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Dads stay involved after divorce.

Most divorced fathers, even four years after divorce, remain substantially involved with their children, note two Stanford University researchers, though mothers typically are the primary caretakers following divorce. In about 70% of the families studied by psychologist Eleanor Maccoby and legal scholar Robert Mnookin, offspring lived with their mothers. However, in a majority of the families, the youngsters were seeing their fathers regularly during the school year. Moreover, in about one-sixth of the study group, the children divided their time roughly equally between both parents' households. In approximately 10% of the families, they resided primarily with their fathers.

In interviews immediately after they first were separated, spouses often expressed conflicting desires about physical custody arrangements. There were few legal fights over the issue, however. "The general perception, created by the popular press and the movies, is that legal disputes over custody and courtroom battling are very common," Mnookin points out. "We found, however, that most divorcing families--about 80%--have little legal conflict over custody, and for the minority that do, nearly all the disputes are settled by negotiation or through mediation...."

In interviews, "men would often say they would love to have the children with them, but, for a variety of reasons, they did not act on their preference," Maccoby reports. "Their reasons included job demands that didn't permit taking custody or a feeling that mothers had greater experience in child rearing, particularly if the children were very young. The fact that women got custody so much more often had a lot to do with the differentiation of their roles before divorce." Males and females also tended to view the father's major role as being a financial provider. "In their minds, his being able to provide money and being able to see the children were linked."

Although most divorcing couples avoided legal fights, many experienced conflict over day-to-day child-rearing issues. The researchers found that divorced parents follow three major patterns in how they relate to one another regarding their offspring.

Cooperative parents--a little over one-quarter--set aside their conflicts and agreed to collaborate on child rearing. They tried to coordinate household rules. Hostile parents fought with each other and often expressed their anger to and through their kids. A third group of ex-spouses avoided each other and consequently neither fought nor collaborated. A follow-up study with adolescents revealed that children were more likely to suffer emotional and behavioral problems if their parents battled after divorce than if they behaved cooperatively or at least shielded the children from conflict.
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:May 1, 1993
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