Parental separation from an adolescent perspective: What do they say?

CFCA Paper No. 5 – June 2012

Introduction

In Australia, it is estimated that 50,000 children will experience the effects of family breakdown resulting from separation and divorce each year (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2004). While much research has been carried out to explore the effects of parental separation on children's lives, the emphasis in past research has been on adults' accounts of children's difficulties and responses to family transitions. International and Australian researchers have increasingly stressed the importance of understanding the perspectives of children and young people on their experiences of parental separation (Bagshaw, 2007; Campbell, 2008; Cashmore & Parkinson, 2009; Douglas, Murch, Robinson, Scanlan, & Butler, 2001; Smart & Neale, 2000; Taylor, 2006). In particular, the 2006 reforms to family law in Australia, which came into effect through the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006 (Cth) (SPR Act 2006), were intended to bring the views, feelings and experiences of children into sharper focus. In this context, what does research tell us about how adolescents in Australia view the separation of their parents - and especially what they want for their changing families?

This paper presents the key findings from an Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) study involving intensive interviews with 623 adolescent children (321 males and 302 females) from separated families. This study was part of a large-scale longitudinal representative community survey of around 10,000 separated families from across Australia (for further study details and methodology, see Lodge and Alexander, 2010).