Divorced mothers’ coparental boundary maintenance after parents repartner.


When divorced parents remarry or cohabit with new partners, it is challenging to maintain functional postdivorce coparenting systems. In this grounded theory study of 19 divorced mothers, we examined the processes by which they maintained boundaries around coparental relationships after 1 or both coparents had repartnered. Mothers saw themselves as captains of the coparenting team, making decisions about who should play what roles in parenting their children. They viewed themselves as having primary responsibility for their children, and they saw their children’s fathers as important coparenting partners. Mothers used a variety of strategies to preserve boundaries around the coparental subsystem when either they or their ex-husbands repartnered. Stepparents became more active participants in coparenting when: (a) mothers perceived them to be adequate caregivers, (b) biological parents were able to cooperatively coparent, (c) mothers perceived the fathers as good parents and responsible fathers, and (d) mothers felt secure as the primary parents. When all 4 conditions were present, mothers were likely to expand the coparental subsystem to include new partners. If any of these conditions were not present, mothers resisted including stepparents as part of the child rearing team. The findings from this study highlight how coparental roles in a nonclinical sample of families develop and change; mothers often modify coparenting boundaries over time to include stepparents.


Family Studies

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Family Psychology


American Psychological Association

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type



©2015 American Psychological Association