Disputes, Stress, and Coronavirus Fears Among Separated Parents with Dual-Residence Children

Session : Plenary 1: The Current State of Shared Parenting Research

  • Time : 7:55 am PDT To 10:05 am PDT on
  • Venue : Virtual Room 1

Full Abstract

Public discussion on the social impacts of the COVID-19 lockdown, isolating people in their homes, has raised concerns regarding a potential increase in domestic tensions and violence. However, so far little empirical research exists on the topic. This paper takes a post-separation-specific perspective on the issue, focusing on parents with dual-residence children. Signs of increased tensions and conflicts under COVID-19 lockdown conditions in Finland were examined empirically in a case study. The data comprised posts by parents on a social media platform that capture naturally occurring parental reactions to the unexpected 2-month lockdown last spring. The analysis applied social reaction theory and co-creation processes of meaning. The results revealed that parents faced a difficult dilemma: 1) whether to focus on protecting one’s own and children’s health by isolating at home and refusing children to move between their two parental homes or 2) whether to stress the importance of continuity of shared parenthood and allowing children to move between their two homes. Some parents expressed overwhelming fear of coronavirus and how it had led to stress, tensions, and disputes in the family circle. Although violence was not explicitly described in the parents’ posts, it is possible that such tensions could fuel more serious disputes and custody conflicts between mothers and fathers. Interestingly, when searching the data for signs of increased tensions and disagreements, we also identified parents whose reaction was the opposite: the COVID-19 lockdown had enabled them to downshift and enjoy quality time at home. These parents emphasised the cooperativeness of their parental relationships and the extra spatial resources afforded by their dual residence arrangements. To conclude: if increased risk for violence related to custody conflicts due to COVID-19 is a concern in post-separation dual residence arrangements, it is important to learn to read its signs, while at the same time remembering the potential for resilience of many families.