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Separation Counseling: Brief Interventions for Divorcing Couples
10 CEUs Separation Counseling: Brief Interventions for Divorcing Couples

Section 7 (Web #21)
Father Postdivorce Well-Being: An Exploratory Model - Part II

Question 21 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Couples CEU Courses
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

In this study of divorced fathers, I found that men's postdivorce psychological well-being depends on the interconnections between father role satisfaction, role clarity, father's age, level of social support, development of a new intimate relationship, and custody status. Most of the hypothesized relationships within the original theoretical model were found to be significant. However, two notable exceptions were (a) SES (income and education), which did not contribute to psychological well-being; and (b) time since divorce, which did not contribute significantly to psychological well-being or role satisfaction.

Several findings from this study are worth noting. The issue of role transition is apparently an important element in determining father postdivorce psychological distress. Fathers in this study who had a clearer sense of their postdivorce father role (role clarity), and who were more satisfied with that role, were less likely to experience high levels of psychological distress. Possibly, they were better socialized to the role of father and were more mature; that is, they were able to place their child's needs first. This sense of role clarity may have also afforded these fathers a sense that they were maintaining continuity or status through their father role. Perhaps role clarity also added goals, direction, and structure to these fathers' lives. As previously discussed, the often ambiguous nature of the postdivorce father role, noted by McKenry and colleagues (1992), seems to produce a situation that is not conducive to successful postdivorce psychological well-being.

Developing a new intimate relationship was also found to be important for the psychological well-being of divorced fathers. This finding corresponds with those in the literature (see Tschann et al., 1989). An association between the development of a new intimate relationship and the level of role satisfaction reported by fathers was also observed. It is as if the fathers in this study needed a new partner in their life to help them better negotiate and feel satisfied with their fathering role (Hetherington, Cox, & Cox, 1978). Developing a new relationship may also influence the attachment (either positive or negative) a father has to the former spouse. Tschann and colleagues found that creating a new intimate relationship is an effective way for fathers to dissolve their ties with their former spouse. It is possible that once fathers are able to attenuate their emotional ties with their former spouse, they are able to focus more on their role as father, both in terms of having a clearer sense of what is involved in fathering and in being able to gain more satisfaction from their fathering activities. Further research is needed in this area.

In a related area, I found the level of encouragement and support from others to be a significant factor in the postdivorce well-being of fathers. Fathers who reported higher levels of support also reported lower levels of psychological distress. This is consistent with the findings from other studies (Tschann et al., 1989) and suggests that the support needs of fathers after divorce may be similar to those of mothers after divorce.

As I hypothesized, age was inversely related to psychological distress, with older participants reporting lower levels of psychological distress. This finding corresponds with the findings of Gove and Shin (1989) and may be due to older divorced fathers possessing increased coping strategies; however, there was no direct measure to support this contention. It is also possible that older fathers have more income and educational resources to draw from in their efforts to adjust to the divorce. However, I did not find an association between SES and father psychological distress, possibly because of the skewed income and education levels of the study's participants. Further research is also indicated in this area.

The results affirmed an association between custody arrangement and psychological well-being. This finding is in line with both the study of Stewart and colleagues (1986), in which custodial fathers reported better adjustment in several psychological areas in comparison with noncustodial fathers, and the study of Shapiro and Lambert (1998), in which the effects of divorce on father well-being were found to be moderated by the residence of the children. These findings strengthen the view that parent-child cohesiveness may ease fathers' adjustment to postdivorce life. Custody arrangement also had an indirect effect via role satisfaction. Fathers who did not have custody tended to report less satisfaction with their current role.

Conclusions and Implications
Any conclusions drawn from this study should be considered tentative due to various methodological issues. Because the study made use of a convenience sample, the fathers who participated may not have been representative of all divorced fathers (in the county, state, or nation). The sample contained few ethnic minorities and was relatively small in size, and because participation was voluntary, the study may have been affected by self-selection bias. The fathers had also completed a divorce education program, which may have affected their level of distress or made them more sensitive to divorce issues than fathers who have not had such an educational experience. Despite these sample limitations, this study was one of few to test an integrated and theoretically derived model of father psychological well-being after divorce, and it offers tentative findings with several important implications for practice.

