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The impact of contact and living arrangements on a child’s psychological development

Date:2 FEB 2017
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Hannah Perry, Solicitor, Harbour Family Law

Research tells us that children of divorced parents may be affected by a higher than average incidence of depression and mood disorders, and also achieve less academic success than their peers from intact families. Attachment theory shows us that a child can develop strong, secure bonds with both parents from an early age, which is important for children’s healthy psychological development.

When parents separate, the child’s attachment with one parent is often prioritised at the expense of their bond with the other parent causing disruption and psychological stress. Attachment theory also suggests that a child’s distress at separation from a parent is often a sign of secure attachment, so children’s reactions during contact handovers should be interpreted in this light.

There is research which suggests that children who grow up living with one parent generally wish they had a stronger relationship with the non-resident parent, and in particular they seem to feel the lack of practical support even more than the emotional bond. Daytime contact involving practical caring activities can be crucial in maintaining secure attachments. However, increasing the number of handovers to facilitate this can risk exposing children to inter-parent conflict which can be detrimental to psychological development.

The full version of this article appears in the Jaanuary 2017 issue of Family Law. 

Online subscribers can access the article here.

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