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Research paper about the effects of divorce on children Essay

“Only acts of war and the events of natural disasters are more harmful to a child’s psyche than the divorce process.” The Newsletter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 1997

Prior to 1985, divorce was hard to obtain in Canada. However, with the passage of the Divorce Act of 1985, which allowed divorce after one year’s separation, the divorce rate reached an all time high of 3.55 (per 1,000) in 1987 (Campbell, 2000). In 2000, Canada’s population reached 30.7 million. 1.4 million people had divorced as opposed to 14.6 million who remained married (Canadian Stats, 2001). The Canadian divorce rate is 2.46 (per 1000) with an average of 73,000 divorces per year (Campbell, 2000).

Research indicates that divorce is a painful transition in the lives of all involved, especially children. Their wounds become more painful and troublesome over time. The impact of divorce steadily increases over the first three decades of children’s lives (Children & Divorce, 2001). And, although the effects of divorce do not necessarily secure the failure of these children as adults, they do make the challenges of growing up even more difficult than they already are.

Divorce affects boys and girls in different ways. Adolescent males often become more aggressive and destructive, while females initially cope well (Wendel, 1997) However, in young adulthood, they develop problems. This is known as the “sleeper effect” (Wendel, 1997). When children of divorce reach their twenties and begin to engage in relationships of their own, some become afraid that they will repeat the failure of their parents (Wendel, 1997). Others develop a distrust of relationships, fearing they will be the ones abandoned or betrayed by their spouse (Wendel, 1997). Moreover, these children tend to get more caught in the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse, become sexually active at a young age, lack academic competence, have difficulty forming romantic relationships later in life, and lastly, feel a deep sense of abandonment and loneliness (Children, 2001).

In nearly all cases of divorce, one parent is forced to relocate. This can be a harmful experience for children as they leave behind friends and a familiar environment. Relocating often leaves the youth lonely and isolated (Children, 2001). Making new friends and adjusting to a new environment is obviously a difficult task, especially when one must cope with a new domestic situation

All in all, divorce may have a lasting impact on children as it can cause them several adjustment problems. Research seems to indicate that there is: a higher incidence of adjustment problems among children of divorce compared with those of intact families; a relationship between marital status, predivorce parenting practices, and children’s adjustment to divorce; and, lastly, a variety of different effects of divorce on the adjustment and interpersonal problems of children

As children grow older, they will come to terms with the fact that divorce is an adult decision over which they have no control over. Their visions of the traditional nuclear family begin to slowly fade and disappear in early adulthood. In nearly all cases, acceptance is a slow and steady process which requires rational and caring communication between both parents (Wendel, 1997).

There is a higher incidence of adjustment problems among children of divorce compared with children in two-parent families (Simons, Lin, Gordon, Conger, Lorenz, 1999). The differences can be explained by loss of family income, parental conflict, psychological adjustment and parenting practices of the custodial parent, and the level of involvement of the noncustodial parent (Simons et al., 1999).

Parental divorce increases the chances that a child will have difficulty with school, engage in early sex, suffer depression, commit delinquent acts, and use illicit substances (Simons et al., 1999). Adults who experienced parental divorce as children have poor psychological adjustment, lower socioeconomic attainment, and greater marital instability than adults reared in a nuclear family (Simons et al., 1999).

The impact of reduced family income on the adjustment of children of divorce (COD) may be expressed indirectly through its negative effect on the emotional well-being and quality of parenting of the custodial parent (Simons et al., 1999). The quality of the mother’s parenting mediates much of the association between divorce and child adjustment problems (Simons et al., 1999). This finding holds for both boys and girls.

Parental depression and ineffective parenting explain a big portion of the correlation between divorce and internalizing (emotional stress) and externalizing problems (aggressive, delinquent behaviour) (Simons et al., 1999). Marital conflict operates to disrupt quality of parenting, which in turn increases the child’s risk for internal and external problems (Simons et al., 1999).

The association between divorce and boy’s externalizing problems can be explained by the quality of the mother’s parenting and of the father’s involvement in parenting (Simons et al., 1999). On the other hand, there are three factors that serve to increase the probability that boys will experience internalizing problems: predivorce parental conflict, mother’s depression, and low quality parenting (Simons et al., 1999). Boys with divorced parents tend to be more depressed than those from two-parent families regardless of the psychological adjustment, level of conflict, or quality of parenting manifested by their parents (Simons et al., 1999). Parental divorce has been shown to be more emotionally disturbing to boys than to girls. Boys continue to show higher rates of depression than boys in nuclear families even when their mothers show positive psychological adjustment and engage in competent parenting (Simons et al., 1999).

Compared with fathers in nuclear families, nonresidential fathers are less likely to help their children solve problems, to discuss standards of conduct, or to enforce discipline (Simons et al., 1999). This finding suggests that a divorced father who remains actively involved as a parent may significantly reduce his son’s chances of conduct problems.

