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I have a friend who has children who are suffering an abusive situation with his ex-wife where she is physically, emotionally and verbally abusing their children. The situation is such that the school has observed bruises and cuts on the children, however when the state children's agency interviewed the parent in question, the parent expertly pushed blame on the children and said it was from their fighting with one another. No further investigation was pursued to the utter dismay of both the children and the father and his family. It is a very frustrating and difficult situation.

It turns out that this is going to court and the father is desirous to find some additional support / research material revolving around the importance of adolescence males being with their father versus the mother (as the children are teenagers). The entire situation is such that the children plead on a daily basis to be removed from their environment. Notwithstanding, there is a great degree of fear from the negative state children's agency and knowledge that the court in this particular area is very pro-mother and frequently disregards the children's desires and true needs, defaulting on the side of the mother.

Are there any successful strategies, even if anecdotal, for these scenarios?

I have found an interesting discussion on the Today Show (January 26, 2011, Dr. Charles Sophy & Joanna Ball), but no real reference to the research to which this was referring.

Any advice and / or research would be very much appreciated.

*NOTE: This is not a request for legal advice. This is simply a request for information that can be found to help such a case. The legal advice itself is being provided by attorneys. He is just in search for any additional information to help strengthen the children's positions and his position such that the court will have a body of additional information to consider if push comes to shove.

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1 Answer

The research referred to on the program was a study out of the Universty of Toronto (by Esme Fuller-Thomson and Angela Dalton) published in Psychiatry Research which "examined gender specific differences among a sample of 6,647 adults, of whom 695 had experienced parental divorce before the age of 18." So they were talking to adults about whether they had had suicidal thoughts, and comparing the incidence of those thoughts in people whose parents had divorced to the incidence in people whose parents had not divorced before age 18. Compared to men whose parents had not divorced, men whose parents had divorced were three times as likely to have had suicidal thoughts. That gap was markedly higher in men than in women.

The link between divorce and suicidal ideation was particularly strong in families where childhood stressors like parental addiction, physical abuse, and parental unemployment also occurred...even in the absence of these childhood stressors, men who had experienced parental divorce had twice the odds of having seriously considered suicide at some point in their life compared to men from intact families...

“This study suggests that the pathways linking parental divorce to suicidal ideation are different for men and women. The association between parental divorce and suicidal thoughts in men was unexpectedly strong, even when we adjusted for other childhood and adult stressors, socioeconomic status, depression and anxiety,”says lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, Sandra Rotman Chair at U of T’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Department of Family and Community Medicine.

Explanations for why men might be more negatively impacted by parental divorce are varied. However, researchers believe it could be due to the absence of close contact with a father which may occur post-divorce. Previous studies have linked the loss of father-figures with adverse developmental outcomes in boys. “It may be that the link between parental divorce and suicidal ideation in men is mediated through factors we cannot control for in our analyses such as childhood poverty or parental depression, both of which are more prevalent in divorced families,”says U of T masters graduate and study co-author Angela Dalton.

Fuller-Thomson cautions that “these findings are not meant to panic divorced parents. Our data in no way suggest that children of divorce are destined to become suicidal.”

The link above summarized the results of the study in January 2011, before the article was actually published (May of 2011). The link has contact details for the authors. The full article citation follows. It is in the Elsevier database. Contact your local library to get a copy of the article - if they do not have access to the Elsevier database, they can get a copy of the article through interlibrary loan. The article itself cites a number of other articles, some of which may be relevant and which you can ask the librarian for as well. I have included a few of those citations below.

Citation:

  • Esme Fuller-Thomson, Angela D. Dalton, Suicidal ideation among individuals whose parents have divorced: Findings from a representative Canadian community survey, Psychiatry Research, Volume 187, Issues 1–2, 15 May 2011, Pages 150-155.

Further possible reading:

  • Afifi et al., 2009. The relationship between child abuse, parental divorce, and lifetime mental disorders and suicidality in a nationally representative adult sample. Child Abuse & Neglect, 33 (2009), pp. 139–147.
  • Chase-Lansdale et al., 1995. The long-term effects of parental divorce on the mental health of young adults: a developmental perspective. Child Development, 66 (1995), pp. 1614–1634.
  • Cooney, 1994. Young adults' relations with parents: the influence of recent parental divorce. Journal of Marriage and Family, 56 (1994), pp. 45–56.
  • D'Onofrio et al., 2006. A genetically informed study of the processes underlying the association between parental marital instability and offspring adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 42 (2006), pp. 486–499.
  • Huurre et al., 2006. Long-term psychosocial effects of parental divorce: a follow-up study from adolescence to adulthood. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 256 (2006), pp. 256–263.
  • Jakupcak et al., 2003. Masculinity and emotionality: an investigation of men's primary and secondary emotional responding. Sex Roles, 49 (2003), pp. 111–120.
  • Jekielek, 1998. Parental conflict, marital disruption and children's emotional well-being. Social Forces, 76 (1998), pp. 905–936.
  • Maccoby et al., 1993. Postdivorce roles of mothers and father in the lives of their children. Journal of Family Psychology, 7 (1993), pp. 24–38.
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