Is there such a thing as a good divorce?

Nour Yaktine
· 10 min read

Research has found that the notion of good divorce exists indeed and can prevent children from experiencing negative psychological consequences

The prevalence of parental divorce has been on the rise. In 2020, nearly 50% of married couples in the US ended up divorcing or separating. Naturally, one cannot predict the course of a relationship or control whether a relationship turns out to be successful or not. Just like everyone, parents are bound to fight, separate or divorce, but they often tend to avoid such conflicts for the sake of their children, especially if their children are at a young age. However, no parent should have to stay in an unhappy relationship or marriage in order to protect their child. Instead, there are certain steps to be taken, certain ways of dealing with a divorce to ensure the least possible psychological damage to one’s child – what one would call a “good” divorce.

A divorce is never really just an event at one point in time. It starts prior to the divorce and goes on long after the divorce. There are endless of configurations involved in a divorce - Do parents remain in contact post-divorce? Do they both remain involved in their children’s life and to what extent? Are they only involved instrumentally, financially, or do they actually interact with their children? If they interact with their children, do they only see them during holidays, or do they continue to share meals with them? Do they help them with homework, or do they just attend a soccer game? These endless questions lead to, as you can guess, endless possibilities. This can better explain why different children react very differently to their parents’ divorce, and factors such as family dynamics and children’s environment do predict or at least influence how well a child would adjust to their parents’ divorce.

Ahrons (1994) describes a good divorce as a divorce “in which both the adults and the children emerge as least as emotionally well as they were before the divorce”. So how can parents have a “good” divorce? Research shows that maintaining communication post-divorce is key for healthy adjustment in children. Communication among divorced parents allows for more homogenous parenting behaviors, which leads to less confusion and more consistency, for example by applying the same set of rules in both homes. In line with this, Ahrons (1994) identifies four types of divorced parents: The cooperative colleagues, perfect pals, angry associates and fiery foes, with the first two groups demonstrating what a “good” divorce entails. Cooperative colleagues are parents who interact moderately and whose communication is of high quality. The term perfect pals refers to the parents who interact more frequently, while also maintaining communication of high quality. On the other hand, the angry associates are those who do not interact frequently. Their communication is, while not very frequent, but still of moderate quality. Finally, the fiery foes concern parents who neither communicate frequently, neither appropriately.

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Communication between the divorced couple constitutes the main factor that determines whether a divorce is “good” or not, but it is not the only one. For instance, the level of conflict between divorced parents and the level of change in their children’s life could also determine how well a child would adjust to the divorce. Other factors to be taken into consideration involve the larger family system, such as communication among family members, and social support from extended family members.

On the other hand, problems that children might experience after their parents divorce could involve academic problems such skipping class, being expelled from school or repeating a grade, or other behavioral and emotional problems that can affect their psychological functioning. However, research shows that suitable communication among parents constitutes a protective factor, as it can foster healthier psychological adjustment in children.

To the divorced parents out there: Do you recognize yourself in one of the four groups? Whether you belong to the first two groups, or the other two, you are now aware of how your arrangement with your ex-partner could affect your child’s wellbeing. A good divorce will allow your child to benefit from a reduced range of negative effects that can accompany divorce. While it might not be easy to adopt co-parenting behaviors with a person you do not necessarily get along with, try to remember the one thing connecting you two, your child.


Ahrons, C. (1994). The good divorce: Keeping your family together when your marriage comes apart. New York: HarperCollins.

Amato, P. R., Kane, J. B., & James, S. (2011). Reconsidering the “Good Divorce”. Family Relations, 60, 511-524. DOI:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2011.00666.x