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The Emerging Notion of High Conflict Separation : from Evolving Families to the State’s Response

Catherine Turbide, Marie-Christine Saint-Jacques

Research framework : The concept of high-conflict separation (and divorce) has emerged recently in the scientific literature to designate families in which the conflict between separated or divorced parents remains high despite the passage of time. While studies began to appear in the 1960s and 1970s on the impact of the climate in which divorces occurred (e.g., Kelly and Wallerstein, 1976), the majority of the literature dealing specifically with highly conflictual separations was published from the 1990s on.

Objectives : The goal of this article is thus to analyze the social context factors that have contributed to the emergence of the notion of high conflict separation.

Methodology : Its emergence in the scientific literature was examined here by analyzing the socio-demographic changes that have occurred over the last 60 years and the evolution of social policies and legislative measures affecting families in the Province of Québec and in Canada.

Results : This analysis indicated that the emergence of the notion of high-conflict separation has not only stemmed from demographic changes in families but also from changes in the way society sees the roles that different family members play. The response of the State to the needs of separated families has also contributed to the concept’s appearance.

Conclusions : The concept of high-conflict separation refers to the situation where the noxious climate surrounding the negotiations suggests they are unlikely to succeed, in spite of support services offered to the parents and the atmosphere surrounding the break-up affects the child. The increasingly important concept of high-conflict separation or divorce raises a crucial underlying question : what is more in the child’s interest, to protect that child’s relationship with both parents or to shelter the child from separation conflict ?

Contribution : This approach can certainly stimulate Western researchers since some aspects of the socio-demographic evolution occurring in Québec families can be found throughout the Western world (Roy et al, 2015), despite the fact that other elements are more specific to Québec (Baillargeon and Detellier, 2004).