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Parental divorce and child mental health trajectories

TitleParental divorce and child mental health trajectories
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsStrohschein, L..
JournalJournal of Marriage and Family
Pages1286 - 1300
Keywordsbehavior, child development and behaviour, child outcomes, children and youth, divorce, family relationships, growth curve models, marriage, mental health, mental health and well-being, parental divorce, parents and parenting

A process-oriented approach to parental divorce locates the experience within the social and developmental context of children's lives, providing greater insight into how parental divorce produces vulnerability in some children and resiliency in others. The current study involves prospectively tracking a nationally representative sample of Canadian children of ages 4-7 and living with two biological parents at initial interview in 1994 (N = 2,819), and comparing the mental health trajectories of children whose parents remain married with those whose parents divorce by 1998. Results from growth curve models confirm that, even before marital breakup, children whose parents later divorce exhibit higher levels of anxiety/depression and antisocial behavior than children whose parents remain married. There is a further increase in child anxiety/depression but not antisocial behavior associated with the event of parental divorce itself. Controlling for predivorce parental socioeconomic and psychosocial resources fully accounts for poorer child mental health at initial interview among children whose parents later divorce, but does not explain the divorce-specific increase in anxiety/depression. finally, a significant interaction between parental divorce and predivorce levels of family dysfunction suggests that child antisocial behavior decreases when marriages in highly dysfunctional families are dissolved.

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