If you're going to get divorced, wait until your kids are older – for their sake!
That's the controversial conclusion to research that claims the younger children are when their parents break up, the more insecure they become later in life – and the worse their relationships are with the parent who doesn't have custody.
According to a report in the Daily Mail, experts from the University of Illinois discovered that divorce has a bigger impact on child-parent relationships if it happens in the first few years of the child's life.
In two studies published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Dr Chris Fraley and graduate student Marie Heffernan examined the timing and effects of divorce on both parental and romantic relationships, as well as differences in how divorce affects relationships with mothers compared to fathers.
In the first study, they analysed data from 7,735 people who took part in a survey about personality and close relationships.
More than one-third of the participants' parents were divorced and the average age of the child at the time of the divorce was nine.
The researchers found that people with divorced parents tend to have greater insecurity in their relationship with their father than with their mother.
To help explain why divorce influences paternal relationships more than maternal ones, Dr Fraley and Ms Heffernan repeated their analysis with a new set of 7,500 survey participants.
This time they asked participants to say which of their parents had been awarded custody following their divorce. Most participants - 74 per cent - said they had lived with their mothers following divorce or separation, while 11 per cent lived with their fathers. The rest lived with grandparents or other guardians.
The researchers found that people were more likely to have an insecure relationship with their father if they lived with their mother, and were less likely to have an insecure relationship with their father if they lived with him. The results were similar with respect to mothers.
This finding was important, the researchers say, as it shows that divorce does not have a blanket effect on all close relationships in adulthood but rather is selective - affecting some relationships more than others.
"The work is valuable as it suggests that something as basic as the amount of time that one spends with a parent or one's living arrangements can shape the quality of child-parent relationships," said Dr Fraley.
"This research brings us one step closer to understanding why it is that some people have relatively secure relationships with close others whereas others have more difficulty opening up to and depending on important people in their lives."
What do you think of this research?
More on Parentdish: I don't want to sleep with your husband!