Social Science Update: What are the effects of father and mother parenting on children’s mental health in high and low conflict divorces?

In 2008, social scientists conducted a study that looked at 182 family participants. The scientists reviewed court records every six months for three years. This study involved couples who were divorced and mothers who had primary physical custody of their children. Fathers were also interviewed. This study utilized a number of scales to rate conflict frequency, intensity, degree of resolution of interpersonal conflict, and how often parent’s argued about a range of topics such as discipline.

This study found that greater parental warmth as reported by children was related with lower parental conflict. Warmth of both parents was affected by the level of conflict as perceived by the children. The positive effect of mother warmth is affected by a lack of father warmth towards the children, and the benefit of father warmth is seen even when mother warmth is low.

The highest levels of internalizing problems occurred when both mother and father warmth were low. However, when conflict is high, warmth from either parent serves as a protective factor when warmth from one parent is low. Interestingly, if mother warmth is high and father warmth is low, there is no statistically significant negative effect upon the child.

Overall, this study concludes that there is a compensation factor for a lack of warmth by one parent when the other parent is warm and high conflict is present. With low conflict situations, a facilitation effect is seen where warmth by one parent enhances the positive effect of warmth by the other parent.

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