Divorce is inherently contentious with both parties having different objectives. However, there is one topic in divorce where even the most disagreeable couples find common ground: the impact of divorce on children.
How does divorce impact children?
The effects of divorce on children is often the first consideration of parents considering divorce. Numerous studies have been completed and compiled addressing how and why divorce affects child development and adjustment. Results of these studies suggest that there are 6 areas that can potentially influence a child’s ability to weather the storm of divorce and grow into well adjusted adults.
6 Areas of Influence
- Parental loss
- Economic loss
- Age and developmental level of children
- Poor parental adjustment
- Lack of parental competence
- Exposure to conflict
During divorce custody is awarded to one parent or shared. This reorganization of access to parents can result in the diminishing of the parent-child relationship. This deterioration of the relationship is illustrated by a 2003 study conducted by Kelly and Emery.
- It reports “on average, nonresidential fathers see their children only 4 times per month following divorce.
- About 20% of children have no contact with their fathers 2-3 years after divorce.
In contrast, non-residential mothers visit their children more frequently and are less likely to cease contact.”
Dividing a household frequently results in a reduction of economic resources. In plain English this means that the two households created by divorce often have less money than the family did prior to the divorce.
However, the availability of economic resources is less detrimental to a child’s ability to adapt to the change in family structure than has been previously suggested. In an article published on parenting247.org Robert Hughes, Jr., Ph.D.University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, states:
“Researchers have statistically controlled for income differences between intact and divorced families and all of the differences between children in these two types of families do NOT disappear. In other words, there are still some other factors affecting children’s well-being above and beyond money.
One of the ways that lower income may impact children is through disruptions that may result from less money. Many divorced families change residence which may result in changes in schools, child care, friends, and other supportive relationships. In short, less money often leads to more disruptions which may lead to more problems for children. “
Age and Developmental Level of Children
The impact of divorce on children can vary greatly depending on the age and developmental level of the children involved. Unfortunately there is no magic age where children will cope better with divorce. Every age and
development stage provides a unique set of challenges. It is often a good idea to seek the guidance of a professional counselor for specific advice targeted to your child’s age and development to help your child cope with the divorce.
Poor Parental Adjustment
Parents can be the single largest influence in a child’s life. Children learn a great deal about how to react to situations by modeling behaviors they have witnessed from their parents. Numerous
studies have evaluated the relationship between parents’ well-being and the psychological well-being of their children. Hughes’ article cites a study by Amato & Keith, saying “of the 15 studies that have examined this relationship 13 found that there was a positive relationship between the mental health of parents and children’s mental health.”
Strong parenting skills are always important, but they are particularly crucial during and after a divorce. Under the weight of stress caused by divorce, it is not uncommon for parenting skills and discipline to diminish.
Numerous studies have examined the influence of deficient parenting and children’s well-being. The evidence supports that strong parenting skills are an important factor in promoting the welfare of children.
Conflict Between Parents
Conflict between spouses is common leading up to and during divorce. This clash of personalities and ideas, while normal, is toxic to children. The more children are exposed to and engaged in the conflict the more harmful it can be.
Increased frustration, anger, and confusion are frequently experienced by children that have been caught in the middle of parental conflict.
The impact of divorce on children is unique to the child and the specific circumstances of their situation. Predicting the effects of divorce is a challenging proposition—parents that are considering divorce should work with a professional counselor to plot a course of action that will maintain stability and protect the child’s emotional well-being.