The evolution of geographical distances separating ex-partners following partnership dissolution: the impact of spatially linked lives

Michael J. Thomas, University of Groningen
Clara H. Mulder, University of Groningen
Thomas Cooke, University of Connecticut

In a context of increased separation and divorce, the raised profile of fathers’ involvement in parenting and a subsequent growth in extended-family complexity, an increasing number of separated parents will experience constraints on their post-separation spatial careers and their ability to find an optimal residential location. Indeed, many will feel a need to remain close to the ex-partner because they want to share parenting responsibilities or facilitate child visitation for themselves or the ex-partner. The paper aims to identify the trajectories of the distances between ex-partners with shared children in the years that follow their separation, and the ways in which these distances are mediated by individual and ex-household characteristics as well as competing and emergent socio-spatial events and ties. To identify the potential determinants and trajectories of the distances between ex-partners with shared children, detailed geocoded data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) are combined with longitudinal multilevel random effects models. The paper demonstrates how the post-separation spatial careers of parental ex-partners continue to be tied in the years following separation. Moreover, it shows how the degree of maintained geographical proximity is influenced by a variety of competing opportunities (e.g. linked to educational attainment and the forming of new relationships) and existing socio-spatial ties (e.g. shared children and the location of close friends) that further differ according to the gender of the ex-partner – women tend to be disproportionately constrained (“tied”) in their post-separation relocational behaviours. The results demonstrate the relevance of maintained socio-spatial ties between separated family members, but also highlight how the (gendered) spatial constraints that accompany them should be appreciated more generally in enabling and restricting different aspects of post-separation recovery and adjustment – enabling child contact but prohibiting relocation that may be valuable for other important lifecourse domains (e.g. occupational, housing and (re)partnership careers).

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Presented in Session 45: Parent-child relationship