Scientific study

Monday, July 14, 2003 at 1:00am

This just in: Children of divorce do better when both parents live in the same general vicinity. Stunning, I know.

So go the findings of "new research" into divorce trends and their effects on children. When we must confirm the obvious, we might figure we've run out of things to explore.

And yet, what's obvious apparently isn't so obvious anymore. What should be clear is that children need and deserve both parents, a mother and a father.

Even so, courts have been following a trend in recent years of allowing custodial parents to relocate following divorce. In 82 percent of relocation cases, the child was separated from the father, either because the custodial mother moved or because the father moved alone, according to the study. Other data cited show that about one-fourth of custodial mothers relocate within four years of separation.

Meanwhile, exhaustive research has confirmed what any nursemaid knows: Mothers and fathers bring different gifts to a child. We also know from research that children who grow up without fathers fall victim to a range of social pathologies. Translated, that means they tend to do less well in school, are more likely to experiment with sex and drugs at earlier ages, and to have a variety of emotional problems.

Objectively, one might determine that keeping children from their fathers is not in anyone's best interest, including the custodial mother's. Raising a child alone is no one's picnic. But apparently, we need studies to tell us what we know and prefer to ignore.

This new study comes from a group of researchers at Arizona State University, including Sanford L. Braver, psychologist and author of Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998). A longtime respected advocate for fathers in divorce, Braver has done much to dispel some of the demonizing myths that have pursued fathers in family court.

Braver and co-authors Bill Fabricius, another ASU psychology professor, and ASU law professor Ira Ellman based their study on 602 students of divorced families. They found that those who had one parent relocate after divorce had problems in 11 of 14 measures of well-being, including emotional distress and general health.

The researchers aren't claiming a cause-and-effect relationship between moving and subsequent problems, but Fabricius noted, "It definitely appears to be associated with these problems."

There are plenty of good reasons for a custodial parent to want to move, as the ASU researchers noted

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