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Understanding divorce in the context of stepfamilies Zwicker, Amy Elizabeth


Although the divorce rate in first-marriages has stabilized after years of increase in North America, the divorce rate of remarriages continues to increase. It has been suggested that increased divorce rates in remarriages may be attributable to higher levels of conflict in stepfamilies (e.g., Hobart, 1991). Drawing from family systems theory and contextual models of divorce, this study tested the hypotheses that tension levels in stepfamily dyads will predict divorce above and beyond the effects of marital quality alone and that increasing emotional and marital distress will be mechanisms through which the stepfamily system affects marital stability. Data were collected from 112 couples who were followed for 20 years. Logistic regression analyses tested main and interaction effects of marital quality and (step)parent-child tension levels on divorce probability. Depression and marital quality were also tested as mediators and moderators of the effects of stepfamily relationship quality on divorce. Results confirmed that marital quality is an important predictor of divorce in stepfamilies, as it is in first-marriages. However, results also revealed that stepparent-child tension moderates the effect of marital quality on divorce. Depression mediated the effects of marital quality on divorce for wives, but not husbands. The importance of using a contextual approach for stepfamily research and clinical interventions is discussed.

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