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Keywords:

  • adolescence;
  • attachment;
  • divorce;
  • parent–child relationships;
  • parental separation

Using prospective longitudinal data from the Christchurch Health and Development Study (CHDS), this paper examines the effects of parental separation on the quality of adolescents' attachment to parents and their perceptions of parental care and overprotection during childhood. Exposure to parental separation was significantly associated with lower attachment to parents in adolescence and more negative perceptions of maternal and paternal care and protection during childhood. When examined in relation to the developmental timing of first separation, a linear relationship between the age at first separation and later parental attachment and perceived parent–child relations was found. The younger the age of the child at the time of separation, the lower their subsequent parental attachment and the more likely they were to perceive both their mother and father as less caring and more overprotective. No gender differences were found in children's responses to parental separation. These findings persisted after control for the confounding effects of family social background, marital conflict, parenting, child behavior, and remarriage. Results supported the importance of the early childhood years for the development of a secure and enduring attachment relationship between children and their parents.