The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

World Split Apart by Parental Divorce

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

The children of divorce often feel they are living in a painfully divided world: Mom’s world vs. Dad’s world. The consequences of living in a split world look deeply troubling to psychologists from Florida International University, authors of a study on the impact of parental divorce on the long-term psychosocial adjustment of children.

Analyzing data from an ethnically diverse sample of 1,375 university students, the Florida International scholars find that children reared in families broken by divorce not only receive significantly less parental nurturance (p<.02) and mentoring/advising involvement (p<.001) than do peers in intact families but they are also much more likely than peers in intact families to perceive a sizeable gap in the levels of nurturance (p<.001) and mentoring/advising involvement (p<.001) received from their mother vs. the levels of nurturance and involvement received from their father.

Statistical analysis establishes that “between-parent differences in nurturance and involvement were negatively related to self-esteem, life satisfaction, and friendship quality and satisfaction; and positively related to distress, romantic relationship problems, and troubled ruminations about parents.” The researchers interpret these findings—findings that were “consistent across gender and ethnicity”—as evidence that children of divorce frequently live in a “divided world” in which they are singularly at risk for “compromised quality of life in emerging adulthood.”

In concluding their analysis, the researchers argue that “joint physical custody [after divorce] may represent one way to reduce the distress associated with the ‘divided world’ and to enhance quality of life for children of divorce.” Readers may wonder if the far better strategy for preventing the harm children experience when living in a divided world would not be that of preventing divorce in the first place.

(Gordon E. Finley and Seth J. Schwartz, “The Divided World of the Child: Divorce and Long-Term Psychosocial Adjustment,”Family Court Review 48.3 [July 2010]: 516–27.)