Children of Divorced Parents

The break-up of a family can be one of the most traumatic events that can happen to a child, and can have a lasting effect on a young person's life. A child's emotional and physical wellbeing can be adversely affected by divorce, which can impact into many areas of life. Studies have shown children whose parents divorced were more likely to suffer from depression when they grew up than those whose parents had died. In a survey of 2,867 people nationwide aged 25 or older the highest rates of adult depression were found to be among those who grew up in a family affected by divorce, violence or mental illness. Sociology Professor Ronald C. Kessler said the results were surprising because previous research indicated a parent's death was the most traumatic childhood event.

In Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce (1996), Joan B. Kelly and Judith S. Wallerstein found that five years on from a divorce there were a set of ‘complex configurations' in the individual life of each child. They found some children turned to their non-custodial parent for support and yearned for him or her when the relationship with the other parent was troubled, while others shunned family and relied on their friends for help and support. The authors discovered that: "For children and adolescents, the separation and its aftermath was the most stressful period of their lives. The family rupture evoked an acute sense of shock, intense fears, and grieving which the children found overwhelming. Over one half of the entire group were distraught, with a sense that their lives had been completely disrupted." Kelly and Wallerstein explained that the child is "riveted entirely" on the disruption to family life and becomes increasingly concerned about prospects for the future. The mechanism of support and protection for that child, its family unit, had collapsed leaving the child feeling alone and extremely frightened.

According to another study led by Arizona State University Psychology Professor Sanford Braver and published in the Journal of Family Psychology, children who had to deal with divorcing parents and the subsequent move of a parent to a location over an hour away were more inclined to feel they had a "hard and difficult" life. Braver found that the children interviewed after a parent moved away experienced health problems, and indicated their health may deteriorate as the children grew, especially in the case of stress-related conditions. Braver said that while it used to be difficult for a divorced parent to move away with a child, in many US states courts now take the view that if the move is made in good faith and will benefit the custodial parent then it shouldn't be restricted. He wrote: "The courts were working under the premise that anything that will improve the life of the primary parent will have a beneficial effect on the children."

Divorce may have an impact on a child's long term future and even their earning potential. Family Structure and the Economic Mobility of Children reported that only 26% of children of divorced parents who start in the bottom third of the income ladder move to the middle or top third as adults. The impact of divorce was also reflected when analyzing families by race, with 85% of African-American children and 63% of white children born into the bottom third of the income ladder remaining in the bottom third as adults if their parents divorce. In contrast, 62% of African-American children and 45% of white children remained in the bottom if their parents stay married. "Divorce is a meaningful barrier to a child's economic mobility," commented John E. Morton, managing director of the Pew Economic Policy Group.

Today parenting courses are becoming increasingly popular to help divorced couples who want to keep their own conflicts from interfering with their children's lives. One such initiative in the Denver area is run by Three Trusts Inc. "Reducing conflict between parents is the most effective way to ensure the child's well-being and lessen the negative effects of the separation," said Ruth Rinehart, founder of the organization. In 2006 in Ohio, the Children's Rights Council set up custody-transfer centres. The council, which advises divorced parents, explained that the key factor to success was that the parents didn't see or speak to each other as the children were escorted to the centres.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Helping Children Cope with Divorce
Edward Teyber.
Jossey-Bass, 2001 (Revised edition)
Still a Family: A Guide to Good Parenting through Divorce
Lisa René Reynolds.
AMACOM, 2009
Children of Divorce: Stories of Loss and Growth
John H. Harvey; Mark A. Fine.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Divorcing Children: Children's Experience of Their Parents' Divorce
Ian Butler; Lesley Scanlan; Margaret Robinson; Gillian Douglas; Mervyn Murch.
Jessica Kingsley, 2003
A Historical Review of Research Findings regarding the Adjustment of U.S. Children to Divorce
Kraynak, Audrey R.
Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Spring 2007
Listening to Children of Divorce: New Findings That Diverge from Wallerstein, Lewis, and Blakeslee*
Fabricius, William V.
Family Relations, Vol. 52, No. 4, October 2003
Child Informed Mediation Study (CIMS): Incorporating the Children's Perspective into Divorce Mediation in an American Pilot Study
Holtzworth-Munroe, Amy; Applegate, Amy G.; D'Onofrio, Brian; Bates, John.
Journal of Family Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2, August 2010
Psychosocial Well-Being and the Relationship between Divorce and Children's Academic Achievement
Potter, Daniel.
Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 72, No. 4, August 2010
The Adult Children of Divorce: Pure Relationships and Family Values?
Hughes, Kate.
Journal of Sociology, Vol. 41, No. 1, March 2005
The Divorced Dad's Survival Book: How to Stay Connected with Your Kids
David Knox; Kermit Leggett.
Merloyd Lawrence, 2000
Children and the Changing Family: Between Transformation and Negotiation
An-Magritt Jensen; Lorna McKee.
RoutledgeFalmer, 2003
Parental and Social Institutional Responsibilities to Children's Needs in the Divorce Transition: Fathers' Perspectives
Kruk, Edward.
The Journal of Men's Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring 2010
Coping with Divorce, Single Parenting, and Remarriage: A Risk and Resiliency Perspective
E. Mavis Hetherington.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999
Resilience and Vulnerability: Adaptation in the Context of Childhood Adversities
Suniya S. Luthar.
Cambridge University Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Risk and Resilience in Children Coping with Their Parents' Divorce and Remarriage"
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