Pauline Kleinschlömer, Sandra Krapf
Parental separation and children’s well-being. Does the quality of parent-child relationships moderate the effect?

Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2023: 40, issue 12, pp. 4197-4218
ISSN: 0265-4075 (print), 1460-3608 (online)

A considerable body of literature takes a deficit perspective and shows that children who experience a parental separation have more disadvantages than children who live in a two-biological-parent family. This article argues that not all children respond identically to their parents’ separation, and examines whether there are heterogeneous effects based on parent-child relationship quality. We expect that having a good relationship with the resident parent can buffer the potentially negative effects of parental separation on a child’s well-being. Using longitudinal data from waves 2 to 13 (2009/2010 – 2020/2021) of the German Family Panel pairfam, we estimate fixed-effects models based on a sample of 2,057 children aged 7 to 15, 99 of whom experienced the separation of their parents. We find that children who had a high level of conflict with the resident parent had significantly more emotional problems after parental separation, whereas children who had few conflicts with the resident parent had significantly fewer emotional problems after separation. Similarly, we find that only children in a parent-child dyad with a low level of intimate disclosure had more behavioral problems after parental separation than before.