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Redefining the Parent-Child Relationship Following Divorce: Examining the Risk for Boundary Dissolution

A considerable body of research suggests that children of divorce are at increased risk for adverse outcomes, including impaired functioning in behavioral, emotional, and interpersonal domains (Amato, 2001; Emery, 1999; Kelly, 2000). Although not all children fare poorly, and indeed, there is considerable heterogeneity in youth outcomes following divorce (Emery & Forehand, 1994; Hetherington, 2003; Hetherington, Bridges, & Insabella, 1998), structural family changes and their correlates present children with a challenging set of stressors that are thought to undermine healthy adjustment. Efforts to illuminate the nature of this risk as well as the diversity of outcomes with which it is associated, have increasingly emphasized the importance of examining divorce as a multistage process of changing family dynamics rather than a discrete event (Emery, 1999; Morrison & Cherlin, 1995; Wallerstein, Lewis, & Blakeslee 2002). This perspective has called for more multi-faceted models of the divorce process and has frequently emphasized family and environment-level variables that are associated with marital disruption, noting that these factors may mediate the effects of parental divorce (Emery, Waldron, Kitzmann, & Aaron, 1999). Parenting behavior has received much attention in this regard, as it is likely that amidst the stress of divorce, marital partners may be compromised in their ability to parent effectively (Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 2002).