Associations Between Parental Relocation Following Separation in Childhood and Maladjustment in Adolescence and Young Adulthood

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Abstract

Petitions by custodial parents to relocate children away from noncustodial parents present difficult choices for family courts. In the current study, the sample (N = 81) was randomly recruited through the children’s schools according to the following criteria: Children were 12 years old and at the time resided primarily with their mothers and mothers had been living with a male partner “acting in a father role” for at least the previous year. Thirty-eight children had been separated by more than an hour’s drive from their biological fathers because of either their mothers or fathers relocating. The data were collected from 2 reporters (children and mothers) at 5 time points (child ages 12.5, 14, 15.5, 19.5, and 22) by trained interviewers using standardized measures with adequate reliability and validity. Long-distance separation from biological fathers prior to age 12 was linked in adolescence and young adulthood to serious behavior problems, anxiety and depression symptoms, and disturbed relationships with all three parental figures (i.e., biological fathers, mothers, and stepfathers). These associations held after controlling for mother–stepfather conflict and domestic violence, mothers’ family income, and mother–biological father relationship quality. These longitudinal findings over time replicated the cross-sectional findings of Braver, Ellman, and Fabricius (2003) and Fabricius and Braver (2006). Policy implications for parental long-distance relocation following separation are discussed.

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