Berman & Asbel, LLP

Divorce: Tough on kids, but what about the co-parents?

Estimates of how many couples divorce are easy to throw out. The one most commonly heard is that about half of all marriages end in divorce.

How many divorces also involve children is an estimate that's harder to come by. Suffice it to say many Pennsylvania couples breaking up do have children in the mix. That can raise an array of challenges related to child custody and visitation and parenting arrangements that can cost emotional capital. Optimal solutions are typically reached with the help of legal counsel

Much of the literature about children and divorce focuses on how to limit the potential negative effects on the kids. But there seems to be a little less information available about the particular challenges parents face -- especially in situations where the couple has agreed to shared physical custody. How do co-parenting arrangements end up working?

About the only direct data we can find, and it's limited, comes from a Kansas State University research report published in 2012. It followed a group of 20 divorced or separated women sharing custody and parenting duties with former partners.

All the women were Caucasian and the children ranged in age from six months to 12 years. For the study, the subjects were divided into three groups based on patterns of parenting relationships -- always contentious, always amicable and those that started badly and got better.

Not surprisingly, how the women saw their personal relationship issues with their former partners colored their co-parenting experiences.

Women in the contentious group had bad opinions about their partners' characters and most of them felt they had to accept the co-parenting arrangements. Those in the amicable group had parted amicably, didn't have concerns about money and saw their exes as responsible parents.

The bad-to-better group had started out contentious and moved to amicable over time. All the mothers in this group said their personal partner issues were the main source of trouble to begin with, but that things got better when they separated those from their parenting.

Researchers concluded communication proved to be the key. It was good or got better among women who were amicable. It was nearly non-existent or restricted to texts and emails among those who had contentious situations with partners. They also concluded that co-parenting may not ease problems after divorce and might just make them worse.

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