Children coping with divorce: a test of the circumplex model of family functioning

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The major purpose of this research was to test the circumplex model of family functioning as a possible source of variance in children's coping during the transitional period following parental divorce. The dimensions of cohesion (family closeness) and adaptability (family flexibility) theoretically incorporate 14 of the 18 factors identified by previous researchers to be related to more or less effective coping. The remaining four factors were controlled statistically.

The sample of 89 single parent, female headed households was drawn from court records of families who had been divorced for two months, one year and two years. The method of sample selection is recommended in future research, since it resulted in a more representative sample than that of previous researchers.

Coping among the children (ages 6-16) was measured by the mother's report of problem behaviors (internal and external) and social competency scores on the Achenbach Child Behavior Profile. Family interaction patterns were measured using a modified version of the FACES self report measure. Variables of cohesion, adaptability, time since divorce, income, age and sex were hypothesized to be related to child behavior problems and social competency, using a regression model. Social desirability was controlled statistically. Cohesion explained a statistically significant portion of the variance for problem behaviors, particularly internal problems (i.e., withdrawal, somatic symptoms, anxious behavior). Income was an important contributor to variation with all the coping measures. However, the regression models did not provide support for the moderate versus extreme levels of cohesion and adaptability which had been hypothesized in the circumplex model. But, a Chi Square test of independence, excluding families with high social desirability scores, did provide some support for the continued testing of the circumplex model.

A supplemental analysis of other variables was conducted. Family stressors such as moving, parent conflict, mothers' changes in employment and mothers' regularly dating were related to increased difficulties in coping. Enjoyment with visits with father was related to improved coping. Number of changes in child care arrangements and frequency of visits with the father were not related to coping.