‘I’ve heard that when your parents quarrel more than three times a week, this means they will get divorced.’

‘That’s correct. And then a judge forces you to say where you want to live.’

‘Yeah. But Julia says that, by law, divorce is forbidden when kids are younger than eight, did you know that?’

Discussion among three primary school girls, overheard in a Viennese metro


Today, children are often confronted with parental separation, be it in their own families or in those of friends or classmates. While processes within the family have been intensively investigated, influence factors outside the family are disregarded. We have very limited knowledge about how primary school children communicate about divorce in their peer groups, which (mis-)information and which concepts about divorce-related legal regulations they exchange. Yet, misconceptions and exaggerated ideas may result in uncertainties.

The study SMILE investigates together with 8- to 10-year-old children their concepts and communication about parental separation by adopting a participative and innovative methodical approach: Concept cartoons - illustrations showing everyday situations and different characters' viewpoints - will be adopted for use in social sciences for the first time, to create narrations by using visual stimuli. The study is not primarily interested in investigating what children think about their own parents' divorce, as numerous studies have done, but includes all classmates.

Based on a most different cases design, research will be conducted in an urban and a rural Austrian research area - Vienna and Tyrol. The children are involved in the entire research process (development of concept cartoons, discussions in group settings, dissemination). Jointly produced information leaflets and teaching materials, together with the public and scientific dissemination ensure knowledge transfer and sustainable impact. The study further includes discussions with parents, grandparents and teachers and the final conference 'SMILE goes public'.


Lead: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ulrike Zartler

Staff: Mag. Raphaela Kogler, MA and Lic. Marlies Zuccato-Doutlik, MA