Both role satisfaction and role clarity were found to have an effect on father postdivorce psychological well-being, indicating that efforts to provide clearer role expectations for fathers might improve psychological well-being. The court systems, in conjunction with local service providers, might consider taking steps to identify and reduce sources of role ambiguity for divorcing fathers. Some of these ambiguities and contradictions may exist in the court process itself. Kruk (1991) suggested that most noncustodial fathers "considered traditional legal access arrangements to be grossly inadequate and damaging to the father-child relationship" (p. 221). In essence, the court is a source of rules and regulations that can serve to delineate the role of the father following divorce. If court-mandated roles prove unclear or unsatisfactory for fathers, they may experience greater levels of psychological distress. Serious thought, therefore, should be given to reconstructing the manner in which divorce cases are handled within the court system.

Divorce education programs might also address the issues of role clarification and role satisfaction. Bloom (1979) suggested that it is quite possible to design effective preventive intervention strategies that develop proficiency in the skills required for dealing with particular stressful life events. He encouraged professionals not to label every situational adjustment problem as indicative of long-term predisposing forms of severe psychopathology, but to instead consider adjustment problems as resulting from more recent influencing factors. Bloom also asserted, "There is every reason to believe that preventative intervention services linked to stressful life events can be enormously effective" (p. 184).

Divorce education programs seem to fit Bloom's conception of prevention programming that is succinct in nature and that relies on skills training to assist individuals in adjusting to short-term stressful life events. An example of this type of father intervention that is specifically designed for divorcing fathers can be found in a study by Devlin, Brown, and Beebe (1992). These researchers evaluated a parent education program for divorced fathers. Their results indicated that workshop participants, compared with a group of fathers who did not attend the program, showed significant improvements on a number of parent-performance and communication measures. Similar findings were reported in a qualitative evaluation of a divorce education program in which men participated (Stone, McKenry, & Clark, 1999).

Other findings from the present study might help practitioners identify at-risk fathers; that is, fathers who may experience significant psychological distress after divorce. Practitioners may want to be alert to the special distress of young noncustodial fathers who have no significant sources of support in their life, particularly if these fathers have no new intimate relationships in which to find encouragement. The adjustment of this group of fathers may be further complicated by a sense of role ambiguity and a lack of satisfaction with their role as father. Information related to the identification of at-risk fathers might assist program developers in designing interventions specifically geared to this population.

This study has implications for future research as well. In this research, I presented a "snapshot" view of father well-being at one point in time following divorce. Future researchers should investigate father well-being over a period of time through longitudinal studies. Shapiro and Lambert (1998) completed a limited longitudinal study of postdivorce well-being in fathers; however, their study was limited to the examination of only a few variables (e.g., residence of child and the quality of the father-child relationship). Researchers need to explore the wide range of variables that add to the complex nature of father postdivorce well-being.

Future research would also be helpful in the area of determining racial or cultural differences in father distress following divorce. Based on their study of African American fathers, Lawson and Thompson (1996) concluded that divorced Black men suffer profound postdivorce psychological distress. Despite the Lawson and Thompson study, research in this area remains scant.

Future development of this model of postdivorce well-being should include a larger number of participants from a broader socioeconomic range. In addition, fathers should be studied who have not been sensitized to the divorce adjustment process through participation in divorce education programs. Application of the proposed model in terms of policy and program development would also increase its validity. Finally, a more in-depth analysis of selected concepts-for example, father role clarity and father role satisfaction-might be achieved through qualitative means.

In summary, this research identified a theoretical model of postdivorce father well-being with multiple interconnected variables. The model is important because it can provide practitioners with a midrange theory to guide them in their interactions with divorced fathers. The theory demonstrates that father postdivorce well-being is a very complex construct. Practitioners and program planners need to design intervention efforts that touch on each element identified in the model. This implies that practitioners need to assist fathers in developing a combination of skills, because some skills are contingent on others and because effects are additive. Until researchers and practitioners change the explanatory system for fathers' postdivorce distress, inattention to fathers' postdivorce roles, needs, expectations, and challenges will continue.
- Stone, Glenn, Journal of Genetic Psychology, 00221325, Dec2001, Vol. 162, Issue 4

“Personal Reflection” Journaling Activity #7

The preceding section contained information regarding father post-divorce well-being.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section of the Manual in your practice.  Affix extra paper for your Journaling entries to the end of this Manual.















According to Stone, how was age related to psychological distress in postdivorce fathers? To select and enter your answer, go to the Answer Booklet.

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