Children whose parents move more than a one-hour drive away after divorce are significantly less well-off than children whose parents do not relocate, according to a new study in the Journal of Family Psychology (Vol. 17, No. 2).
The authors--psychologists Sanford Braver, PhD, and William Fabricius, PhD, and law professor Ira Ellman, JD--say their findings contest standard courtroom theory that if the move is good for the parent, it will be good for the child as well.
In the first study of the effects of parental moves on the well-being of children after divorce, the researchers surveyed 2,000 college students in an introductory psychology course. Of the 2,000 students, 602 were from divorced families. They then divided students from divorced families into five subsets: neither parent moved, noncustodial father moved, custodial father moved, noncustodial mother moved and custodial mother moved.
The researchers found significant differences between students whose divorced parents relocated and those that did not move in 11 out of the 14 variables they examined. Compared with divorced families in which neither parent moved, students from families in which one parent moved received less financial support from their parents--even after researchers corrected for differences in the current financial conditions of the group--and worried more about that support.
The students also felt more hostility in their interpersonal relations, suffered more distress related to their parents' divorce, perceived their parents less favorably as sources of emotional support and as role models, believed the quality of their parents' relations with each other was worse and rated themselves less favorably on their general physical health, their general life satisfaction and their personal and emotional adjustment.
While the findings suggest negative outcomes for children whose parents relocate after divorce, the authors note that the results are correlational and cannot prove that the move-away status solely resulted in poorer well-being. Additional research--including widening the sample base beyond college students and conducting longitudinal research to control for factors such as parental conflict--would further the study's findings, Braver says.