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Family separation from military service and children's externalizing symptoms: Exploring moderation by non-military spouse employment, family financial stress, marital quality, and the parenting alliance

APA Citation:

Richardson, S. M., Pflieger, J. C., Hisle-Gorman, E., Briggs, E. C., Fairbank, J. A., & Stander, V. A. (2024). Family separation from military service and children’s externalizing symptoms: Exploring moderation by non-military spouse employment, family financial stress, marital quality, and the parenting alliance. Social Development, 33(1), Article e12713. https://doi.org/10.1111/sode.12713

Abstract Created by REACH:

Separation from the military can be a stressful transition period for military families. This study examined whether a military family’s separation status was related to their young child’s externalizing behaviors (e.g., restlessness, overactivity) over a 3-year period. This study also tested whether this link differed based on levels of marital quality, coparenting quality, financial stress, or the civilian spouse’s employment status. 909 Service member/civilian spouse dyads with a child aged 3–6 were assessed. Data on separation during the study period were obtained from administrative records. Overall, military separation differentially impacted child externalizing behaviors based on civilian spouses’ employment status and coparenting quality.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Child of a service member or veteran
Active duty service member
Spouse of service member or veteran
Military families


Childhood (birth - 12 yrs)
Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)
Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Richardson, Sabrina M., Pflieger, Jacqueline C., Hisle-Gorman, Elizabeth, Briggs, Ernestine C., Fairbank, John A., Stander, Valerie A.


Abstract Military separation is a well-documented vulnerability point for service members, yet little is known regarding how children fare across this transition. The current study examined 909 military-connected children from the Millennium Cohort Family Study (Wave 1 Mage = 3.88 years, SD = .095) across a 3-year period to explore whether separation predicted child externalizing symptoms over and above Wave 1 externalizing levels, by comparing separated versus not separated military families over time. We also explored if non-military spouse employment, financial stress, marital quality, or parenting alliance moderated the relation of separation with child externalizing. Data were collected via a parent-reported online questionnaire and administrative military records. Results showed that separation was unrelated to externalizing. However, moderation analyses suggested that for those who separated, non-military spouses’ employment prior to separation was related to less externalizing, whereas the parenting alliance was related to less externalizing only for families who remained in the military. Recommendations include assistance with spouse employment prior to military separation and parenting support throughout military service.

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


military to civilian, family separation, children's externalizing symptoms

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  February 2024

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