 45, 581–593 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-015-0399-5

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Keywords

  • Divorce
  • Interparental conflict
  • Father contact
  • Latent profile analysis