Coping in context: The effects of long-term relations between interparental conflict and coping on the development of child psychopathology following parental divorce

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Exposure to high levels of postdivorce interparental conflict is a well-documented risk factor for the development of psychopathology, and there is strong evidence of a subpopulation of families for which conflict persists for many years after divorce. However, existing studies have not elucidated differential trajectories of conflict within families over time, nor have they assessed the risk posed by conflict trajectories for development of psychopathology or evaluated potential protective effects of children's coping to mitigate such risk. We used growth mixture modeling to identify longitudinal trajectories of child-reported conflict over a period of six to eight years following divorce in a sample of 240 children. We related the trajectories to children's mental health problems, substance use, and risky sexual behaviors and assessed how children's coping prospectively predicted psychopathology in the different conflict trajectories. We identified three distinct trajectories of conflict; youth in two high-conflict trajectories showed deleterious effects on measures of psychopathology at baseline and the six-year follow-up. We found both main effects of coping and coping by conflict trajectory interaction effects in predicting problem outcomes at the six-year follow-up. The study supports the notion that improving youth's general capacity to cope adaptively is a potentially modifiable protective factor for all children facing parental divorce and that children in families with high levels of postdivorce conflict are a particularly appropriate group to target for coping-focused preventive interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1695-1713
Number of pages19
JournalDevelopment and psychopathology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019



  • child psychopathology
  • coping
  • divorce
  • interparental conflict
  • prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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