The conventional wisdom, based initially on research beginning in the 1970s, is that divorce has a severe negative impact on children. More recent studies, however, have indicated that this conclusion is an overgeneralization.
More recent research, using better methodology, has concluded that whether children thrive or experience severe difficulties post-divorce may not be due to the divorce itself, but rather to six specific factors, not present in all divorces. An analysis of this research has been made in the Family Law quarterly publication of the American Bar Association, Volume 47, in an article entitled Deconstructing the Impact of Divorce on Children, by Sol R. Rappaport.
Those children who experience a high level of difficulty post-divorce can experience those problems both internally (such as higher levels of depression) or externally (acting out behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse, truancy, etc.). Studies show that approximately 20 to 25 percent of children post-divorce have severe emotional and behavioral problems. Approximately 10 percent of children from intact families have a similar level of difficulty.
This 15 percent differential has been attributed to these six factors:
- The level of conflict between the parents;
- The children’s exposure to the conflict, including whether the children are involved directly in the fighting;
- The parents’ ability to meet their children’s needs;
- The parents’ mental health;
- The financial impact of the divorce;
- The children’s own perception of the divorce.
Most children experience sadness when their parents divorce. This sadness is generally fairly short lived and does not result in long term damage. The more severe or longer lasting difficulties some children face after divorce may be due more to the amount and type of conflict between the parents, how big the financial impact is, and emotional responses to the divorce both by the parents and the children, than it is related to the divorce itself.
The good news is that most children of divorce are as mentally and emotionally healthy as their peers whose parents did not divorce. It is important for parents, attorneys, counselors and other support systems to keep in mind that reducing conflict, obtaining counseling and developing a financial plan post-divorce can make significant impact on the long-term well-being of these children.
Knowledge is power – we can work to control the factors that negatively impact children.