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Canberra Family Law – Does children’s mental health depend on having two married parents?

By October 16, 2014No Comments

Single parent families, step-parents and de facto parents can take heart from research which shows that family type “does not determine destiny”. In other words, the number of parents a child has is not linked to the child’s outcomes in life.

An article by experienced family researcher Jan Nicholson reports on two major studies which concluded that “being in a single parent family had no independent effect on children’s physical, socio-emotional or learning outcomes”.  The research studies also revealed that “a common set of factors predicted children’s mental health difficulties: harsh discipline, maternal mental health difficulties, over-protective parenting and child physical health problems. Being in a single parent family or a stepfamily did not independently predict children’s mental health at any age.”

While it is often argued (eg by conservatives) that children are disadvantaged by living with two parents who have not legally wed, it turns out they look “remarkably similar” to kids whose parents were married.

In fact, “across 45 measures, collected from parents, teachers and children, only four outcomes showed differences – and for two of these (vocabulary and prosocial behaviour), children from cohabiting families were doing better than children from married families.”

Nicholson writes of her own research, which aimed to replicate the earlier studies, that she and her colleague found “41% of all new cases of child mental health problems could be avoided by preventing children from being exposed to coercive, disengaged and inconsistent parenting. A further 19% could be prevented by removing exposure to family conflict and parental depression and anxiety; and 14% by eliminating parental alcohol and drug abuse and criminal activity. Single parenthood and socioeconomic disadvantage accounted for less than 1% of all new cases.”

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Should you need help with a family law dispute involving children, please contact Cristina Huesch or Angela Li here at Alliance Family Law. Cristina is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law and has also undertaken training in being an Independent Children’s Lawyer. She remains up to date with recent trends in family research and current decisions in parenting cases.


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