The quality of the father’s parenting does not mediate the association between parental divorce and girl’s antisocial behaviour (Simons et al., 1999). Divorce elevates a girl’s risk for depression because it increases the chances that her mother will become depressed, which in turn reduces the quality of her parenting (Simons et al., 1999). Besides quality of mother’s parenting, postdivorce parental conflict serves to mediate the association between divorce and delinquency by girls. Girls appear to respond with less distress than boys and are at no greater risk for depression than girls living in nuclear families if their mothers are able to avoid depression and engage in competent parenting after divorce (Simons et al., 1999).

Even after controlling for quality of parenting, predivorce conflict increases the chances of depression in boys whereas postdivorce conflict elevates a girl’s risk for conduct problems. Research findings conclude that the threat of parental loss, rather than parental conflict, may be what is disturbing to a child (Simons et al., 1999). Also, COD are at risk for adjustment problems because their parents are less likely to engage in competent parenting and are more likely to engage in parental conflict than parents who are married to each other (Simons et al., 1999).

There is a relationship between marital status, predivorce parenting practices, and children’s adjustment to divorce (Shaw, Emery, Tuer, 1993). Prospective relations of parenting practices indicate that parents of to-be-divorced families with sons show less concern, and higher levels of rejection, economic stress, and parental conflict prior to divorce in comparison to intact families (Shaw et al., 1993).

There are no behavioural differences for boys and girls in to-be-divorced versus intact families, but boys tend to have more problems after divorce (Shaw et al., 1993). The difficulties found among boys after divorce may be linked with parenting problems that begin before divorce (Shaw et al., 1993).

Both prior to and following divorce, girls from divorced families show fewer consistent differences in terms of psychological adjustment than girls from always-married families (Shaw et al., 1993). Conversely, boys show an increase in problems following the divorce. Their greater vulnerability following divorce is attributed to a host of parental factors following the parental separation: greater and longer exposure to domestic quarrels; more inconsistency, use of negative sanctions, and opposition from parents; less attendance to son’s needs and less positive parental support (Shaw et al., 1993).

For boys, the proportion of variance in behaviour problems explained by divorce falls to a level where differences are no longer significant (Shaw et al., 1993). For girls, predivorce conditions account for variance in their adjustment following divorce (Shaw et al., 1993). Divorce is still significant for them once predivorce behavioural adjustment is taken into account (Shaw et al., 1993).

Girls from divorced families may cope with later stressors more successfully, and thereby show a better adjustment in young adulthood, because their divorce experience is of a more controlled nature (Shaw et al., 1993). Boys may respond less favourably because of their increased vulnerability to stress in general, but also because the initial impact of divorce involves a less controlled exposure to stress (Shaw et al., 1993). For most boys, divorce is also associated with the loss of daily contact with the same-sex parent. Though the father’s departure may provide relief from witnessing parental disputes, it comes at the price of losing daily contact with the father (Shaw et al., 1993). Boys who live with mothers following the divorce are at an increased risk for later behaviour difficulties in comparison to boys in father-custody homes (Shaw et al., 1993).

Parental conflict, rejection, and a lack of parental concern play a role in differentiating the home environments of boys from to-be-divorced and always-married families (Shaw et al., 1993). Parenting differences in the predivorce home are related to divorced boys’ subsequent greater level of adaption difficulty in young adulthood (Shaw et al., 1993). Lastly, boys from to-be-divorced families come from family environments characterized by greater rejection, economic stress, and less concern than boys from intact families, and, as a result, these same boys have more adjustment problems after the divorce (Shaw et al., 1993). To summarize, relations between predivorce parenting problems and difficulties in children adjustment are stronger for boys than for girls.

There are a variety of different effects of divorce on the adjustment and interpersonal problems of children (Pruett & Pruett, 1999; Bolgar, Zweig, Paris, 1995; Radovanovic, 1993). One effect of divorce is caused by the fact that young children are egocentric. Therefore, they may attribute blame for parental conflict to themselves, resulting in feelings of guilt and low self-esteem (Pruett et al., 1999). For this reason, children from high-conflict families may not learn the social skills (such as negotiation and compromise) necessary to ensure rewarding relationships in childhood and adulthood (Pruett et al., 1999).

Another effect of divorce is youth leaving home early to escape from an aversive home environment (Pruett et al., 1999). This pattern may involve curtailing educational plans; it may also involve marriage at an early age to an inappropriate partner, resulting in poor marital quality and an elevated risk of divorce (Pruett et al., 1999).

COD suffer problems with control. Since COD have no power to stop their parents from divorcing, a need is created to control relationships which lasts into young adulthood (Bolgar et al., 1995). The need to control extends to non-intimate relationships, such as authority figures. Therefore, COD have difficulties getting along with authority (Bolgar et al., 1995).

