Today more than ever, shared legal child custody and shared physical child custody is a common outcome of divorce in the United States. However, the range of experiences parents have while co-parenting can vary widely, according to a new study conducted at Kansas State University.
The study took a close look at 20 mothers who had experienced divorce – predominately white, middle-class women living in the Midwest aged 26 to 49 who had been divorced from between six months and 12 years. Researchers focused on their co-parenting relationship with their ex-husbands, including how troubled the relationship had been over time and why problems persisted after divorce.
The child custody and co-parenting study found that nine out of twenty mothers had contentious relationships with their ex-spouse that affected the upbringing of their child. Factors that led to contentious relationships included financial problems, concerns about parental abilities, abuse issues, and child support payment issues. Seven of the mothers had bad-to-better co-parenting relationships with their ex, in which they improved their relationships after an initial rough spot during their divorce. Four mothers had amicable relationships with their spouse that had never been contentious.
Researchers found that a lack of communication was the biggest issue with co-parents who had contentious relationships. In addition, many couples who resolved their child custody issues over time stated that personal issues surrounding their initial divorce got in the way of successful co-parenting. Researchers added that the fact that almost half of the women in the study dealt with continued spousal conflict may suggest that shared physical custody may not be the best solution for all couples.