Juvenile Delinquency, Substance Use, and Other Problem Behaviours

Children of divorced parents exhibit negative behaviour to a greater degree than do children of intact families (Peterson & Zill 1986; Barnes & Farrell 1992; Najman et al 1997). These behaviours are most marked in boys and have largely disappeared in girls by the second year following divorce (Hetherington, Cox, & Cox 1978).  The misbehaviour is directed primarily toward the sole custody parent (usually the mother).

It has also been found that boys from divorced families often exhibit delinquent–like behaviour and have difficulty in controlling their impulses (Biller 1981; Buckingham 2000).  Investigators believe that boys need a firm, positive identification with their fathers in order to be able to develop internalised controls over their behaviour. The fact that post divorce boys have much less contact with their fathers would explain their higher incidence of delinquent–like and generally aggressive behaviour.

National findings highlight that for more than half of the children of separating families, contact with their non-custodial parents (typically fathers) does not occur to a significant degree, culminating in a complete break or near break after two or three years. Survey data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS, April 1997), indicated that 42% of children in sole residence had contact with their other natural parent just once a fortnight, while 36% had contact with their other natural parent either rarely (once per year, or less often) or never. Of those who had contact with their natural parent rarely or never, 33% aged 2 years and over had contact only by phone or letter.


Peterson J. L., & Zill N (1986). Marital Disruption, Parent-Child Relationships, and Behavior Problems in Children. Journal of Marriage and the Family 48:295-307.


Barnes G. M., & Farrell M. P (1992). Parental Support and Control as Predictors of Adolescent Drinking, Delinquency, and Related Problem Behaviors. Journal of Marriage and the Family 54:763-76.


Najman et al (1997). Impact of Family Type and Family Quality on Child Behavior Problems: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 36:1257-1365.

Hetherington E., Cox M., & Cox R (1978). The Aftermath of Divorce. In Steven and Mathews (Editors), Mother-Child, Father-Child Relations. National Association for the Education of Young Children: Washington D. C

Biller H (1981). Father Absence, Divorce and Personality Development: The Role of The Father In Child Development. Wiley & Son: New York

Buckingham J (June 2000). Boy Troubles––Understanding Rising Suicide, Rising Crime and Educational Failure. Centre For Independent Studies, St Leonards NSW

Australian Bureau of Statistics (1997). Children, Australia: A Social Report. (Catalogue 4119.0). Australian Bureau of Statistics: Canberra

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