The Impact of Divorce on Young Children

When parents decide to divorce or separate, children are often faced with many difficulties. Just knowing that things are going to be very different after a divorce, but not knowing exactly how, can be frightening or cause fear for most children.

Some adults may assume that children at a very tender age (for instance, below the age of 5) may not understand or remember going through a stressful divorce. However, new research suggests that children whose parents divorce when they are very young have a more difficult time establishing close relationships with their parents later in life, even good divorce lawyers are aware of this. The findings suggest and reinforce the notion that the early years of a child’s life are a critical period for forming attachments. A parents’ divorce early in a child’s life can have long-lasting consequences for their bond with parents even if the child does not remember the divorce itself.

For children, divorce can create a huge disruption in their routine and home life. A once stable and predictable home is now rendered uncertain. Their basic sense of security and safety can be impacted as they wonder where they will live eventually and who they will end up with.

For very young children especially, if there is yelling, breaking of things, or other chaos going on, they may become anxious and begin to exhibit signs of illness. More than 30 years of research continue to reveal the negative effects of divorce on children.

Research comparing children of divorced parents to children with married parents indicate that:

1. Children from divorced homes suffer academically. They experience higher levels of behavioural problems and are less likely to graduate from high school.

2. Teens from divorced homes are much more likely to indulge in drug and alcohol abuse, as well as reckless sexual intercourse compared to those from intact families.

3. Kids whose parents divorce are substantially more likely to be incarcerated for committing a crime as a juvenile.

4. Because the custodial parent’s income drops substantially after a divorce, children in divorced homes are almost five times more likely to live in poverty than are children with married parents.

In children, adjustment to divorce may take up to two years or even longer. Many children will adjust to their parents’ divorce eventually but the parents’ sensitivity to their child’s needs is one of the most important factors in facilitating adjustment. Other factors such as the child’s age, gender and temperament will also affect how quickly the child adjusts.

A child’s relationship with the parent that he/she ends up with following a divorce is crucial to the child’s adjustment. Although the pain and distress of not being with both parents is one of the most difficult parts of divorce, a strong continuing relationship with their parents is essential to the child’s long-term adjustment. This highlights the importance of not criticizing the other parent in front of the child.

Thus, although a divorce might be inevitable for very strong reasons, it is important to help the child adapt and adjust and settle into his/her new life as quickly and smoothly as possible, to minimize the potential trauma on the child.

It is also noteworthy that for almost all children, their parents’ divorce colour their view of the world and relationships for the rest of their lives. These children may suffer from symptoms of psychological distress and carry the emotional scars into adulthood.

Divorce can be a very difficult period of our lives. It can involve disputes of care and custody, maintenance and division of assets. To facilitate a smooth and painless divorce, it might be wise to consult a good divorce lawyer who can assist you in this time of need.

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