Divorcing parents need to understand the impact of divorce on children so that they can develop strategies to help their children cope. The extent to which divorce is a real part of children's lives was noted by Strangeland, Pellegreno, and Lundholm (1989), who projected that "in 1990 close to one third of the children in the United States can expect that before their eighteenth birthdays, their parents will be divorced".
The powerful emotional effect divorce has on children has been well documented (Heatherington, Stanley-Hagan, & Anderson, 1989; Keith & Finlay, 1988). As Heatherington (1980) pointed out, divorce should be viewed as a process involving a series of events and changes in life circumstances. Parents need to understand what to expect from their children over time.
Divorce affects all aspects of the child's life, from his or her school performance to relationships with friends and family and hopes for the future (Bisnaire, Firestone, & Rynard, 1990; Cyr & Simard, 1988; Demo & Acock, 1988; Kalter, 1987; Keith & Finlay, 1988; Wallerstein, 1984, 1985). A child's adjustment to the divorce is directly related to how his or her parents deal with the divorce. Kalter (1987) identified parental hostility during the divorce process as one of the key stressors that contributes to the long-term problems of children. Other researchers have pointed out how parental behaviors can affect the child's long-term adjustment to divorce (Amato & Keith, 1991; Brown, Portes, & Christensen, 1989; Emery, 1982; Kelly, 1988; Wallerstein, 1986).
There are many interventions designed to aid the children of divorce reported in the literature. Many of these programs have focused on support groups for children, often accompanied by groups for parents or for single parents (Bornstein, Bornstein, & Walters, 1988; Loers & Prentice, 1988; Schein, 1986; Stolberg & Mahler, 1989; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). Some intervention programs have been school based (Carlson, 1987; Strauss & McGann, 1987).
Children of Separation and Divorce Center
The Children of Separation and Divorce (COSD) Center, which has facilities in several areas of Maryland, is a nonprofit agency that has been working for the past 10 years to help children and their parents adjust to separation, divorce, and remarriage in healthy ways. The COSD Center does this by conducting therapy groups for elementary, middle school, and high school youngsters. Groups are also provided for mothers and fathers who are experiencing separation and divorce. The agency also provides individual and family therapy. In addition to its clinical component, the COSD Center advocates for children and families in the courts and the community and has developed a peer-counseling program and an on-going research effort.
Having worked with more than 4,000 families undergoing separation and divorce in both individual and group therapy, the COSD staff has observed that children can be helped if parents understand what their children are experiencing. With this knowledge, parents can learn how to help their children cope with the divorce process. The healthy development of children can also be facilitated if the parents learn to establish a nonhostile relationship with each other.
COSD Parenting Seminars
When parents argue in court about their divorce, their children's needs are frequently not the first consideration. In an effort to help divorcing parents focus on the needs of their children, the COSD Center has developed a parenting seminar that presents a nonadversarial approach to separation and divorce.
This parent education program consists of two sessions held for three hours each, one week apart. Some parents attend voluntarily, and others are ordered to do so by judges and masters. The seminar is conducted by a team comprising mental health professionals, lawyers, divorce mediators, and representatives of various community agencies. …