Parents’ experience of child contact within entrenched conflict families following separation and divorce: a qualitative study

Mary Target, Leezah Hertzmann, Nick Midgley, Polly Casey, Dana Lassri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Child contact arrangements with parents following separation and divorce are strongly endorsed for children in both public policy and law where safe, but can be difficult to sustain. Entrenched high-conflict post-separation relationships between parents can cause substantial emotional risks to children as well as impacting severely on parents’ mental health. This paper describes a qualitative study, aimed at examining parents’ experiences of contact arrangements post-separation, undertaken within a mixed methods random allocation study of therapeutic outcomes for parents in entrenched conflict over their children. Two established semi-structured interviews with 22 parents were jointly subjected to thematic analyses. A thematic analysis across interviews revealed three main themes: ‘Dealing with contact evokes extreme states of mind’ for parents; when speaking of contact, the child is ‘everywhere and nowhere’ in the parents’ minds; ‘the hardest thing about contact is dealing with my ex-partner’. These findings indicate the immense strain children and parents are under and shed much light on the desperate states of mind for parents, particularly the anxieties driving relentless child contact disputes. This paper may contribute to the understanding of parents’ experiences of contact arrangements post-separation, potentially providing important information which can inform best practice for professionals working with this population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218-246
Number of pages29
JournalPsychoanalytic Psychotherapy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 3 Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • child contact
  • mentalization
  • parental conflict
  • qualitative
  • separation and divorce

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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