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Study finds factors that can shape co-parenting experiences

The type of relationship a woman has with her ex-partner is a factor in how the couple shares custody of children, according to a Kansas State University expert on post divorce and co-parenting relationships.

In a study of divorced or separated mothers sharing physical custody of their children with their former partners, Mindy Markham, assistant professor of family studies and human services on the university's Salina campus, identified three patterns of co-parenting -- continuously contentious, always amicable and bad to better -- as well as negative and positive factors that influenced the mothers' co-parenting relationships.

Markham's study involved 20 predominately white, well-educated women between the ages of 26 to 49 who were divorced or separated from the father of their children. The mothers, from two Midwestern states, shared with their former partners legal and physical custody of the children, who ranged in age from 21 months to 12 years. At the time of the study, the couples had been separated or divorced from six months to 12 years.

In Markham's study, nine mothers had continuously contentious co-parenting relationships with their ex-partners from the time of separation to the present. The negative factors that contributed to this rocky relationship included the mother's perception of her ex's parenting abilities; financial concerns, including the ex not having a job or not paying child support; control or abuse by the ex-partner; and the inability of the ex to separate marital -- or personal -- issues from the co-parenting relationship.

Four mothers in the study had amicable co-parenting relationships, where they reported always getting along with their ex-partners from separation to the present. The positive factors that affected these relationships were that the mothers believed their ex-partners were responsible parents, money wasn't a source of conflict and the mothers chose to share physical custody.

Seven of the mothers in the study had bad-to-better co-parenting relationships, where co-parenting was contentious at the time of separation, but greatly improved over time. At the time of the study, these women's relationships were similar to those of women with always amicable relationships. These mothers wanted to share physical custody, thought the father was a responsible parent and most said money was not a source of conflict.

But all mothers in bad-to-better relationships said they were unable to co-parent amicably with their ex-partner in the beginning because personal issues were not kept separate from parenting responsibility.

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