Effects of divorce on children

Effects of Divorce on Children

Marriages don’t always work out the way we planned and sometimes relationships dissolve over time, unfortunately, it is usually the children who are caught in the middle. Sometimes divorce can end in vicious custody battles other times it can end amicably but one thing that is a constant and that is our children are usually the greatest ones affected.

On the upside, there are a variety of different methods and guidelines to help you and your child throughout the divorce in order to help them better cope with their parent’s separation and day to day life. Divorce is never an easy process and it is important that you understand and are aware of the effects it will have on your children.

Divorce and Children
“Children are more likely to experience a wide range of negative issues associated with their parents separating – independent of age”
Frank Furstenberg

Children & Divorce: The Research

Divorce can be a frustrating, scary and confusing time for many children and teenagers alike, it is imperative that they are given the right structure to cope and thrive within their new surrounding and environment.

Before we begin going through the intricacies of the effects divorce has on our children let’s first look into the research and statistics that has already been done on the topic. Please note, we understand that every child is different and responds differently to divorces, however, this is to give you an idea of what has previously happened to children whose parent’s separated.

  • Children from separated homes are more likely to suffer academically and experience falling grades. Often times they portray behavioural issues in the classroom.
  • Children whose parents divorce are more likely to end up committing crimes and being incarcerated as a minor.
  • Teenagers whose parents are going through a divorce are more likely to use alcohol, drugs and other substances than teenagers with parents who are not divorces.
  • Children of divorced parents experience increased emotional and psychological effects.

Certainly, not every child or teenager whose parents are divorced will be dropouts or criminals but it is just an increased likelihood that these things may happen. Some will even go on to achieve great things but we need to be aware of the influence divorce has on our children, as long as we guide them and nurture them the effects will be lessened.

The First Years Of Divorce & It's Impact

The first one or two years after a divorce is often a challenging time for our children as they are adjusting to their new lifestyles and surroundings. During this period the can suffer from confusion, anxiety and stress according to Sol Rappaport of the Family Law Quarterly.

Children are resilient and most are likely to adjust over-time and grow up to be functional adults; however, some will not and will experience lifelong issues after their parents’ divorce. Children and teenagers will often act out during these stressful times before acclimatizing to their new life.

The Emotional Aspect

Divorce creates disturbance for everyone and most importantly the children especially on an emotional level, dealing with children and their emotions can often be a challenging prospect as children sometimes struggle to convey their feelings. Different age groups often go through different feelings during a divorce;

  • Teenagers may become angry towards one of the parents (depending on how the marriage ended) or both, teenagers have already become accustomed to their current life and the disruption it causes may create a feeling of resentfulness.
  • Children between the ages of 8-12 might blame themselves for the divorce or think their behaviour or actions are the reason for their parents’ separation. It is important to make sure that your child understands that it is not their fault and both parents love them very much.
  • Young children will usually feel quite distressed as they no longer see both parents together and must move between two homes without fully understanding why.

When children are young they often see their parents as capable and competent people that are able to care for them make the best decisions for their well-being. When a divorce happens this shatters that reality for a child. They believe their parents are no longer problem-solving champions and their basic understanding of life is conflicting with what is happening.

“When John was nine his parents got divorced, he lived with his mother and only saw his father every Sunday. A few years after his father got remarried and John added a step-mother to his family. At sixteen John got a girlfriend and then added her family and relatives to his life. Johns mother also got married around the same time causing him to have to move in with his new step-father. John then left to go to college and moved in with a roommate, things turned sour and he moved out.

John thought it would be a good idea to move in with his girlfriend; subsequently, they got married and had a boy. John and his wife experienced problems and got a divorce causing his child to come from separated parents. John remarried 4 years later and had a child with his new wife and thus the cycle repeats. John lived in a joint parent house, a single parent house, a step-fathers house, a roommate and his wives. All John had known was always uprooted and constantly changing, no time to get stable and comfortable; starting from a young age. With millions of divorces happening every year now is the right time to investigate the impact it has on children.”

Andrew J. Cherlin

Adjusting to a New Life

For some children it is no the parents separation that causes them the biggest stress (under certain circumstances this could actually help as there are less arguments and tension in the house) but the changing of daily life; new school, new house, new friends, new relationships and usually living with a single parent.

Children will also need to get used to the new custody agreement, sometimes experiencing a deteriorating relationship with the parent who does not have access to their child anymore on a daily basis (generally the father). We, therefore, have a lot of kids growing up without a fatherly figure that is always present in their lives.

On the other hand, most custodial parents (usually mothers) may experience many struggles in raising a child as a single parent and is more likely to suffer from stress and lack of resources. This means other things such as academics, discipline and attention fall to the waist side.

Financial and monetary problems can also impact the Childs life as there are now two separate households with two separate incomes. Many single parents need to move to new houses and areas to accommodate for a loss of resources.

New Spouses & Partners

According to the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, more than 40% of divorcees get remarried. This means more adjustments and changes for your children; additional step-siblings and extended family are now part of their life.

Stability and structure are essential pillars when raising a child, with constant changes and restlessness comes behavioural issues. Partners, spouses and new family members will have a life-long impact on the child.

