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Separated couples diverge in views of relationship

Separated couples often see their continuing relationship in starkly different ways

The Age (Melbourne)
5 July 2010

Separated couples diverge in views of relationship
By Adele Horin

Separated couples often see their continuing relationship in starkly different ways and disagree on key aspects, from the level of conflict between them to the number of nights the children are spending in each parent's house.

A major study shows that in some cases, one partner might describe the post-separation relationship as friendly and co-operative while the other partner says it is fearful and full of conflict.

"For many couples there is no such thing as a separation - there is 'his' separation and 'hers'," said the lead author, Bruce Smyth, associate professor in the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute at the Australian National University.

The yet-to-be-released study, based on 5,046 Australians, assesses the impact of new child support rules introduced between 2006 and 2008.

Included for the first time is information from each partner in a sub-sample of 1,064 ex-couples that sheds light on how two people report the same events differently.

The study found almost three-quarters of people (mostly mothers) who said they accepted less child support than they were owed did so to reduce conflict with their ex-partners over parenting arrangements; many wanted as little to do with the other parent as possible.

Dr Smyth said coercion over child support lurked in the shadows of many seemingly harmonious relationships. Some parents described the parental relationship as co-operative but nonetheless paid more or accepted less child support because they felt pressured and intimidated by the other parent or were concerned for their own safety and their children's.

However, the study also found almost half those who paid more child support than required did so out of a sense of fairness.

Only a minority of parents is manipulating the new child support rules to try to influence the sums paid, contrary to early fears that manipulation would be widespread. Under the changes, child support payments are reduced when children spend at least one night a week with the non-resident parent.

Half the couples chose the same descriptor of their relationship, and agreed on the level of conflict over the previous 12 months. In 30 per cent of the couples, both parties agreed their relationship was friendly.
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