In This Article Divorce

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Journals
  • Theoretical Works
  • Family Law
  • Child Adjustment
  • Parenting Plans After Divorce
  • Domestic Violence
  • Economic Consequences
  • Culture and Religion
  • Same-Sex Relationships and Separation
  • High Conflict
  • Alienation
  • Relocation
  • Parenting Education Programs After Divorce
  • Mediation
  • Custody Evaluations
  • Supervised Access Programs
  • Parenting Coordination

Social Work Divorce
Michael Saini, Marsha Kline Pruett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0035


Divorce is the legal dissolution of an adult couple relationship by a court or other legal authority to terminate the legal contract of marriage. Because divorce is a legal sanction, most countries have records of the number of adults who marry and then divorce. Some adult relationships end suddenly, while others seem to fall apart over a long period of time. International estimates of divorce range from approximately 30 percent to 60 percent of marriages. Conversely, separation is referred to as the dissolution of a couple’s relationship without legal intervention. This includes adults who never marry but who cohabitate and then separate and couples who separate but do not legally end their marriages. There are no accurate prevalence rates for the number of couples who separate. Most divorced and separated couples are likely to feel a range of intense emotions, such as sadness, anger, fear, loneliness, and confusion over the uncertainty of the future. Divorce is described as the second most stressful event that an individual can endure in life, following the death of an immediate family member. Although divorce and separation can occur at any stage of an adult relationship, most literature focuses on parents who separate and the impact of the separation on the children. Adults who do not share children have been encouraged to “decouple,” while those who share children have been encouraged to work cooperatively for the interests of their children.

Introductory Works

The consequences of divorce and separation are far-reaching, and it is foreseeable that social workers in various fields of practice will be called to assist children and families’ adjustments to these major life changes. Experienced and emergent social workers need access to current and relevant information regarding parental relationship dissolution in order to help transitioning individuals in need navigate through the intersections of family law, mental health, and governmental sectors. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) provides an excellent opportunity for social workers to become more aware of the issues relevant to divorce and separation. This interdisciplinary association provides current information about training opportunities, standards for practice, and professional resources essential for increasing knowledge in this area. Another good introductory source is the Department of Justice Canada Key Publication list, which includes valuable sources on topics such as child custody, child support, the courts, and divorce. Ahrons 2004, Amato and Booth 1997, Hetherington and Kelly 2002, and Ricci 1997 are seminal longitudinal works that have followed divorced and separated families over decades and provide an important overview of the various trajectories of families after divorce. For a broader overview of divorce trends, Benokraitis 2008, and DeGenova 2008 provide comprehensive introductions to the legal, clinical, and policy implications of divorce in society.

  • Ahrons, Constance. 2004. We’re still family: What grown children have to say about their parents’ divorce. New York: HarperCollins.

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    This influential book provides a compelling account of children’s experiences after divorce. Based on a longitudinal study, this text documents the lives of children after divorce into young adulthood and provides practical strategies of working through the process of divorce based on the experiences of the participants.

  • Amato, Paul R., and Alan Booth. 1997. A generation at risk: Growing up in an era of family upheaval. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Despite its age, this book offers an excellent introduction to the long-standing debate about whether parents should stay together or divorce for the sake of their children. Based on an American national longitudinal study, the authors document parental conflict as a key factor for considering divorce adjustment.

  • Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC).

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    The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) is an interdisciplinary and international association of professionals working in the field of divorce and separation. The association’s website provides a comprehensive list of key resources for professionals and families.

  • Benokraitis, Nijole V. 2008. Marriage and families: Changes, choices, and constraints. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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    Written from a sociological perspective, this book provides an insightful analysis of the significant changes of families in modern society. The book covers a number of pertinent themes, including the social construction of gender, family stress, parenting, divorce and remarriage, and later life family transitions.

  • DeGenova, Mary Kay. 2008. Intimate relationships, marriages, and families. 7th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

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    A comprehensive introduction to marriage and family. This textbook especially focuses on public policies dealing with families and on exploring the diversity of modern families.

  • Department of Justice Canada.

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    The Key Publication section of this website includes a number of reports commissioned by the Department of Justice Canada regarding divorce and separation, including high conflict, child support, contact problems, and parenting plans. Although focused on Canadian issues, most reports include literature from other countries.

  • Hetherington, E. Mavis, and John Kelly. 2002. For better or for worse: Divorce reconsidered. New York: Norton.

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    Based on her longitudinal study of over fourteen thousand families and twenty-five hundred children over three decades, this text is a primer for the range of experiences of families and children after divorce.

  • Ricci, Isolina. 1997. Mom’s house, dad’s house: Making two homes for your child; A complete guide for parents who are separated, divorced, or remarried. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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    One of the most influential works in the field of divorce for parents, this text is written for parents of divorce and provides strategies for coparenting children and for reducing interparental conflict.

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