Coparenting Relationship Trajectories: Marital Violence Linked to Change and Variability After Separation

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Abstract

Associations between marital intimate partner violence (IPV) and postseparation coparenting relationship trajectories were examined among 135 mothers who participated in 5 interviews at 3-month intervals in the year following their divorce filing. Growth curve analysis was conducted to assess change and variability in coparenting dimensions (i.e., conflict, support, communication about child rearing, and harassment) in the overall sample and by type of IPV. In the overall sample, coparenting conflict, communication about child rearing, and harassment decreased across the year following separation. However, coparenting relationships differed considerably based on marital IPV experiences. At Time 1, mothers in relationships with coercive controlling violence (CCV) reported higher levels of harassment and conflict, and lower levels of support and communication about coparenting, than mothers with situational couple violence (SCV) or no violence (NV). Furthermore, coparenting relationship trajectories differed significantly by IPV group, with mothers who experienced CCV showing more variability in conflict and harassment, and more marked changes in conflict, support, and harassment. Despite many similarities, mothers with SCV showed higher initial levels of harassment compared to mothers with NV. Findings can support family court and social service professionals’ efforts to individualize interventions with divorcing parents based on IPV experiences. In cases of CCV, for example, attention to heightened control dynamics in the immediate separation period remain critical but the persistent volatility across the first year suggests the potential for chronic stress. With SCV, practitioners may be able to capitalize on parents’ reasonable levels of communication and steady coparenting support.

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