We examined to what extent internalizing and externalizing problems at age 3 preceded and predicted parental divorce, and if divorce and the time lapse since divorce were related to internalizing and externalizing problems at age 12. Parental ratings of internalizing and externalizing problems were collected with the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) in a large sample (N = 6,426) of 3-year-old children. All these children were followed through the age of 12 years, at which parents completed the CBCL again, while teachers completed the Teacher's Report Form. Children whose parents divorced between age 3 and age 12 were compared with children whose families remained intact. Girls whose parents divorced between ages 3 and 12 already showed more externalizing problems at age 3 than girls whose parents stayed married. Higher levels of externalizing problems in girls at age 3 predicted later parental divorce. Parental reports indicated that 12-year-olds with divorced parents showed more internalizing and externalizing problems than children with married parents. Levels of teacher-reported problems were not different between children with married versus divorced parents. However, children whose parents divorced between ages 3 and 12 showed more teacher-rated internalizing problems at age 12 when the divorce was more recent than when the divorce was less recent. Parental ratings of both internalizing and externalizing problems at age 12 were not associated with the time lapse since divorce. Externalizing problems in girls precede and predict later parental divorce. Post-divorce problems in children vary by raters, and may depend on the time lapse since divorce.
- EMC NIHES-04-55-01