Social Science Update: What are the predictors of supportive co-parenting after relationship dissolution among at-risk parents?

In 2011, social scientists conducted a study that looked at nearly 5,000 mothers and 4,000 fathers who were dating, cohabiting, or married at some point during their child’s first three years of life. The scientists rated supportive co-parenting on a six item scale when the children were ages 1, 3, and 5. The scale measured cooperation, communication, and parents respecting and valuing each other’s parental roles. It looked at the current and prior relationship status with the other parent. The study also looked at the child’s temperament.

This study found that about 50% of relationships dissolved by the time the child was 1 year old and an additional 33% dissolved over the next two years. Mothers in relationships that were higher in commitment had significantly lower supportive co-parenting initially but this increased significantly over time. Mothers who were romantically involved with a new partner reported lower supportive co-parenting than mothers who were single. Mothers who reported difficult child temperament also reported significantly lower initial supportive co-parenting. Finally, mothers whose relationships dissolved by the child’s age 1 reported significantly lower supportive co-parenting than mothers whose relationship dissolved when the child was age 5.

Findings for fathers were similar to those of the mothers, with fathers who reported higher commitment prior to dissolution initially reporting lower supportive co-parenting. However, they also reported a greater increase in supportive co-parenting over time. Fathers who had higher pre-dissolution relationship quality reported a decrease in supportive co-parenting over time. Finally, fathers as well as mothers reported lower supportive co-parenting if the mother had a new partner.

Overall, this study found that higher relationship commitment is likely related to a more difficult separation. However, as negative feelings subside, parents were able to increase their supportive co-parenting by likely drawing on their pre-dissolution relationship.

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