I was recently reading an intriguing article in Family Law Quarterly, (Vol. 47, Number 3, Fall 2013) by Sol Rappaport that asked “What if divorce is not the main culprit in why some children have difficulty post-divorce?” I was intrigued to read what the new research revealed. What was most interesting and what I thought some of my readers might appreciate thinking about is what the research may suggest – perhaps we should alter our belief that divorce always negatively effects children.
The author outlines what the current research suggests: that it’s not just the divorce itself that causes all the emotional upheaval and behavioral difficulties post-divorce, but rather that there exist five factors that may be present while a divorce is going on that cause the more long-term problems for children.
- Parental Conflict
Not just witnessing it, but living it by being put “in the middle” is well-documented as damaging for a child’s emotional well-being and behavior. The type of conflict the child experiences, the intensity of the child’s exposure to the conflict, and whether the child is the topic of the conflict all matter significantly. Further, whether the child sees (or perceives!) the conflict as resolved can effect the child’s adjustment process. Additionally, I thought it was particularly interesting that some studies showed that when there is high conflict between parents, their parenting skills and/or parent-child relationships suffer because they’re just not giving all the time and attention their child needs.
- Parent’s Mental Health/Parenting Style
When you’re an emotional wreck because you’ve had to deal with such significant changes in your life as a parent (life-style changes, not the least of which can be significant financial pressures, anger issues, employment issues, and more), it’s hard to be the parent you were when there were two of you to share the job. Your emotional state may directly impact your children either because they are distressed to see you so upset and/or because your parenting skills or style changed or were undermined by your emotional exhaustion. In short, your parenting style and your own emotional health either help or hurt your child’s adjustment to the new situation.
- Father’s Involvement
The author is very careful to point out that the over-abundance of research on the presence of the father in a post-divorce child’s life is not to suggest that the mother is somehow less significant. Rather, it is assumed that the majority of children in divorce situations live “primarily with their mother” – therefore, it’s the presence of the father (or, the “non-residential parent”) that is so heavily studied. What the research shows is that positive, engaged time with Dad (or the “non-residential parent”) is very important to the children of divorced parents. The two questions of “how much time” and “quality of time vs. quantity” are not so easily answered but the research suggests (depending on which research you use) that both issues can have an impact on the well-being and the long-term adjustment of the child. I can’t imagine anyone is particularly surprised by these findings.
- The Financial Impact of Divorce and Its Effect on Children
It comes down to the fact that dividing one household into two households usually means less for everyone all around. When there are more financial pressures, it often follows that there is more time spent working and less time functioning as a parent and continuing to build the important relationships with children.
- Children Have Their Own Contributions As Well – Appraisal and Perception
Children have their own unique personalities, coping skills, and temperaments. Depending on the child, their age, and their emotional maturity, they bring their own methods of dealing with divorcing parents. A child’s appraisal of a situation and their perception of it, depending on the child, can be frighteningly accurate or significantly skewed. A child’s behavior, studies show, can be directly linked to their perception of a situation. Each child will bring their unique skills and personalities to the situation, and it is important that they be assisted through the process with that in mind.
I agree with the author that it’s a little early to tell whether this new research is better than the old. But, I found her arguments compelling about the plethora of new research that at the very least brings the old research into question.
This blog is written by Bridget-Michaele Reischl, Attorney DECORO LAW OFFICE, PLLC www.decorolaw.com
ALL READERS: This blog is not, nor shall it be deemed to be, legal advice or counsel. This blog does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. It is designed to encourage thoughtful consideration of important legal issues with the expectation that readers will seek professional advice from a licensed attorney.Contact Bridget-Michaele Reischl at: DECORO LAW OFFICE, PLLC 6 West 5th Street, Suite 800-D Saint Paul, MN 55102 (651)-321-3058