Part 1: New Research on the Impact of Divorce on Children

On behalf of Stange Law Firm, PC posted in divorce on Thursday, January 16, 2014.

American culture has convinced society that divorce has short and long-term negative effects on children. We hear this through the news media, talk shows and religious organizations. This, for the most part, is not completely true. The recent article “Deconstructing the Impact of Divorce on Children” written by Sol R. Rappaport and published in the Family Law Quarterly (a publication of the American Bar Association) suggests otherwise.

Research trends suggest that several conclusions can be drawn from the impact divorce has on children.

First of all, no one argues that divorce and the changes associated with it are stressful to both parents and children. However, if there are no other new or ongoing stressors to compound it, then children are able to cope and adapt.

Recent research indicates that initially children from divorced families do have more emotional and behavioral problems at the onset of divorce than children from non-divorced, high-conflict families. As stated, this is a function of the stress related to the initial divorce. However, the good news is that as the stressors decrease and children adjust to the changes in their lives, children’s difficulties decrease. In fact, as children adapt to the divorce and as the difficulties decrease, they do better than children of high-conflict non-divorced families. If the divorce involves a move that lowers the stress, then children of divorce appear as well adjusted as children in intact families who were not subjected to high conflict and they appear in some areas better than non-divorced families where there is high conflict.

Second, although children may be impacted long-term from divorce, most children don’t have long-term psychological difficulties and most children cope remarkably well, so well that it is hard to distinguish children of divorce from their peers of intact families in regard to behavioral and emotional difficulties. Only 25 percent of children of divorced parents have serious long-term problems in adulthood, of that, 10 percent of children whose parents stay married have long-term problems. Therefore, 75 percent of children of divorce do not have emotional and behavioral problems as compared to most peers of non-divorced families. And of the 25 percent who do have problems, it is argued that it is not solely due to divorce but rather to factors related to divorce. Overall, children whose parents divorce fall in the normal range on measures of psychological and cognitive functioning.

Third, while children of divorce may not have long-term psychological difficulties as compared to their peers of non-divorce, it does not mean that they are not impacted by the divorce. Two researchers state that “painful memories and experiences may be a lasting residue of the divorce.” They also say that, “it is important to distinguish pain or distress about parental divorce from longer term psychological symptoms or pathology. Clearly, divorce can create lingering feelings of sadness, longing, worry, and regret that coexist with competent psychological and social functioning.” This is compared by some authors to children who lose a parent. And while children who lose a parent may feel as though they missed out, it does not mean they will have psychological issues. So in essence, not having psychological problems does not mean that they will not be impacted by the divorce long-term. This is why it may be, in most cases, helpful to children if they are able to maintain contact with both parents once the divorce is final.

After children cope with the initial stress of divorce, there are five factors that account for why some children have difficulties post divorce. We will focus on these five aspects in our next article ” Part 2: New Research on the Impact of Divorce on Children.”

Source: Deconstructing the Impact of Divorce on Children, By Sol R. Rappaport, Family Law Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 3, Fall 2013

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