Adults who experience parental divorce as children, compared with adults raised in intact two-parent homes, have greater psychological problems, lower socio-economic attainment, poorer quality marital relationships, and an increased propensity to divorce (Pruett et al., 1999).

High levels of interparental, verbal and physical aggression characterize exchanges between ex-spouses and exert a negative impact on children’s adjustment. Consequently, there is a negative impact of interparental conflict on children’s behaviour and emotional functioning (Radovanovic, 1993). High levels of parental discord are associated with interpersonal problems for young adults (Bolgar et al., 1995). Other antecedents associated with interpersonal problems are: the mother never remarrying, the mother remarrying more than once, high preseparation parent hostility, and high levels of maternal interference in the relationship of the child with the other parent after the separation (Bolgar et al., 1995).

High levels of preseparation parental hostility are associated with young adults’ greater sense of being too controlling in their interpersonal relationships (Bolgar et al., 1995). High or moderate levels of maternal interference in the child’s relationship with the father after separation are associated with greater problems with intimacy (Bolgar et al., 1995).

Research findings conclude that in high-conflict families, children have less adjustment problems if their parents divorce (Pruett et al., 1999). Conversely, in low-conflict families, children have less problems if their parents stay together (Pruett et al., 1999).

Lastly, children who share a warm, supportive relationship with an emotionally well-adjusted custodial parent practicing fair and firm parenting are likely to do well, despite the presence of interparental conflict (Radovanovic, 1993). Parents need to work together. By doing so, they reduce the anxiety that children experience through their parent’s divorce. No matter how harsh the relationship between ex-spouses, if the two parties work together, the relationship with their child will be a successful one.

In conclusion, I think this essay has proven that divorce has a lasting impact on children as it causes them several adjustment problems. Research indicates that there is: a higher incidence of adjustment problems among children of divorce compared with those of intact families; a relationship between marital status, predivorce parenting practices, and children’s adjustment to divorce; and, lastly, a variety of different effects of divorce on the adjustment and interpersonal problems of children.

The adjustment problems that COD face compared to those in intact families shows that even after controlling for quality of parenting, predivorce conflict increases the chances of depression in boys, whereas postdivorce conflict elevates a girl’s risk for conduct problems. Also, COD are at risk for adjustment problems because their parents are less likely to engage in competent parenting and are more likely to engage in parental conflict than parents who are married to each other (Simons et al., 1999).

The relationship between marital status, predivorce parenting practices, and children’s adjustment to divorce shows that both prior to and following divorce, girls from divorced families show fewer consistent differences in terms of psychological adjustment than girls from intact families (Shaw et al., 1993). Conversely, boys show an increase in problems following divorce. Their greater vulnerability following divorce is credited to: greater exposure to domestic quarrels; less attendance to son’s needs, and less positive parental support (Shaw et al., 1993).

Lastly, a variety of different effects of divorce on the adjustment and interpersonal problems of children shows that high levels of interparental aggression characterize exchanges between ex-spouses and exert a negative impact on children’s adjustment. Consequently, there is a negative impact of interparental conflict on children’s behaviour and emotional functioning (Radovanovic, 1993).

Areas of future research: the relationships between the childhood and divorce experiences; the functioning of children of divorce in later adult roles of spouse, parent, and worker; extension of prospective research on children from divorced families to include the investigation of family environment, as well as child adjustment; giving greater attention to what is happening in the family prior to divorce; clarifying the connections between interparental conflict, divorce, and parent-child relationships; defining the processes by which stress, social networks, and coping affect children’s adjustment after parental divorce.

The many problems divorce causes children, such as increased adjustment and interpersonal problems, all can be prevented, or at least minimized. We need to find ways that lessen the impact of divorce for children and teach parents how their divorce causes long-term harm to their children. Preventing destructive forms of parental conflict and promoting a healthy co-parenting relationship are potentially effective means of reducing children’s risk for many of the negative outcomes associated with parental divorce (Shifflett, Cummings, 1999).

Things that parents can do to minimize the impact of divorce on children: build their children’s social skills; find a support network; stay, if possible, in the same community as the non-residential parent; disengage if conflict arises; stay optimistic; (Kalter, 1987).

Things that children can do to minimize the impact of divorce: keep a resilient temperament; have good social skills – empathy, sense of humour, interpersonal awareness; have a support network of friends and relatives; success at school helps; a supportive relationship with just one parent can minimize the impact of a difficult relationship with the other parent; economic stability is helpful (Kalter, 1987).

Children of divorce need to understand that divorce is an issue between two adults, and although the divorce will affect the children, they must understand that they are not the cause of it.

The negative impact of divorce is so strong that children of divorced parents struggle as adults to create a positive, healthy family environment for their own children. All too often, adults who experienced divorce as children prove less capable of breaking the cycle and instead pass on a legacy of tragedy to their children and their children’s children (Fagan, 2000).


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