What About the Children? Co-Occurrence of Child Maltreatment and Parental Separation

Sheila R. van Berkel, Marielle J. L. Prevoo, Marielle Linting, Fieke Pannebakker, Lenneke R. A. Alink

The aim of this study was to investigate (a) the extent to which child maltreatment co-occurs with parental separation and (b) associations between different types of child maltreatment and various types of separation-associated interparental conflict. Professionals working with children (N = 785) reported each case of suspected child maltreatment they observed during a 3- month period and indicated whether parental divorce or separation was about to take place or had taken place. This resulted in 530 reported cases that matched the definitions of child maltreatment for which information on parental relationship status was available. Most of the maltreated children (60%) also experienced (impending) parental separation. In 69% of these cases child maltreatment was associated with parental separation. This cross-national comparative study on family dynamics was based on National survey data of the US, Russia and 17 European countries indicates that in these countries 10–44% of the couples with children had separated before one of their children reached the age of 15 years.

Particularly, cases of emotional neglect, and emotional abuse cooccurred with parental separation. In addition, four clusters of separation-associated interparental conflict were distinguished— No observed conflict, Non-physical conflict, Verbal and physical conflict, and Multiple conflict—which were associated with child and family characteristics and specific types of child maltreatment. The results of this study suggest that child maltreatment often co-occurs with parental separation, especially when there is a considerable amount of interparental conflict.