Methods: Structural equation modeling was used to test a series of multiple mediator models examining direct and indirect effects of PT, PQ, and IPC on child mental health problems in a sample of high conflict divorced and separated families. Participants were children aged 9-18 years (N=141) who had one or both parents participate in a randomized efficacy trial of a court-based preventive program for high conflict divorcing or separating families. Data were collected at pre-test and 9-month follow-up.
Results: Analyses revealed an indirect effect of higher levels of father PT (overnights) to lower levels of child internalizing problems which was mediated through fathers’ PQ both concurrently and nine months later. In addition, higher PT was associated with lower rather than higher levels of IPC. There were nonlinear relations between PT and fathers’ PQ (significant) and mothers’ PQ (marginal). For fathers, PT was positively associated with PQ up to 15 overnights per month; after that the relation was not different from zero. For mothers, PT was not related to PQ up to approximately 10 overnights with father per month, after which it is associated with lower PQ. There were no significant longitudinal indirect effects of PT through involving IPC.
Conclusions: This study has important implications for family court policy concerning the allocation of post-divorce PT. It highlights the importance of providing an adequate amount of shared PT so that children can reap the benefits of high-quality relationships with both parents following divorce. The study does not support a specific allocation of PT that optimizes the likelihood of a positive quality relationship with both parents. The study also adds additional evidence to support the importance of high-quality parenting by fathers as a pathway through which shared PT may benefit children. Contrary to some arguments in the literature, the study finds no support for limiting shared PT in families with high levels of IPC. Despite ample research on the risks associated with children’s exposure to high IPC, using this as the single determining factor in decisions about allocations of PT was not supported by the current data.