The relationships among postdivorce custody arrangement, parental conflict, and young adult psychological functioning

Date of Completion

January 1998


Women's Studies|Psychology, Clinical|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies




This study examined the relationships among post-divorce custody arrangement, parental conflict and young adult psychological adjustment. One hundred twenty-four participants (62 men and 62 women) from intact families (N = 42), divorced families with sole custody arrangements (N = 43), and divorced families with joint custody arrangements (N = 39) completed measures of post-divorce parental conflict, heterosexual trust, emotional attachment to and coalition with parents, perceived love and consistency from parents and psychological adjustment. Results indicated that there was significantly more conflict in families of divorce than in intact families. While conflict remains significantly higher for divorced families than for intact families long after the actual legal settlement, in divorced families, conflict was found to decrease significantly over time. Participants' attachment to their fathers was highest when raised in intact families and higher in joint custody households than in sole custody households. Results suggest that children raised in joint custody arrangements are more sensitive to differences in their fathers' expressions of consistent love than children raised in sole custody arrangements. In addition, children raised injoint custody households with weak maternal support are exposed more to and distressed from parental conflict. Regarding the effects of inter-parental conflict, this dimension and the offspring's gender had a conjoint effect on attachment to father, females lower when conflict is high. High conflict with inconsistent mom's results in more acting out behaviors. Father's love inconsistency negatively impacted female heterosexual trust and male heterosexual trust when combined with high conflict. Results suggest that conflict is significantly higher in divorced families and remains high over time. Children raised in joint custody have greater exposure to both parents and therefore are more vulnerable to both the positive and negative aspects of their parents expression of consistent love and inter-parental conflict. Recommendations for specific criteria in determining optimal post-divorce custody arrangements are given. ^