Deeper Into Divorce: Using Actor-Partner Analyses to Explore Systemic Differences in Coparenting Conflict Following Custody Dispute Resolution

David A Sbarra, Robert E. Emery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

36 Scopus citations


Divorce is an inherently interpersonal experience, yet too often adults' reactions to marital dissolution are investigated as intrapersonal experiences that unfold outside of the relational context in which they exist. This article examines systemic patterns of interpersonal influence between divorced parents who were randomly assigned to either mediate or litigate a child custody dispute in the mid-1980s. Reports of coparenting conflict and nonacceptance of the divorce were assessed 5 weeks after the dispute settlement, 13 months after the settlement, and then again 12 years later. One hundred nine (N = 109) parents provided data over this 12-year period. Fathers reported the highest initial levels of conflict when their ex-partners were more accepting of the divorce. Mediation parents reported decreases in coparenting conflict in the year after dispute settlement, whereas litigation parents reported increases in conflict. Litigation parents evidenced the greatest long-term increases and decreases in coparenting conflict. Mediation is a potent force for reducing postdivorce conflict, and this article highlights the usefulness of adopting a systemic lens for understanding the long-term correlates of marital dissolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-152
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2008



  • actor-partner interdependence model
  • child custody mediation
  • coparenting conflict
  • divorce
  • emotional adjustment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Psychology(all)

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