Parental separation/divorce in childhood and partnership outcomes at age 30

Authors

  • David M. Fergusson,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch Health and Development Study, University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand
    • Correspondence

      David Fergusson, Christchurch Health and Development Study, Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch. PO Box 4345, Christchurch 8140, NewZealand; Email: dm.fergusson@otago.ac.nz

    Search for more papers by this author
  • Geraldine F. H. McLeod,

    1. Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch Health and Development Study, University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand
    Search for more papers by this author
  • L. John Horwood

    1. Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch Health and Development Study, University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand
    Search for more papers by this author

  • Conflict of interest statement: None declared

Abstract

Background

Previous research has found that children exposed to separation/divorce may also experience relationship problems in adulthood. The aim of this investigation was to examine this issue in a birth cohort of over 900 New Zealand children studied to age 30.

Methods

Data were gathered over the course of the Christchurch Health and Development Study (CHDS). The CHDS is a 30 year longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1265 children born in Christchurch (NZ) in 1977. The data collected included the following: (a) timing and number of parental separations and divorces from birth to 15 years; (b) partnership outcomes (16–30 years) of the number of cohabiting/marriage partnerships; positive partner relations; negative partner relations; partner adjustment/conduct problems; and interpartner violence victimization and perpetration; and (c) potential covariate factors.

Results

Study findings showed the presence of significant associations between childhood parental separations/divorces and number of cohabiting/marriage partnerships (16–30 years) (p < .001), negative partner relations (p = .021), extent of partner adjustment/conduct problems (p < .001), and perpetration of interpartner violence (p = .018). Childhood parental separation/divorce explained less than 2.5% of the variance in partnership outcomes. These associations were explained statistically by a series of covariate factors associated with childhood parental separation/divorce including parental history of illicit drug use, childhood sexual abuse, childhood conduct problems (7–9 years), interparental conflict and violence, childhood physical punishment/maltreatment, family socio-economic status at the child's birth, and parental history of criminality. Tests of gender interaction showed that the effect of childhood parental separations/divorces may be the same for males and females. Analysis of the number of childhood parental separations/divorces experienced into three age groups (birth to 5, 5–10 years and 10–15 years) yielded similar results.

Conclusions

These findings suggest that the general associations between childhood parental separation/divorce and partner relationships in adulthood reflect the consequences of various contextual factors that are associated with childhood parental separation.

Ancillary