As stated by the Andrew Cherlin of the Harvard University Press, some parents will go on to have children with their new spouse, leaving their first child with a feeling of being outcast and excluded from their parents new family. This can cause strong feelings of resentfulness, especially in adolescent children.

Should I get remarried?

Give your children the time and attention they deserve from their parents. Keep the fighting and negativity away from them.

Co-parent peacefully, show your children that you can be civil and mature about hard situations.

Mental Health, Behavioral & Substance Problems

Let’s preface this by saying again that not all kids will end up with these problems but there is an increased risk of behavioural and mental health issues occurring. A Childs mind is very fragile and impressionable therefore we must tread carefully when handling our divorces.

Many studies have been conducted and have concluded that depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are more likely to occur in children whose parents are separated than those whose parents are still together. There are also a few arguments that suggest previously anti-social behaviour decreases when marriages with a lot of fighting, tension and unpleasant environments dissolve. Every child and situation is different; some may only experience problems for a few months before adjusting while others may live their whole life with issues.

A paper by Richard Needle suggests that substance abuse amongst children whose parents are divorced is higher than children whose parents are still together. They examined a sample of children from 3 distinct groups; children whose parents are going through a divorce, adolescents whose parents are going through a divorce and those from families who have been continuously married. They concluded that adolescents had a chance to be more likely to be engaged in substance abuse, they also found that the chances increased slightly when a parent remarried.

Divorce can sometimes cause behavioural problems with children from starting fights at school to being isolated from their parents. A wide range of studies find that children from separated homes are more likely to struggle academically and experience more conflict with others, they are also more likely to be risk-tolerant than their counterparts. One such indication is when a child has an absent father they are more likely to engage in sexual behaviour before age 16 due to the fact that a male is usually the disciplinary figure. Other studies do indicate that when a child is given favourable conditions the negative impacts of divorce are lessened and they are much more likely to lead “normal” lives.

Impact on Adulthood

Adults who have experienced the divorce of their parents often have a few different issues, from relationship difficulties, financial struggles and psychological problems. A study of 18-22-year-olds from separated families found the following:

  • 65% had a bad relationship with their fathers. This is most likely due to mothers being the custodial parent.
  • 30% had a poor relationship with their mothers. Often time’s adolescents will blame both parties for the dissolution of the marriage.
  • 25% had dropped out of high-school. Academics can sometimes fall to the waste side when other issues are present in a teenager’s life.
  • 40% had sought out psychological assistance. Anxiety, depression and other disorders can present themselves when a child is going through a stressful time and is not adjusting to their everyday life.

Even after accounting for different demographics, environments and economic situations it was suggested that children from a divorced family were twice as likely to exhibit the problems mentioned above.

A few helpful tips to guide you through the process

Divorce is never easy and hopefully, with the aid of friends, family and of course the internet you can get through it. Here are a few of our helpful tips and guidelines to ensure a successful divorce:

  • Encourage Honesty: Start by being honest with your child and open up to them about the situation. Encourage them to start expressing their feelings to you and what you can do to make the transition easier.
  • Don’t fight in-front of the kids: This is a big one, show your children that you are both adults and can co-parent peacefully. You are both adults and have your children’s best interest in mind and not your differences. Never put your children in the middle of an argument or disagreement, don’t make them choose sides as this will only lead to resentment.
  • Set Boundaries: Setting boundaries for your children, especially adolescents is extremely important as it shows you are still in control and have their well-being in mind. Create rules and discipline within your household. Studies suggest this helps with academia and less behavioural issues.
  • Teach them coping skills: Children can be resilient if in the right environment, it is crucial you teach them basic skills and cognitive exercises to help them deal with stress and the problems they face. This will help them become well-adjusted adults.
  • Family & Friends: Don’t be afraid to reach out to family and friends for assistance, they can be the difference between a successful divorce or a tumultuous one. These are people you should be able to lean on in times of need.
  • Seek Counseling: Being able to talk through your problems with a trusted professional cannot be understated. Whether it is for you are your child, our mental health is something we always need to look after.
  • Be Patient: Patience is key when dealing with your emotions as well as your kids. Give them time to adjust to their new life and changes, let them know you are there for them no matter what they need.

Should I Stay For My Kids?

This is a dilemma every parent going through a divorce struggles with, and ultimately the decision to stay in an unhappy relationship or environment can be more damaging for your child. According to industry professionals, children in disruptive and or abusive environments are just as, if not more likely to suffer from the same issues a child would when their parents’ separate.

As a parent you also need to take your mental health and happiness into account, by making yourself happy you might be a better fit to look after your child, feel more energized and excited for life like never before. As long as you provide a happy, peaceful and stress-free environment for your child they will flourish under the right circumstances just as any other would.

Closing Thoughts

Here at SKV Attorneys we have seen and done it all when it comes to divorces.  The disintegration of a marriage can be tumultuous but one thing is for certain and that is the children always suffer the most. We believe in looking out for everyone’s best interest and well-being.

Take care of your children and family, if you are ever looking for legal advice or assistance please do not hesitate to contact us for a consultation.  One of our dedicated family law attorneys will assist you through the process in order to ensure that your needs and that of children are met.

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