I’m not one of those attorneys who believes that divorce has little to no significant effect on a child’s life. Instead, I am a realist who has practiced law for twenty-five years and believes that divorce could set a child up for emotional struggles from childhood through adulthood. The key word in the last sentence is “could” as it is only a possibility and not a certainty. It is up to the parents to determine whether “could” becomes “will” or nothing. The divorce of a child’s parents could leave him or her with negative emotions that he or she will deal with throughout his or her life. Most children will learn to adjust to the fact that their parents are divorced. However, only the child knows if the negative feelings and sadness resulting from the divorce go away or simply lessen over time. Did the child feel somehow responsible for the divorce? If so, there can be long-term emotional consequences for the child if his or her parents do not make the necessary effort to handle the divorce in a respectful and responsible manner. Divorcing parents should not take the effects of the divorce lightly and assume that their children are resilient and can handle all that is going on. Instead, they should look introspectively and determine if they are finding it hard to accept the divorce and move on with life. If they are finding it hard to accept the divorce, then they should not believe that their children are more capable than them of getting over and learning to live with the divorce. It is this belief by parents that a child could be more resilient than the parent that sets up a child for disaster when his or her parent divorce. From my perspective, a child’s divorce experience is shaped by whether parents put their child’s best interest first during the divorce process.
A divorce involving children results in the children’s parents residing in two separate households. But what does that mean from the children’s perspective? It means that divorce is the loss of their family, something that was stable and the center of their world. Basically, the family was each child’s security blanket. With parents residing in two separate households, it is important for divorcing parents to focus on raising their children in a low-conflict environment. There will be a period of adjustment and grieving and the low conflict between parents will help the children adjust to the new family dynamic. Although divided by divorce, the children should be the parents’ focus and they should work together so their children can be happy and comfortable at the house of each parent.
A divorce is a huge change in your life. You should have that same perspective as to its effect on your children. Remember, divorce means huge changes in the lives of your children. If you fail to put your children’s needs first, divorce could also mean that your children are in the middle of their parent’s conflict. The divorce is then about the children witnessing their parents’ conflict, worrying about where they will live and go to school, hearing about the family’s new financial hardship, dealing with the loss of being with both parents each day, and a multitude of other emotional stressors. A high-conflict divorce will increase your children’s risk of psychological, educational, and sociological problems. The more conflict, the greater risk that divorce affects every aspect of your children’s day-to-day life. Your children’s relationships with friends could change, and their ability to focus and concentrate in school could be affected. As a result, there is the potential for your children to have problems with anxiety and depression.
You should expect the divorce to cause your children some level of emotional pain. Don’t be naïve. Regardless of how hard you try and how well you parent, your children will be sad during and after your divorce. Do not subscribe to the belief that if the “parent is happy, the child will be happy.” Some parents project and then have a misguided belief that their children are spending time and energy worrying about their happiness. This is only the result of the parent’s projection. Your children are basically concerned with their own happiness and security.
Some parents argue that divorce in and of itself does not cause harm to children. I would agree with this general statement as it is the behavior of the parents during the divorce that determines how their children will fare or what the consequences will be. If you Google “what are the negative effects of a high conflict divorce on children”, you will find several statistics, such as:
- Children of high-conflict divorced parents are 2x more likely to have seen a mental health provider;
- Children of high-conflict divorced parents are 2x more likely to exhibit behavioral problems; and
- Children of high-conflict divorced parents are 2x more likely to have problems with depression and anxiety.
As a divorce attorney, I work with clients daily and counsel them to keep their children out of the middle of their divorce. It is always best for divorcing parents to avoid high conflict to lessen the negative effects of divorce on their children. There is an obligation as a parent to do everything you can to help your children cope with the stress that your divorce is causing them. This requires parents to put their children’s needs alongside their needs during the entire divorce process. This requirement is not often met as many parents are more focused on the divorce process and their own emotional needs rather than their children’s needs. This results in high-conflict parents who are unable to parent and divorce at the same time.
Should you need the advice of an experienced divorce and child custody attorney or have questions or concerns about your situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those issues with you.